MAN CITY v NORWICH – Pants to Joe as Costel gets a go

Well now we know – it’s no go Joe as Manchester City’s number one keeper loses top billing and makes way for his previously perennial understudy Costel Pantilimon.

Still to be officially confirmed, Manuel Pellegrini’s decision to go with ‘Pants’ for today’s Premier League match with Norwich, will undoubtedly divide opinion within the ranks of City supporters.

Call for Costel - City's giant Romanian keeper is to make his Premeir League debut after more than two seasons

Call for Costel – City’s giant Romanian keeper is to make his Premeir League debut after more than two seasons

Hart who hasn’t missed a PL start for the last 123 games has been under intense scrutiny in recent weeks and has been widely blamed – sometimes unjustly – for errors that have cost City goals and consequently points.

Yes, he’s been culpable to some degree – what goalkeeper has not made mistakes in their careers – but there has been an overzealous media ‘feeding frenzy’ in trying to usurp Hart and consequently destabilise City.

Whatever the rationale, Pellegrini it appears has made a decision for what the Chilean boss obviously sees as the greater good of the team – for the time being. Pantilimon played well at Newcastle in the 2-0 Capital One Cup win on Wednesday, making two particularly good saves from Ameobi and Cisse.

Yellow peril - How long before Joe gets another go as City's number one goalkeeper - long may it remain so

Yellow peril – How long before Joe gets another go as City’s number one goalkeeper?

Who’s to say his patience and professionalism shouldn’t merit his big chance in the PL? Pants has been with City since 2011 and hasn’t had so much as a sniff of the English top flight, such has been Hart’s dominance and durability.

Since getting the nod over his last serious challenger, Shay Given, Joe has been omnipresent in all of City’s league games for the last three seasons and the nine games of this campaign. But now Pants get his chance after 13 domestic cup appearances.

As much as the bedrock of City’s support wishes the 26-year old 6ft 7 inch Romanian international well, as they would anybody entrusted with keeping goal for their team, there are elements of anxiety and regret surrounding the dislodged England keeper.

Pragmatically, the fans want the best man for the job between the posts, the individual who avoids visits to football’s launderette by keeping clean sheets. No keeper has been better at doing so than Joe Hart, hence his Golden Glove Awards in recent seasons. 

Purple patch- Costel Pantilimon produced a stellar performance midweek

Purple patch- Costel Pantilimon produced a stellar performance midweek

Hopefully his omission will galvanise Hart into knuckling down, working on enhancing his natural talents and regaining that certain ‘edge’ back in his play. Any shortcomings are more related to concentration levels and judgment calls  rather the actual physical play elements.

Maybe it’s naivety, but there’s always been a school of thought that Joe would be City and England’s keeper for the next 8-10 years. Let’s hope this turns out to be so. In the meantime Costel will want to impress and what idiot of a City fan would wish him ill? It’s a team effort, win lose or draw and there can be little or no room for sentiment in such a demanding and unforgiving arena.

What is clear is that Hart needs genuine competition for the top slot. If Costel is the man to do that it can only benefit City, as they seek to be have the meanest PL defence for a fourth year running. Ironically, Norwich’s John Ruddy – a potential replacement at England level – will be on the Etihad pitch while Joe is sidelined. In a World Cup year, Joe knows he needs first team football. God forbid it should hasten his departure from City.

Unlike Joe, Vincent Kompany, Javi Garcia and Stevan Jovetic won’t even make the bench due to a sudden flurry of new injuries or, in the skipper’s case, a thigh strain set to see him miss another three games.

Yaya return - City's Ivorian marauder will be back to ruffle some Canary feathers

Yaya return – City’s Ivorian marauder will be back to ruffle some Canary feathers

Having removed Hart, Pellegrini will be careful to restore other vital organs back to the team including Yaya, Fernandinho, Silva (from the start) Aguero and presumably Nastasic. Demichelis, who would be making his home debut, could once again get the nod over the luckless Joleon Lescott.

Nasri will most likely return, but James Milner will consider himself unlucky if he doesn’t merit a place after an industrious contribution and a wonderful assist at St James’ Park.

The Beast of Sevilla – cult hero Alvaro Negredo, should be partnering Sergio upfront as Pellegrini switches to a more attack-minded line up, after seeking to suffocate Chelsea’s midfield creativity last weekend.

Free scoring - Alvaro Negredo has settled well at City

Free scoring – Alvaro Negredo has settled well at City

Norwich are normally ‘lambs to the slaughter’ away at City. They had suffered seven consecutive winless games against the sky blues – before the last game of the season in May, when the Canaries were chirping after an unexpected 3-2 win.

It was a surreal occasion – City had inexplicably lost to Wigan in the Cup Final seven days beforehand, Carlos Tevez knew he was waving goodbye (the supporters were none too sure) Vincent Kompany was missing for unexplained disciplinary reasons – the whole afternoon was a bloody shambles.

