The Championship – 22/10/2007
Phil Brown is developing into a man capable of delivering surprises. Perhaps he was underestimated – not the uncomplicated manager who wanted to be one of the lads, but actually their leader. Trooping out of Vicarage Road on Saturday, the reaction among the majority of City fans was reasonably upbeat despite the defeat.
Not Phil Brown; he took a less charitable view of his players’ efforts. It almost looked a little harsh, a trifle short of understanding, a bit short of patience. Two days later, those same players proved his response to Saturday’s loss to be entirely vindicated. Maybe these football managers actually do know what they’re doing.
However, Mr Brown’s weekend disappointment did not extend to drastic alterations of his side – admittedly a policy dictated by the unfortunate run of injuries he’s faced with, Okocha, Pederson, Folan, Barmby all still unavailable. Nonetheless only one alteration was made, Dean Windass replacing Stephen McPhee, as the Tigers lined up on a chilly evening at the Circle in a 4-4-2 formation staffed thus: Myhill; Ricketts, TurnerBrown, Delaney; Garcia, Marney, Livermore, Hughes; Deano, Campbell.
City began the match attacking the North Stand, home to a handful of City fans and a modest Barnsley support…and it was the multinational visitors, flirting with the play-offs after an unexpectedly bright start to the season, who made the more fluent start, knocking the ball about smoothly in unthreatening areas for the first five or six minutes.
Then City scored.
It was a peach too, as Windass collected the ball in midfield and slid a perfect – literally, perfect – pass to Frazier Campbell, who cheerily bounded clear of his leaden-footed defensive guardian. He glided towards goal, and his low crisp finish was a beauty. It brought to mind Theodore Whitmore’s immaculate pass into the goal at Rochdale some time ago, insofar as there was absolutely no question he’d score.
He did, a lovely goal, and Tigers led. Barnsley’s previous swagger crumpled more pitifully than a Charlton player in a stiff breeze, and our zippy Old Trafford loanee was terrorising the visitor’s panic-stricken back four.
He nearly doubled our lead as City poured forward once more, stretching to reach a shot that he could only direct at the tremendously-named Barnsley goalkeeper Heinz Muller.
There was no respite however, and on 18 minutes Campbell made it two-nil the Tigers – this time collecting the ball outside the area, merrily skipping through sequence of hopelessly feeble challenges before shifting the ball right and thumping it leftwards past the flailing limbs of Herr Muller.
The City fans celebrated wildly, rejoicing at this quite marvellous act of skill from a fabulously talented young player, and Barnsley were beaten already.
Pity their fans then, facing up to another 72 minutes of this. Or don’t. It was fine viewing for the Tiger Nation however, and City – marshalled by Livermore in midfield – slowed the game down a little and kept possession astutely, robbing their opponents of any chance to establish a platform from which to recover the situation.
City did have a few openings to add a third before the break, a flashing cross from the useful Garcia narrowly evading Deano’s outstretched limb. Meanwhile, Barnsley had a rare foray forward, a deflected free-kick from distance bobbling narrowly wide of Myhill’s right hand post, the City keeper have long since moved himself to the left of the goal. Souza also directed a header into the side-netting, which was probably the most useful thing he did in an evening of comic ineptitude.
However, City comfortably repelled most of Barnsley’s stumbling efforts, and City went into the break 2-0 up – memories of last season’s surreal surrender against the Tykes from a similarly healthy position receding somewhat with our successful negotiation of the closing minutes of the half.
The second half was a more cerebral offering by City, not dissimilar to the ruthless closing out of the game after a two-goal advantage was taken into the interval against Ipswich. With Livermore parking himself deep, Garcia willing to cover Rickett’s bursts forward on the right, Marney running around dementedly (to excellent effect) and both forwards applying pressure to their bewildered adversaries, Barnsley were unable to build any momentum.
Indeed, the superb Livermore nearly added a third early in the half when taking a free-kick on the right from thirty-five yards – he appeared to have totally mishit the cross, but Muller stood and watched the ball trickle just past him, only to react in horror as it pinged his left-hand post. An imaginative effort by Livermore, or a near-fluke? Hard to tell, but the witless reaction of Muller was entirely indicative of a defence that was being given a torrid evening, and knew it.
As City fell back once more however, a little frustration mounted in the East Stand – disappointment at not seeing a hopeless side put to the sword, although City’s understandable wish to station men behind the ball and take no unnecessary risks was pragmatic and sensible, and we looked menacing on the break anyway.
As the game entered its final quarter, Barnsley’s meagre rally finally ended and Campbell nearly had a match ball to show to Alex Ferguson as another splendid Garcia cross found him in space, however he missed his kick and Hughes’ run at the far post was a fraction too late to enable to him to get a clean hit.
McPhee replaced Windass, who’d put in a sterling shift, Marney popped a free-kicked narrowly over and City were now in full control and keenly hunting a third goal, even Damien Delaney rampaging forward before being halted by an ugly challenge from the defeated De Silva. Frazier Campbell then went off to thunderous acclaim, Nicky Featherstone replacing him…and with injury time just beginning the Tigers finally added a third.
McPhee collected possession with only one man between him and the goal and Marney haring forward to his right – his pass was immaculately timed and Marney cracked a thudding drive past Muller to make it 3-0, prompting an exodus in the away end and crows of derision from the buoyant City fans.
A fourth nearly arrived with Barnsley already tapping the mat, Marney finding Featherstone whose shot beat the keeper and appeared to be heading in, but the Barnsley netminder had just got a touch to it and the ball screwed crazily away from goal.
That was the final action of a wonderful game, and as Barnsley slunk off the pitch and away from the harsh glare of the Sky Sports cameras, the City players exchanged high-fives and sundry manifestations of triumph.
Campbell was a joy to behold, the sort of thrilling footballer that makes you want to pay money to watch. Dean Marney was the driving force in midfield we all hoped he might become, David Livermore was the tidying, chivvying influence mopping everything up; Garcia was a constant source of alarm on the wing, Deano was the old warhorse harassing the enemy who’ll be beloved unto infinity, TurnerBrown were impassable, Ricketts and Delaney offering sturdy support to both centre-halves and wingers – it truly was a solid, dedicated, accomplished team performance, and left the assembled Tigerfolk beaming with happiness.
The three points elevate us briefly to tenth, but more importantly mean the Tigers had finally secured a victory to accompany a good performance, have failed to take the points our displays at Crystal Palace and Watford might have meritted.
It also alleviates concerns of being sucked into a relegation battle once more. We look more than good enough to be settling into a midtable berth – it is difficult to imagine there not being three teams worse than the side that has impressed in recent weeks, and likely that at least 8-10 defeat inferior to our own having lined up in this season’s Championship. We look forward to the visit of Sheffield United on Saturday with relish. (AD)