Sometimes, a result is so bizarre and a performance so wretched, you have to simply laugh and forget about it as quickly as possible. It’s hard to believe City will play anywhere near as bad as that in the League again this season. We shouldn’t worry ourselves just yet.
This was a 5.20pm kick-off at the behest of Sky Sports – once upon a time that’d have been a cause for anxiety, but it was a victory over the same opposition in September 2006 that ended City’s long-standing television jinx. Instead, we waited and watched results elsewhere convincingly go the way of the Tigers…and Sheffield Wednesday too. By kick-off, a well-refreshed Tiger Nation and the visiting South Yorkshire types knew that a home win would extend our lead over third to five points, while a point or more for the away side would lift them out of the bottom three.
The widespread changes to the side that laboured so dismally against Leyton Orient last week were reversed as City lined up in a 3-5-1-1 formation staffed as follows: Jakupović; Chester, Faye, Hobbs; Elmohamady, Meyler, Evans, Quinn, Brady; Koren; Aluko.
Sheffield Wednesday manager Dave Jones made six changes of his own from their cup game last week, and rather interestingly sent his side into battle without a recognised striker – Sidibe was on the bench, leaving Antonio on his own up front.
City began the game attacking the north stand, containing a surprisingly modest Sheffield contingent. Understandable, of course. £28 shortly after Christmas for a match that’s on television when you’re having a rotten season is a tough ask. The Tigers began the game playing their customary patient passing football, but the first shot of the game came after four minutes when Jermaine Johnson flashed a shot from outside the area at goal that Jakupović smartly tipped over.
Seven minutes were on the clock when Sheffield keeper Chris Kirkland was observed to, shall we say, act in a very particular and meticulous fashion when taking goal-kicks. Some cynics may describe that as time wasting. Shame on them.
Then again it’s fair to say that the visitors weren’t exactly probed in the opening minutes; indeed, some of the game’s better football was coming from them. That lack of spark from the Tigers combined with a puzzling predilection for hoofing the ball long allowed them to settle well into a game that must have felt a daunting prospect at the beginning.
On 16 minutes, controversy. The ball fell loose in the City half about fifteen yards from the halfway line – Johnson and Abdoulaye Faye contested it, the latter jumping in with two feet. It was less than ten yards from referee Mr Haywood, who immediately blew for the foul and we waited anxiously to see what colour the card would be…and there was none. A straightforwardly incorrect decision; Faye probably ought to have been sent off.
It didn’t do much to improve the game, though on the left Brady showed a nice turn of pace to fire in a fine cross to the near post that Sone Aluko headed onto his marker and behind for a corner that, at the second attempt, Kirkland cleared.
A minute later Aluko collected the ball on the halfway line, and in a flash turned and sprinted goalwards, leaving a slew of blue shirts in his wake – however, running at that pace with the ball is troublesome even for the best, and a hefty touch let him down as he neared the area and prepared to shoot. 20 minutes, and still no attempt on target from the Tigers.
Midway through the half City fell behind. Helan fastened onto the ball on the City right and drove hard down the wing, eventually drawing a foul from James Chester. The ball was swung into the congested penalty area, Reda Johnson stole a yard of space and got a tiny flick on the ball, which squirted messily through Jakupović’s legs. Poor marking and poor goalkeeping, though Wednesday probably deserved the lead.
Whether they necessarily deserved that particular goal was questioned shortly after when those at home informed us of a potential offside. In truth, no-one had really queried the goal at the time and there were no protests from the players, it just was just crap defending.
It jolted City into life. A series of corners were forced that Brady sent zipping in, all of which Sheffield’s solid rearguard dealt with impressively. However the Tigers were nearly caught on the break when Jermaine Johnson burst through a dire challenge on the left and squared it to Antonio with only Jakupović to beat – his inept first touch allowed the City keeper to advance and smother the shot, the ball eventually going out for a corner.
Corners were something of a feature of the game, and Ahmed Elmohamady sent a chance wide when latching onto one at the near post. As the half wore on City began to really dominate possession, but there was still a real lack of cutting edge. Much of that was as a consequence of Robert Koren having a disappointing evening – with him nullified, City really lacked fluency.
Again, Sheffield nearly caught City on the break when Jermaine Johnson sent an optimistic shot from outside the area to Jakupović’s near post – the keeper pawed it a little uncertainly for a corner. They were proving a real menace when springing from deep.
Stephen Quinn nearly equalised on 41 minutes when Ahmed Elmohamady sent in a brilliant cross that the Irish international met at the near post but flashed a couple of yards wide, to the satisfaction of the visiting fans who ribaldly recalled his time at the other Sheffield club.
Just before half-time City won a remarkable eighth corner of the first half which was half-cleared to Aluko on the edge of the area – he blatted a shot back that Kirkland dealt comfortably with.
