It takes a lot to ruffle the luxuriant silver locks of Manuel Pellegrini, but merkin-wearing referee Mark Clattenburg has done it again.
It was five months to the day since ‘Twattenburg’ – as he is ‘affectionately’ known to City fans – allowed Liverpool’s Martin Skrtel to punch the ball clear in the dying seconds at Anfield, denying the Sky Blues a stonewall penalty, and condemning them to a 3-2 defeat.
Arsenal’s Jack Wilshire was accorded a similar luxury of deliberate handball as City chased down a draw at The Emirates, and Pellegrini was quick to cite ‘Cackenburg’ as the common denominator.
‘Jack The Lad’ had already dived for a penalty in a challenge with Gael Clichy, elbowed Frank Lampard in the face and recklessly kicked through at City’s French left back in the first half…without even a hint of yellow from the contemptible, incompetent, some might even suggest ‘iffy’ ref.
Who knows what motivates his performances when officiating City matches, but whatever it is, it invariably leaves a bad taste with those who champion fair play and equitable decision-making.
The rug-wearing ref ‘bottled it’ last April, when Liverpool’s Suarez committed a second yellow card offence, a blatant dive worthy of a BAFTA, after a non-tackle from City’s Martin Demichelis.
And here we were AGAIN!
Not only were City cheated out of a 77th minute penalty when Wilshire twice handled the ball, the England midfielder shouldn’t even have been on the pitch to score, an admittedly well taken, 63rd minute Arsenal equaliser.
Pellegrini – ordinarily the embodiment of diplomacy and restraint – couldn’t mask his anger as calamitous Clattenburg and déjà vu struck again.
Clattenburg and his idiot assistant had turned a blind eye to Wilshire’s antics, instead choosing to book Lampard on his debut, and then Zabaleta, for innocuous fouls.
Speaking about the official from Gosforth, Pellegrini said: “He had a very bad game. He had a bad day today and he had another against Liverpool, last season.”
The highly offensive ‘C’ word – Clattenburg, of course – managed to blight, what was an otherwise, absorbing, thoroughly entertaining and spicy encounter.
Pellegrini said his 67th minute substitution of the outstanding Aguero with Dzeko, was induced by a fear that Clattenburg’s questionable handling of proceedings would see the Argentine striker sent off.
Sergio was booked for his vociferous complaints that he had been fouled, not once, not twice, but three times, immediately prior to Sanchez’s superbly executed volley, giving Arsenal a 74th minute lead.
Aguero had edged City in front in the 28th minute, (his 78th goal in 126 games for the Blues), with a precision strike after superb link up play with Spanish speedster Jesus Navas, down Arsenal’s right flank.
It came against the general run of play but City, with a much changed line-up, proceeded to dominate the rest of the half.
Pellegrini’s team selection had surprised many, most notably with Yaya Toure omitted from the 18-man squad, having only arrived back from international duties in Africa on the Friday morning.
Injuries to Fernando and Jovetic, along with tactical changes, meant starts for Milner, Zabaleta, Lampard, Navas, Fernandinho and Clichy. Eliaquim Mangala made it to the bench, but not the pitch.
Ex-Swamp dweller Welbeck, making his Arsenal debut, was within a fraction of a 12th minute dream goal, but his deft finish hit the post. A wayward David Silva back pass had gift-wrapped the opportunity to the England striker who’d made the Swiss roll in Basel just five days beforehand.
Arsenal’s fluent midfield – orchestrated by Ramsey and complemented by the pace of Sanchez – was causing City problems, but the champions looked dangerous on the counter attack.
Nasri replaced Lampard for the second half and the Frenchman’s joy, when he thought he’d scored a winner for 3-2, was short-lived. He was clearly offside.
Substitutes Kolarov and Dzeko came agonisingly close to grabbing late glory. The Serbian full back with the AK47-esque left foot shot, hammered the ball against Szczesny’s post.
Moments later, Dzeko’s lob eluded the Polish keeper but came back off the post, with the Bosnian striker slow to react to the rebound.
The goal that gave City a more than deserved share of the spoils was a well executed header from Demichelis. The rickety rear Gunners switched off, leaving the Argentine defender unmarked from an 83rd minute corner.
The previously exuberant Emirates masses gave way to a smaller Etihad enclave as the airwaves – rather than the airways – were dominated by the decibels emanating from the ecstatic visitors’ enclosure.
On the balance of play a draw was a meritorious outcome, but City looked the likeliest winners as the pea-whistler and pee-taking Battenburg brought proceedings to a close.
As the dust settles on what was a tremendous global advert for the Premier League, the pundits and the media are once again going into default mode of ABC – Anybody But City – for the title.
Pellegrini has emphasised it will be very difficult for City to retain their PL crown, especially one wonders, if the primary objective is Champions League glory.
Even at this early stage of the season, the next seven days could be pivotal with the CL clash with Bayern Munich on Wednesday and the visit of Maureen’s Chelski to Manchester on Sunday.
An away draw and a home win would have the hairs standing up on the back of many a City supporter’s neck, but the bald facts of Mark Clattenburg’s officiating will continue to perplex the fans and Pellegrini alike.
By David Walker
www.readbutneverred.com @ReadButNeverRed @djwskyblu