The Premier League – Monday 23rd February 2009
City haven’t played poorly for a little while now. Not properly poorly, anyway. West Ham away was our last truly rotten shift, and since then we’ve looked okay. West Brom at home was two points dropped of course, but as the first actual point gained in a while, not a disaster. Chelsea was stirring, and the draw at Sheffield United wasn’t terrible.
Last night against Spurs wasn’t so bad either. But in common with the three games that preceded it, we failed to win. Worse, we leaked a damaging late goal. Beneath the rational analysis and the acceptance that we deserved better, do we for the first detect a note of serious alarm about our survival prospects?
I fancy we do. Spurs are overburdened with star players who collectively constitute a poor team; one we’d already beaten this season. For spells it looked like we may repeat the trick and secure the first double of our Premier League debut. In the end, we were left to reflect on a bitter loss.
On an unseasonably warm evening at the Circle, City lined up for the attending Setanta cameras with: Duke; Ricketts, Turner, Gardner, Dawson; Marney, Ashbee (c), Zayatte, Kilbane; Garcia, Cousin. For Spurs, there was no Fraizer Campbell but they fielded Robbie Keane, Darren Bent, Ledley King and Wilson Palacios amid a sobering list of internationals.
Not that City looked unduly fazed. The early pressure was mostly at the North Stand, split amid a becalmed Tottenham following and City fans, and it was City asserting themselves early on. Dawson saw an early caution for referee Probert that arrived after being wrongly let off for a clumsy foul on Aaron Lennon, then being carded for a subsequent and very minor misdemeanour on the same player. Incidentally, let the record that that the stadium clock suggested a temperature of 11c, which still wasn’t warm enough for Mr Lennon to discard the gloves.
City nearly took the lead when a poor back-header by Jonathan Woodgate went past Carlo Cudicini, who’d flown off his line for no obvious reason, but he hared back and clawed the ball to safety with a yard or two to spare. Spurs looked rattled and very much on the back foot, but with a rare foray into City territory they scored.
A good goal too, although City’s contribution to it was depressing. A corner was won on the Spurs left, and with two players over the set-piece finding but a single Tiger trotting over, they fashioned some easy space, transferred the ball centrally to Lennon about twenty yards home and in a shocking degree of isolation, and his crisply hit shot flew pas the unsighted Duke. So delighted with this unexpected turn of events that noise was reportedly heard coming from the Spurs fans.
City heads dropped a little. This was tough to take after an enterprising opening. Still, sleeves were rolled up and the fight gamely taken back to Tottenham, and Zayatte ought to have done better after stampeding past Corluka into space on the left, however his final touch was a heavy one and Cudicini sped from his line to gather the ball.
On 27 minutes we scored, and deservedly so, however fortuitous the circumstances. A corner on the left was swung in by Dawson, Cudicini made a Gomes-tastic mess of collecting the ball and Turner prodded home the loose ball.
The Circle, subdued after Spurs’ opener, was jumping now, and one fancies a minor earthquake could have been caused had a blistering strike by Cousin from 25 yards flown just a yard lower – a sweeter connection you could not have wished for, but just the wrong side of the crossbar.
City were on top, and seeming to be enjoying themselves. There was still time before the break for a couple more chances – a header from Ricketts going wastefully wide after great play by Marney and a Dawson free-kick some thirty yards from goal going over.
Level at the interval, and much to be satisfied with. However, the second half started well for Spurs, who’d obviously been given a severe twitching-to by Harry Redknapp during the break, and the ball spent more time in City’s half of the field in the first ten minutes of the second forty-five than in the whole of the first half.
Duke was called upon to make an alert save from Bent before Kilbane nearly scored his first goal for City after another corner caused positively indecent panic in the Tottenham area. Gardner intervened to prevent a Palacios piledriver from troubling Duke, and a Modric free-kick was headed onto the top of the bar by Corluka as the away side enjoyed their best spell of the game.
The game quietened down a little after that burst of activity, and Phil Brown used the lull in play to withdraw the tiring Cousin for the cult figure of Bernard Mendy. Tottenham reacted by withdrawing Bent for Roman Pavlyuchenko.
City struck wood a few minutes later when a booming header by Zayatte after yet another marvellous Dawson delivery hit the post; with Cudicini grounded, he was lucky the ball fell to a man in white and not amber.
Richard Garcia’s superb shift up front ended with 13 minutes left as Brown introduced Manucho and it seemed that a point apiece was going to be the game’s fair outcome. Not so; with four minutes left City yet again failed to prevent a short corner, Gardner went inexplicably wandering from the centre and the gap in the area was exposed when a Woodgate header flew past Duke.
A sickener. Geovanni was hurriedly brought on by Phil Brown while Aaron Lennon, perhaps mindful of the temperature now plunging to 9c, was brought off for Zakora, but despite four minutes of injury time being declared, City never looked like rescuing a point.
It was a point we’d have deserved, too. All three goals came, directly or indirectly, from set pieces, however it was a generally entertaining game played at a brisk tempo. City had the first half, Spurs the second, yet once again we’ve failed to hold onto a useful result.
It’s not time to panic, of course. A series of winnable games crowd our immediate plans; yet once the distraction of Sheffield United on Thursday night is out of the way, the simple truth is that we have got to win some of them. The lack of a cutting edge is a worry; the continual leaking of soft goals even more so, however the performances demonstrate we’re not at all out of our depth in the Premier League. With just a little more application at either end, and some overdue good fortune, there’s no reason the results won’t again reflect that fact. (AD)