The former England keeper had a much more difficult job a minute later when Aluko’s gorgeous flick freed Robert Koren with not a defender in sight just on the left. He ran goalwards, drew the keeper…then tamely passed it at his legs. A really poor piece of finishing from the one player you’d most fancy in that situation.
That took us to half-time, a rather inconvenient interruption given that City had finally began to play in the nature we’re accustomed to seeing. Meanwhile, the visitors made a change during the interval, Semedo replacing McCabe.
The second half started quietly, unhelpfully for a team trailing. There was lots of possession, with Dave Jones having apparently instructed his team to sit a little deeper at the outset, but it all felt a little flat. Things were rather typified when Elmohamady was fed into space on the right by Aluko – he moved into the area, then simply spannered the ball over the bar. A cross? A shot? Whatever, it was rather symbolic of a disjointed showing in the final third.
On 56 minutes, the ball was again in City’s goal. Giles Coke was first to meet a knock-down, he challenged Jakupović for the ball and managed to divert the ball in. He and a trio of fellow Wednesday players celebrated in front of the fans, all blissfully unaware that Mr Haywood had blown his whistle for a foul. We crowed, and with Wednesday badly outnumbered the Tigers attempted to break, only to inept surrender possession instead of pouring forward.
And the decision itself? Obvious nonsense. Jakupović didn’t have the ball, and Mr Heywood was completely wrong to disallow it.
There was an increasing sense the Mr Haywood was struggling to contain the game as erratic decisions blighted the half. Elmohamady was chopped down; no caution. Brady committed a soft foul; yellow. It did at least stoke up the atmosphere, though the quality of football remained disappointingly poor.
On 64, Llera – ludicrously sporting a scrumcap, undershirt and gloves – smacked a dangerous-looking free-kick into a wall. Corry Evans was withdrawn a minute later for Jay Simpson as City switched to a 3-5-2 formation.
Sleet swept over the Circle as yet another corner was forced by City, Brady’s kick to the far post resulting in Hobbs heading it tamely to Kirkland. At the other end, Jermaine Johnson found a pocket of space on edge of the area, turned sharply and sent a shot narrowly wide – two minutes later he did the same but with a less threatening outcome.
Nick Proschwitz came on for Jack Hobbs with eleven minutes left as City amassed attacking players on the pitch. Robert Koren tumbled in the area under very slight pressure while chasing a Simpson flick – and while we hesitate to accuse the City captain of diving and there WAS an arm in contact with his upper body, well, it’s something we’d rather not see, thanks.
With eight minutes left, the match suddenly went berserk. Proschwitz tussled gamely for possession in midfield and fed Elmohamady on the right – his quick cross saw Koren making a run unmarked, and his low stooping header bounced off the sodden turf and in. The febrile atmosphere changed from one of despair and frustration to elation. The distraught Wednesday fans were joyously baited…but we wouldn’t be laughing for long.
Almost immediately Wednesday forced a corner, before which they brought on Sidibe for Jermaine Johnson, the corner was swung in, Jakupović went to catch it, dropped it visibly over the line while being kneed in the face. The linesman saw it and flagged while his stunned teammates stood in disbelief. Jakupović meanwhile remained prone on the turf.
He remained there a long time too. Seven minutes passed before he was eventually taken off via a stretcher to decidedly muted applause. He’d had a shocking evening after all, though we wish him a speedy recovery. Meanwhile, the 90 minutes elapsed and another seven were announced as footballs were produced for the two teams to keep warm with.
Mark Oxley was summoned for his first ever appearance in the first team, and still the madness wasn’t finished. City kicked off in the 93rd minute knowing there were another eight in which to rescue the game; instead, it was taken even further from us. An attack broke down when Aluko miscontrolled and Antonio punctured a weak challenge by Quinn. Weirdly, Aluko was the only man chasing back, but Antonio was away, easily rounded Oxley and made it 3-1. There were 96 minutes on the clock.
Still we played on, with some recklessly disregarding the lesson of December 1970 and leaving early. Proschwitz headed our zillionth corner of the afternoon wide, then in the 101st minute a penalty was given when Simpson was clumsily felled by Helan on the very edge of the area. Simpson somehow succeeded in overruling his captain Koren to take the kick – and weakly patted it at Kirkland. And that was that.
Except it wasn’t. Another 90 seconds were played after this miss, and while that’s precious little time in which to force an equaliser, it’s at least something. Simpson’s lousy spot-kick denied us the chance.
And so we traipsed into the night trying to make sense of it. But really, there’s no great mystery. Sheffield Wednesday set themselves up well and showed admirable application. City simply had a rotten day. It happens. At least it doesn’t happen as often as it used to.