Encouraged by 3 away wins out of 4 back-to-back road trips, City will want to redress the balance and get back to putting stuffed Canary on the menu.

Slow healer - Skipper Kompany faces a further few weeks on the sidelines

Slow healer – Skipper Kompany faces a further few weeks on the sidelines

The last four matches between City and Norwich have produced a staggering 25 goals – an impressive rate of 6.25 per match – most, of course fling into the Canaries net.

Despite the men from Norfolk having the lowest scoring attack in the (six in nine matches) City will be wary of taking Norwich too lightly in their quest for three crucial points if they are to maintain contact with the PL leaders, whether they be Arsenal, Chelsea or Liverpool.

Chris Hughton’s goal-shy attack is in stark contrast to City’s PL goal getters who have hit 21 so far. It’ll be a bigger shock than away defeats at Cardiff and Villa, if City somehow contrive to lose to Norwich at home. Indeed, if Pellegrini’s men surrendered all three points, it’d be City’s first back-to-back PL defeats in more than three years – unthinkable!

The odds are stacked heavily in City’s favour and, having scored in each of their last 54 PL games at the Etihad, they should be ‘Hawaii’ 5 & 0 by Saturday tea-time, adding to their four home wins this season.

All change - Fernandinho should be restored to action as Pellegrini selects a 'new' First XI

All change – Fernandinho should be restored to action as Pellegrini selects a ‘new’ First XI

 Anything less will totally undermine City’s hard work away from Fortress Etihad throughout October.

Pellegrini will ensure qualification to the Champions League knockout stages if he can engineer a win over CSKA on Tuesday night. This would leave City clear to focus on their PL campaign between now and February, notwithstanding progress in the domestic cups.

It should start with the roasting of some Norfolk birds



By David Walker




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  1. November 2, 2013  8:04 am by Ed Reply

    Missread it as a tip to win 5-0, but might back it ;)

    • November 2, 2013  8:19 am by David Walker Reply

      Now that would be a tasty Canary casserole!

  2. November 2, 2013  8:12 am by Alan Baxter Reply

    I think Mr Hughton may be job seeking after today. I can't see beyond us winning by any less than 3. Great piece again. Thanks for continuing to take the time to do it.

    • November 2, 2013  8:20 am by David Walker Reply

      Cheers Thistle - thanks for taking the time to thank me for taking the time - it's times like this you wonder where time goes writing time consuming comments etc.

  3. November 2, 2013  8:12 am by Paul Russell Reply

    Good read David, it's important that if Costa Coffee plays we all get behind him. Personally think Joe Ned's a rest. Today we need the press to be writing about the goal fest and the clean sheet from the blues. Trust in our MP.

    • November 2, 2013  8:21 am by David Walker Reply

      Costa Coffee - well grounded comment - thanks fella.

  4. November 2, 2013  8:53 am by Eileen Fullen Reply

    Excellent read again David and believe City above all others should never take any game lightly but we need to up the anti would like to see more steely determination from all the players. Pellers should now know his steller eleven and hopefully will show this in the forthcoming games. Joe will bounce back but Pants deserves his chance and hopefully today's result 5-0 looks good ha yes and hope Jimmy gets a nod today

    • November 2, 2013  9:27 am by David Walker Reply

      Thanks - as ever Eileen - #noviceblue ;-)

  5. November 2, 2013  11:21 am by Mole Rocks Reply

    So the City goalkeeping conundrum has has been solved and the answer is Pantilimon!

    I agree wholeheartedly, whoever comes out of the Tunnel deserves our total support.

    It will be a boost to Pantilimon to know that his efforts will be rewarded with a start if Joe is struggling, hopefully likewise, being dropped spurs Joe to reach newer heights of excellence.

    • November 2, 2013  12:31 pm by David Walker Reply

      Quite so Carl. Whoever keeps the ball out of City's net gets my vote.

  6. November 2, 2013  1:27 pm by DOUGLAS HENSHAW Reply

    Excellent piece as always David. Feel for Joe but really think its for the best & hopefully he will come back fighting. Its about the team not individuals Pants deserves his chance after Newcastle as does James Milner.MP was in a no win situation dammed if he didnt drop Joe & dammed if he did so lets all get behind the Manager & the team whoever is playing. I've taken a bit of stick over this but still believe in him so as wise gentleman once told me #TrustOurMP.

  7. November 2, 2013  1:46 pm by Graham Ward Reply

    Hopefully City pick up the three points in an incident-free game. The next game will prove food for thought as well - who do you go with to virtually secure European qualification if we win against CSKA?
    I hope Pants has a fine game, as the immediate focus is on Norwich today. I don't want to think too far ahead, but I just thought I'd put that situation out there.
    3-0 City win today, for me.

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