Where to start here?
Well, let’s kick off with the positives from City’s defeat at Burnley. Here they are:
Right, that’s the positives listed in their entirety. Let’s crack on with the rest, which is as gnawingly depressing as anything we’ve encountered in the League for some time – perhaps since the ghastly 2-0 reverse at Barnsley that looked set to cost us promotion over a year ago.
We’ll keep it relatively brief. We could forensically analyse this wretched loss, but you know, we have lives too. Seriously. There was boys’ Sunday League this morning. A nice bike ride. A trip to the shops. Sunday lunch. With rhubarb crumble. And, y’know, suddenly the angriness has subsided, with wistful sorrow its successor. It’s Sunday night. Work looms, leisure hours are fast diminishing and there’s Spanish football on. If the players couldn’t be arsed yesterday, why should we waste too much precious time and energy lengthily recording their indolence?
Because, sadly, we cannot avoid the charge that yesterday’s debacle was the consequence of a straightforward lack of commitment. That’s a grievous accusation to level, and we do so reluctantly. The clarion call of the phone-in dullard of “they weren’t bloody tryin’” is usually false – these are serious professional young men doing a staggeringly difficult job under great pressures. So it isn’t with enthusiasm that we advance the belief that our players did not try their utmost at Turf Moor. But the evidence is frankly unarguable.
But why? How is it that just a fortnight ago we were lauding these same players for their spirit and determination in wresting a hard-earned point at Anfield to add to the one they’d bravely secured at the Emirates. What on earth has happened? Southampton was grey and torpid, but this was so frighteningly awful that you almost fear something terrible has happened at the club that we are not yet aware of. Let us hope not, and that this was simply a one-off gutless shocker.
The match, then. Steve Bruce made two changes to the XI that misfired against the Saints at the Circle last week, relieving Eldin Jakupović for Steve Harper and replacing Hatem Ben Arfa with Sone Aluko. It meant that on a grey Lancashire afternoon, City fielded: Harper; Chester, Davies, McShane; Elmohamady, Huddlestone, Livermore, Diamé, Brady; Hernandez, Aluko.
The customary 3-5-2 for City, lining up against a Burnley side that featured a brace of ex-Tigers, Dean Marney and George Boyd.
A minute’s silence for Remembrance Sunday was observed, and City began attacking the far end to the one occupied by 1,500 visiting fans – and disaster nearly struck in the first minute when Danny Ings outmuscled James Chester to fasten onto a long ball forward, and with Steve Harper badly positioned his toe-poked shot looked in for a moment, only for the ball to roll narrowly wide.
Phew. But a troubling omen. City had begun sluggishly, though there was a flurry of activity shortly after when Hernández dragged a shot wide and Aluko had one thumpingly blocked.
Overall, a bitty start, Burnley looking determined but unappealingly limited, City unwilling or unable to assert themselves. At a disgraceful £35, this was meagre fare for both sets of fans.
Midway through the half Burnley nearly took the lead when a corner was directed back to Ings – Harper beat out his first shot and McShane and Brady combined to eventually clear the danger.
Err, that was about it. We can’t even blame the Benedectine for hazy recollections because we didn’t land in Burnley until quarter to three. Half-time had arrived with little of note on the pitch and a subdued stadium.
Little were we to know that the first forty-five minutes would represent a glorious halcyon period, times of untold glory compared to what would follow.
Five minutes into the half we trailed. The lively Ings, with whom City’s leaden-footed defence singularly failed to compete all afternoon, was once again involved. He collected possession and moved the ball to Kieran Trippier, whose far-post cross was met by Ashley Barnes and headed beyond Harper.
1-0. Goal music. Dismay.
Bruce hastily shuffled his pack, bringing on Stephen Quinn and Gastón Ramírez for the hopeless duo of Sone Aluko and Tom Huddlestone. It changed nothing, as City relentlessly slid from merely bad to utterly awful. The defence looked a clomping assembly of random strangers, the midfield was pedestrian and uncommitted, the forwards lightweight and disinterested. Movement off the ball was close to zero. Creativity was actually zero. Instead of fighting back from the setback, the side collective hoisted aloft a white flag of craven surrender.
The aghast City manager hooked James Chester from the action in favour of Ben Arfa, all three substitutions having been made before the hour mark. It changed nothing.
Meanwhile Burnley, scarcely unable to believe their luck in facing so pitiful an opposition, were almost caught unsure what to do – whether to try putting their feeble visitors to bed, or sit back safe in the knowledge that they would not be breached. They decided upon the former, content to let City huff and puff ineffectually.
But wait! A shot! On 73 minutes, by Hernández. It went wide.
It got a little worse, in a slightly comical fashion, when Curtis Davies suffered an injury that ended his afternoon, obliging the Tigers to continue with ten men.
And that, dear reader, you will not be surprised to learn did not greatly improve things. Despite the obviously distressing nature of the situation, no urgency manifested itself, the fecklessness merely continuing. No siege laid to the worst side in the division, not even a single meaningful shot. Nothing. Absolutely nothing. It was something of a relief when Mark Clattenburg blew for full time and allowed the stunned away fans to escape, though more than a few raised themselves to boos. And as we scurried away under darkening skies, the mood was decidedly dark.
Remember, Steve Bruce threw away Europe because the Premier League is apparently much more important. And no, we will not stop going on about that, because if you’re going to sacrifice the best adventure in our entire history for the League, you’d better get the League right. And with 11 points from 11 games, a daunting run of fixtures approaching, the bottom three suddenly within touching distance and our form decidedly unpromising, we are not getting the League right.
Without McGregor, we don’t have a secure keeper. The defence is prone to brainstorms. Livermore and Huddlestone don’t dictate or dominate but quietly sulk, for reasons unknown. Brady can infuriate. Hernandez can sparkle, but also appear flimsily lightweight (and for crying out loud, get rid the gloves, it’s autumn in England not frigging winter in Siberia). We must now conclude that Aluko is never going to be good enough at this level, and sports dismally inconsistent application. Only Elmohamady and McShane emerged with a scintilla of pride.
Let’s not panic. We have a very good side, a very good manager and plenty of reasons to be optimistic. And of course, defeats occur. Bad days at the office are inevitable. But not giving it your absolute all? That is completely unacceptable. It had better not happen again.