Manchester City’s thoroughbreds played like a bunch of donkeys as Southampton wasted no time looking gift horses in the mouth, with Roberto Mancini’s men never at the races.
On this showing, City’s stable of champions would be better off served in a Findus lasagne or Tesco beefburger, such was the horrible taste left in the mouth after an utterly abject performance.
Instead of heading back to the Etihad, City’s entourage could have stopped en-route at the nearest Hampshire knacker’s yard and offloaded some of the carthorses masquerading as professional footballers.
Describing it as City’s ‘worst game in the last two or three years…’ Mancini said: “It was worse than poor, we didn’t play it was 11 against two so it’s difficult.” Sergio must have been one of the two exonerated, but damned if this scribe could identify the other.
The beleaguered City boss added: “The players played really bad – without strength, without personality. We conceded a goal that I have never seen in my life.
“I was really disappointed with my players today. When we perform like today I’m very angry. The players were away on international duty – that’s not an excuse, but it is a reason.”
The only noteworthy performance came from the 3,200 travelling support who sang their hearts out in the face of adversity, just like days of old when visiting the likes of Lincoln, Wycombe and York. If a perspective of what a ‘dark day’ really looks like perm any one from that trio of MCFC all-time lows.
Fast forward back to St.Mary’s and bemusement remains as the overriding element in the wake of such a calamitous, self-inflicted defeat. City were clueless, witless and gutless against a Southampton team that must have thought they’d won the lottery umpteen times over.
City’s terrace battle cry of ‘We’ll fight to the end…” was interpreted by the players as “We’ll stink from the start…” with a lacklustre, lethargic and lamentable offering.
Gareth Barry, often unfairly criticised and usually an unsung hero in City’s rise to prominence, was dispossessed far too easily by Puncheon and, when Javi Garcia joined Joleon Lescott in closing him down, the Saint’s striker found Rodriguez in space on the edge of the area.
Yaya Toure’s intervention seemed to have nullified the danger as Joe Hart saved from the ex-Burnley man, but Puncheon pounced on the loose ball and drilled it home while surrounded by four City defenders.
The best defence in the Premier League, missing it’s centre back pairing of Vincent Kompany and Matija Nastasic, looked as secure as Ryan Giggs’ sister-in-law’s undergarments.
Garcia, playing out of his accustomed defensive midfielder slot, had a nightmare, looking disoriented throughout. It was a damning indictment on Lescott’s future with City when he was withdrawn in the 66th minute and the Spaniard stayed on.
Southampton’s industry and appetite for the fight was in stark contrast to that of their illustrious opponents.
You know it’s the proverbial ‘bad day at the office’ when England’s number one keeper makes a shocking schoolboy error as Joe Hart did in the 22nd minute.
Saints hitman Ricky Lambert turned Gael Clichy inside and out before hitting a low shot from inside City’s 18 yard area. Hart, fresh from being proclaimed a national hero after his Ronaldinho penalty save in midweek, fumbled the ball allowing it to squirm through his legs. Davis pounced and forced it home from one yard.
Embarrassing didn’t even come close as Mancini was nigh on apoplectic on the touchline.
City narrowed the deficit in the 39th minute.
A classic City counter-attack, started by Dzeko as he headed a corner clear on the edge of his own area, was finished by the Bosnian with an exquisite – if not unconventional – finish, connecting with Zabaleta’s cross and looping the ball over Boruc.
Referee Martin Atkinson showed unusual clemency to City when waving away a debateable penalty claim after Yaya had shunted Rodriquez in the box on the stroke of half time.
It served as nothing more than a temporary reprieve as Barry compounded a miserable individual and team effort with a simply indefensible clanger in the 48th minute.
Lambert’s speculative cross into the box was met by Barry with a sweet right foot finish of which Lionel Messi would have been proud. Under minimal pressure, Barry’s actions beggared belief.
Crooked Asian betting syndicates wouldn’t have the temerity to ask international footballers to make the howlers that will haunt Hart and Barry, and yet here they were screwing up for free.
Mancini says City have just a 10% chance of retaining their title if, as expected, United stretch their lead to 10 or 12 points, but how and why have City gone from champs to chumps?
A certain perspective must be maintained with just three PL defeats since last Easter, but clearly something is horribly amiss. Where is the desire for ongoing success, the hunger for glory and why have the fires that burned so bright been dampened to flickering embers?
Rumours abound of a summer clearout and the majority of City fans would probably agree if the likes of Nasri, Kolarov, Kolo, Dzeko, Lescott, Barry and even Tevez were moved on for £60m+.
The big question is who would City buy to replenish the ranks and, perhaps more tellingly, who would be doing the buying? Will Sheik Mansour and Khaldoon persevere with Bobby Manc – if not – then who?
The one thing the Abu Dhabi owners won’t have to worry about is the loyal City supporters who gave a rousing and elongated rendition of ‘We never win at home and we never win away…’ and a hearty ‘Mancini…’ long after the players had capitulated in battle.