1. A jolt back to reality on Friday night. After appearing invincible prior to the latest international break, City have looked decidedly mortal since it. A patchy point at Bristol City was a disappointment, but being convincingly bested by a (very good) Derby side was a real shock to the system.
2. In the long run, it may not matter much, and could even act as a timely reminder to our squad that promotion must be earned, not simply expected. This is a superb side with a generally impressive application and attitude, so there’s no reason to be unduly concerned.
3. That’s not to say that the Derby defeat didn’t contain lessons that must be learned. It did plenty of that. Firstly, playing players out of position is unwise, unless absolutely necessary. Moses Odubajo is good on the right, but looks lost on the left. Steve Bruce recognised this, albeit late, and fixed it; however, it’s an unforced error that shouldn’t have happened to begin with. Waiting until the 73rd minute to change an XI that patently wasn’t working was also a mistake, giving the substitutes eventually brought on too little time to rescue a grave situation.
4. Most of all, we need to talk about Tom Huddlestone as a replacement for David Meyler – because they’re so unmatched in style that it’s really hampering the side in midfield. Meyler has played so well this season that replacing him was always going to be difficult, even with someone possessing England caps; however, for all of Huddlestone’s languidly glorious passing, we badly miss his colleague’s tenacity in the midfield. Over-running City in the centre of the pitch is a tough ask when Meyler is snapping at heels, closing off angles and generally being a massive pain in the arse. Huddlestone is never going to do those things.
5. Which begs the question as to whether Meyler needs replacing in a different way. Huddlestone inevitably slows City down, but we’re a team that performs best at high tempo. For all that his spell at City has been underwhelming, might Isaac Hayden be more suited to standing in until Meyler is eventually fit again?
6. It’s not all doom and gloom though. Friday did contain some positive aspects. Harry Maguire was outstanding, and is playing with real confidence and authority. He’s had to be very patient, but he’s taken the chance that’s finally fallen his way and if he loses his place to anyone not called Michael Dawson, at present he could consider himself unfortunate.
7. Also impressive was Sean Maloney. It was a pity (and source of frustration) that he didn’t take the chances that came his way, but he was otherwise sharp, lively and always looking to ghost into a pocket of space to cause havoc. He looks the sort of player who could unpick a tight defence in a tight game, and therefore very good to have about.
8. What a week awaits. A historic first ever League Cup quarter final on Tuesday, away to Premier League leaders and likely champions Manchester City. So, it’s obviously going to be extremely difficult, to the point of near-impossibility That isn’t really the point; we’re in a League Cup quarter final. Let’s go there, sing, love it and not worry too much about the result.
9. Four days later, it’s Leeds away. City will start the game as solid favourites, and though it’s tempting to loftily declare this “just another league game”, the clamour for tickets (dismally unmatched by the hosts) makes it clear it’s not. Sticking one over Leeds will always be more satisfying than beating, say, Bolton – but gone was the fevered hatred of just a decade ago. They’re not another league game, but they’re not the draw they think they are either.
10. In the hours before kick-off on Friday, it emerged on Twitter that some City fans had been turfed out of N5 following apparent complaints by some about the proximity of those seats to the away fans. Frankly, that’s the main attraction of them. Being within hailing distance of the other lot carries appeal for some, and not just that tiny minority who still harbour suspect motives – football fans feed off each other, and long may that continue. But instead of offering a change of seat to those complainants, who frankly need to grow up or a grow a pair, someone took the decision to move everyone. It’s unclear whose fault that is, City’s or the SMC’s, though only informing those people affected on Friday afternoon is a terrible way to proceed. Mentioning “Hull City Tigers” in the letter didn’t help either…