It was frustrating and laboured, it lacked inspiration and flair, it wasn’t pretty it touched upon ugly…but it was winning and sometimes that’s all that matters.
It was huff and puff instead of zip and zest, one goal not five, six or seven, but whichever way it was packaged it was a means to an end and a route to three invaluable points that could see Manchester City crowned Premier League champions in May.
The Etihad faithful agonised for 70 minutes as a seemingly impenetrable wall of red and white stripes stood tall against a usually slick and up tempo wave of sky blue attacking flair.
Nursing a Champions League hangover, City were devoid of their usual verve and vitality on home soil as Stoke dug in, manned the barricades and threatened to stem the free flowing ‘liquid engineering’ football, normally produced by Manuel Pellegrini’s side.
Pre-match, ex-City boss Mark Hughes had said that he didn’t bear a grudge against his former employers. Anyone who believed him will also testify to the existence of the Tooth Fairy and Father Christmas.
Hughes would have been deflated when Stoke playmaker Charlie Adams smashed a venomous 25-yard drive destined for City’s net, only to see Joe Hart produce a superb fingertip save.
City’s first half highlight was a slick move that saw Silva link with Negredo, before the Beast set up Edin Dzeko, who cracked a low long range shot agonisingly inches wide of Asmir Begovic’s post.
City were misfiring and stuttering as their intricate passing movement was continually thwarted by a resolute and massed Stoke defence. Denied space and width, it was irritating as attack after attack dribbled away into nothingness.
The home support, spoon-fed caviar football at the Etihad all season, were instead, sampling cod roe and crabsticks as City – Silva apart – lacked invention. Even Merlin isn’t beyond reproach, as he and his team mates seem to want to walk the ball into the opponent’s net. For goodness sake SHOOT more often!
With 42 goals from 12 previous games, it’s fair to say the average home attendances of 47,100, have been treated to something of a goal fest since August. Having netted on 117 occasions this season, the expectations of City’s fans are somewhat high, albeit they have been incredibly spoilt.
Only Barcelona and Chelsea had shut out the Sky Blues at home, and it was with an air of growing disbelief that the well drilled corps from the Potteries looked as if they were to be the third team to force a score line of ‘Manchester City nil…’
Thankfully it wasn’t to be and, as much as Pellegrini has been hailed as an astute and cool operator, it owed more to good fortune than good judgement that City edged ahead.
Substitute Stevan Jovetic lasted just 12 minutes before departing with a hamstring injury. The man from Montenegro with a rather disturbing medical record since hitting Manchester, had replaced a rather neutered Negredo after 56 minutes.
The Beast has lost his bite in recent weeks but it was a surprising move considering the abject offerings of Dzeko on the day. Navas had come on in place of Fernandinho as Pellegrini sought to broaden the attack and get at Stoke via the flanks.
Prior to departing, Jovetic unleashed a stinging strike that had rebounded off Begovic’s chest, but a flat footed Dzeko, displaying the predatory instincts of a sloth on valium, had made no attempt to anticipate a loose ball, rebound or ricochet.
Javi Garcia came on as the Montenegrin headed down the tunnel for treatment, and, as a consequence Garcia’s presence immediately released Yaya Toure for attacking duties.
When Samir Nasri dinked a pass wide left to allow AK47 Kolarov to fire in a low cross, it was the Ivorian colossus who managed to ‘re-arrange’ his feet to be able to meet the ball and effectively pass it under Begovic, before it bobbled into the net.
Hallelujah, 1-0 and Manuel Pellegrini noticeably cheek-blowing with relief in his technical area. Had it not been for Jovetic’s misfortune, Yaya may still have been lying deep behind the frontline.
City spent a reputed £30m on Fernandinho and £16m on Javi Garcia, both categorised as defensive ‘holding’ midfielders. Roberto Mancini converted Yaya from a holding player into one of the most potent and unstoppable marauding attacking midfield players in the world, so why OH WHY is Yaya so consistently deployed as the defensive midfielder in City’s starting XI?
