Manchester City can only hope that a performance that saw them succumb to a tenacious Cardiff City is as common as a sighting of Lord Lucan riding Shergar around the Bermuda Triangle.
New City boss Manuel Pellegrini stated beforehand that his team would not under estimate their feisty foe from South Wales, who were bound to be fired up for their first home top flight fixture in more than 50 years.
Such a proclamation makes this shock defeat all the more perplexing, notwithstanding the missing presence of the massively influential skipper Vincent Kompany – the lynchpin of City’s defence.
But therein lies the question – what exactly lies at the heart of City’s back line when the commanding Belgian is missing? City are blessed with their highly skilled, influential and intelligent leader, but on this and previous evidence, they are wholly too reliant on Captain Fantastic.
Granted, the prodigious Matija Nastasic was only fit enough to sit on the substitute’s bench, but City’s title aspirations will be in tatters if they can’t cope with the loss of one or two key players.
Roared on by a vociferous capacity Cardiff City Stadium crowd, the home side were aided and abetted by a trio of City players normally more noted for their outstanding contribution to the sky blue cause.
Player of the Year, Pablo Zabaleta, had a stinker, twice losing Frazier Campbell at corners, with the net result of a brace of goals for the ex-Manchester United striker.
Yaya Toure gave the ball to Cardiff quicker than a mystery package is handed around in a game of pass the parcel in Baghdad. The Ivorian colossus was strangely laboured and ineffective and unable to maintain possession.
And then there was Joe Hart, so often the saviour of City and rated among the elite of the world’s goalkeepers, having the proverbial bad day at the office.
The makeshift pairing of Joleon Lescott and Javi Garcia went together as well as brussel sprouts and maple syrup. Lescott is unsure of his long-term future at City and Garcia has never looked competent or comfortable when asked to fill in at the back.
But all this negative analysis of City detracts from a combative Cardiff firing on all cylinders, as befits a team captained by ex-City firebrand Craig Bellamy.
I am the proud owner of a match-worn, autographed Bellamy boot from his time at the Etihad. It sits in my study in a display case – never until today have I regarded a Craig Bellamy boot as a WMD – a Weapon of Manchester Destruction!
Despite not being on the score sheet, Bellamy inspired this 3-2 win over his former employers. When he left the field to thunderous applause in the 82nd minute, Cardiff led 2-1, having hit back after Edin Dzeko struck a sweet opening goal in the 52nd minute.
The in-form Bosnian striker benefited from a probing Yaya pass, deftly flicked on by Sergio Aguero and smashed a 30-yard strike past David Marshall in the Cardiff goal.
Within nine minutes Aron Gunnarsson was quickest to react to a loose ball after a splendid Hart save from Campbell. He rammed the ball home despite being surrounded by the Three Stooges in City’s defence – Garcia, Lescott and Zabaleta.
Perversely, City stemmed the anticipated momentum of Cardiff’s first Premier League goal with subs Nasri, Negredo and Milner helping Pellegrini’s men dominate play and possession statistics…until the 78th minute and the first of Campbell’s bullet headers.
Zabaleta lost his man as the corner fizzed into the City six yard area and the ex-Manure, Spurs, Sunderland and Hull striker planted the ball past a hesitant Hart.
Undoubtedly below par, City weren’t ready to play the part of damsels in distress as the Cardiff dragons snorted fire and sniffed an unlikely win.
Two headed attempts from Garcia were dealt with by Marshall, before Man of the Match Campbell sent the Welsh hordes into wild abandon as he rose unchallenged in the 86th minute, giving the Bluebirds an unassailable 3-1 flyaway lead.
Shell-shocked and listless, Pellegrini’s troops were a spent force or so it seemed, until referee Lee Probert curiously conjured up six minutes of ‘Fergie’ time.
The Beast of Seville, City’s new number 9 Negredo, sent a superb looping header beyond Marshall following a sublime David Silva cross in the 93rd minute. 3-2 and three minutes left to play – could City somehow muster a precious point and salvage their pride?
Sadly, we know the answer and Manuel Pellegrini was given a very rude awakening in the Valleys as City were sent back across the border – pointless.
The delirious home fans and almost disbelieving Cardiff players could’ve been forgiven for being as ‘high’ as the waistband of Bluebird’s owner Vincent Tan – a man who makes it look as if Simon Cowell wears ‘hipsters’’
For Malky Mackay’s men it was a stunning spectacle and one that would have veteran Cardiff fans reminiscing when their team last scored and won a top flight game, way back in 1962, with another shock win over star-stocked opponents – a West Ham team featuring the legendary Bobby Moore.
For Manuel Pellegrini it illustrated the shocks that the Premier League can serve up with alarming regularity – unlike the more predictable La Liga schedule.
It’s undoubtedly a learning curve for the vastly experienced man from Santiago but, as disappointing as this was, for everyone associated with Manchester City, don’t let any knee-jerk reactionaries or doom merchants cast aspersions on either his, or his team’s, abilities to achieve domestic success.
He has spent wisely to improve City’s attack and midfield but now he needs to go again in the market to bolster the defence before the transfer window closes.
Had Kompany and Nastasic been available it’s doubtful in the extreme City would have leaked three goals. It does, however, highlight the flimsiness in defence and the unhealthy dependency on the ‘Kompany man’.
Beaten by Bluebirds, City now have to re-focus and prepare to terrorise some Tigers next Saturday. It wouldn’t stack up with nature connoisseurs like David Attenborough, but it’ll sit well with City fans and get their title ambitions back on track.