Having suffered painful Premier League ‘executions’ on Sunday, both Newcastle United and Manchester City will fight to avoid further ‘Capital’ punishment when they battle for solace and secondary silverware tonight.
Cruelly denied a share of the spoils against Sunderland and Chelsea respectively – more so City than the Toon – this clash of the last 16 in the Capital One Cup, affords both clubs an opportunity to exorcise the demons and frustrations of Premier League ‘injustice’.
The fact that they will undertake their task with just a small percentage of the players who kicked off proceedings at the Stadium of Light and Stamford Bridge is largely irrelevant, that is unless you’re called Costel Pantilimon.
The 26-year old Romanian international, now in his third season with City, has yet to make an appearance in the top flight of the English game. His First XI playing time has thus far been limited to a dozen domestic cup appearances.
An accomplished showing tonight – win, lose or draw – in his 13th senior City game, could see Pantilimon propelled into Premier League action against Norwich on Saturday as Manuel Pellegrini finally runs out of patience with Joe Hart.
City’s undisputed pick between the sticks for the past three seasons, Hart has endured the most difficult period of his, hitherto, highly accomplished and hugely successful career.
Established as England’s number one keeper, Hart has been the focus of intense scrutiny – some of it sincere, a proportion of it pernicious – following a spate of errors that has seen him concede soft goals for both club and country.
He was never scheduled to play in the tie at St James’ Park, with Pantilimon clearly pencilled in to perform his usual cup duties, but if Costel doesn’t cost City the match tonight, the odds are the towering 6ft 7 inch, 26-year old will keep his place.
It’s a torturous dilemma, if not for Pellegrini, but for City’s fans who have come to adore Hart – an FA Cup winner and Premier League champion – previously regarded as head and shoulders above his peers in the English game.
Rightly regarded as being among the world’s elite corps of keepers alongside Casillas, Neuer, Buffon & Co, it could be Joe needs to take a step back before progressing his career still further. He and his adoring City fans should seek comfort in the sporting pearl of wisdom that ‘form is temporary but class is permanent’.
For different reasons, Joe will not be the only one missing from City’s vanquished team who were so viciously denied at Chelsea.
The Capital One Cup is number four on Pellegrini’s list of silverware priorities, so City will be largely unrecognisable from Sunday. However, one player who would almost certainly have played a part has been ruled out through injury.
Portuguese prodigy Marcos Lopes has ‘tweeted’ the world to say he will be missing out on his second City start.
City’s travelling support – complete with oxygen masks, high altitude training and vertigo medication – will not be surprised to see the likes of Jovetic, Dzeko, Lescott, Richards, Rodwell, Boyata, Milner, Navas and, of course Pantilimon, from their lofty perch in the away enclosure at St James’.
Pellegrini is on record as saying – not entirely surprisingly – that he wants City to win every competition they enter…and why not?
On paper, Newcastle are ideal opponents. City have eight straight wins in a run of 14 undefeated outings against the Barcodes – 12 victories and two draws, since Michael Owen hit a United winner in September 2005.
A 4-0 crushing at the Etihad saw City off to a flyer against Alan Pardew’s depleted team in the opening fixture of this season, but City will be as ‘stupid’ as some of the goals they’ve conceded recently, if they take the threat posed by the Magpies lightly.
The Toon will be keen to restore pride among their fans following the derby day loss to their hated North East rivals. Pardew has a full attacking array from which to select including Loic Remy, Hatem Ben Arfa, Papiss Cisse and Shola Ameobi.
Newcastle’s problems – like City’s – lie in defence with Fabricio Coloccini and Steven Taylor missing as a central pairing.
Logic would suggest a potential goal-fest with creaking defences and well equipped armouries within both the teams.
Statistics can so easily be rendered redundant on the night, but City have scored in each of their last 13 away fixtures in the generically recognised ‘League’ Cup. The last time they failed was in an ignominious 1-0 defeat at Wigan in November 2002.
Sky blue hearts were lifted just three days later that year when City trounced United 3-1 in the last ever Maine Road derby, when Gary Neville was confirmed as a Blue for his outstanding assist for Shaun Goater’s 99th City goal.
Tonight will be City’s fourth away match on the bounce and a win will take them through to the quarter finals – a point at which even the PL ‘Big Boys’ begin to take this competition seriously, be it called the League, Milk, Littlewoods, Rumbelows, Coca Cola, Worthington, Carling or Capital One Cup.
The only name that really counts is the one engraved as trophy winners on March 2nd 2014. The last time it read Manchester City was in 1976, after a 2-1 win against Newcastle United!
So, irrespective of its past history of Coca Cola, Worthington or Carling, it’d be nice to be able to say ‘same again please barman’ or even barcode by 10pm this evening.
By David Walker
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