Pellegrini now commands massive respect, faith and trust from the overwhelming majority of City fans, but it both perplexes and puzzles when it comes to Yaya.
Everybody – everybody – knows that City are at their most effective playing at a fast tempo and Yaya on the front foot, so why do we have to witness him lumbering around, playing square meaningless passes at the halfway line?
On his day Yaya is not only an iconic City talisman, he is a world beater, but twice yesterday he did a disturbingly good impression of older brother Kolo, in giving the ball away to an opponent in a dangerous area.
He still won the Man of the Match honours which reflects the paucity of City’s overall showing.
Quick to praise and laud City at every opportunity, it is also appropriate and not a witchhunt to highlight areas of deep and ongoing concern, in a season that has delivered so many positives – a season that could be yet be the best in the club’s history.
The area of concern is Edin Dzeko. The Bosnian, always amiable and seemingly liked by team mates and coaching staff, is an enigma.
His goals-to-games ratio stacks up favourably, but not being a roaring statistician myself, what is Edin’s ratio based on chances and successful goal conversion rates? He is far more profligate than prolific and yesterday was more than just a bad day at the office.
The miss from three yards in front of a gaping goal, when he ‘attacked’ the ball with his right foot and defended it on behalf of Stoke with his left, absolutely beggared belief. Many in the crowd were staggered he actually hit the post when he vented his frustration after the howler, he could so easily have missed.
For a strapping striker he is far too easily dispossessed, he often doesn’t get off the ground to contest headers and his passing has the finesse of a high velocity bullet.
He isn’t without his merits of course, he has and does score vital goals, but at a cost of £27m, big wages and with the backing of a highly respected manager, Dzeko must do better, much better.
The perception is that he isn’t bothered by his persistent shortcomings. His body language is ‘wrong’ and he simply doesn’t work hard enough on too many occasions.
People will say Dzeko is an easy target for criticism and why doesn’t Negredo get it in the neck for poor recent performances. Undoubtedly ‘The Beast’ has had a dip in form and Jovetic is as reliable as a 20-year old Vauxhall Cavalier on a sub-zero winter morning, but both are getting their first taste of the Premier League.
Dzeko is now into his fourth campaign with City and he could have achieved so much more.
There are those who think it treasonable to criticise a City player. It doesn’t help anybody to berate a player in sky blue during a game, but there has to be accountability at some stage. Nobody is suggesting Edin wants to perform poorly, but he can definitely show more effort and physicality even on days when he can’t hit a cow’s backside with a banjo.
Thank goodness Sergio is nearly fit and God help us if he gets injured again between now and the end of the season.
But for all the adverse comment City still won a very difficult fixture against a Mark Hughes ‘inspired’ – I use the word advisedly – team that came with the sole intention of getting a draw.
City now embark on three cup competitions as the priority – in the eyes of many City fans – of the Premier League, takes a backseat until March 15.
We can only hope that with three or four games in hand City will hold an advantage over Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool, rather than having to win all the matches simply to keep up.
Even if that were the case, we need to believe in Manuel Pellegrini and hope that the return of Sergio Aguero will once again spark City’s sharpshooters into overdrive.
By David Walker
Read But Never Red was delighted to recently report the positive outcome of trumped up charges against Armani Sheku Kamara – a prominent figure in football in the impoverished nation of Sierra Leone.
Armani – known as ‘Mr Man City’ in his native land was acquitted of any wrong doing after a traumatic eight month ordeal, during which he wondered if he would be jailed, even though he knew he was innocent of any crime.
Prominent figures in the Manchester City Official Supporters Club launched an appeal to raise funds to bring Armani over to Manchester to see City play before the end of the season, and hopefully see Manuel Pellegrini’s side lift some silverware. Fundraising is going well and if you wish to make a contribution you can do so by clicking the link http://www.sierraleonemcfc.co.uk/