An entirely forgettable match at the KCOM saw City unbeaten though missing an opportunity to move out of the bottom three for the first time since October.
Elabdellaoui Ranocchia Maguire Robertson
Elmohamady Huddlestone N’Diaye Grosicki
The FA-Cup-Tossing-Off break saw players having the chance to impress Silva during the Club’s training camp in Portugal, and judging by yesterday’s starting line-up both Shaun Maloney and Dieumerci Mbokani both enjoyed their time in the sun by earning starts; Maloney playing in the hole whilst appearing to be stood in one. The side looked light in midfield, and so it turned out.
Burnley started the match charging into a series of fouls within the opening two minutes – Barnes being the serial offender – and it’s hard to imagine this was anything other than tactically deliberate. Get into them early, the ref will be lenient.
But despite (or because of) the repeated foulery City started very poorly in a game that was never going to flow. The opening ten minutes was probably the worst PL spell under Silva, and for a while was a nod back to those gloomy storm-cloud laden Phelan days.
A word for Burnley, who are as dour as their manager. They have a clear game plan – it’s to press City, relentlessly close down space, get men behind the ball at every opportunity, and leave Andre Gray up front on his tod to scamper after scraps lumped forward in his general direction. Free-flowing they are not, but disciplined they are in spades. Their tally of one away point before yesterday suggests they struggle after going behind on their travels, and it’s not hard to see why. They’re limited, albeit impressively hard-working.
The first half saw few chances at either end, with a series of free kicks thirty yards out being the relative highlights. A game of set pieces was always destined to be settled by them.
On thirteen Elab feeds Elmo, who puts in a great cross for Mbokani to head wide. It’s the best chance he’ll get all game. On the half hour a soft Mee header sees Jak mishandle the ball onto his own crossbar.
Goalless at the break, and we gnash our teeth at the big screen advertising the match sponsors of “Hull City Tigers”. Ehab, you utter tit.
When compared to the utter bilge of the first half, the second half had to improve, which it did slightly. My notes seem entirely focused on the injury status of Big Haz Maguire, with a series of fouls received, physio treatment required, and worrying limping around the field. But like those Monty Python soldiers from The Holy Grail, he’d play until his legs dropped off (“it’s only a flesh wound”).
On the hour, Burnley had a great chance to take the lead; a ball over the top allows Andre Gray to race clear before his shot slides agonisingly wide of Jak’s left post. Let off.
City press next, with Mbokani laying off to Kamel Grosicki who curls delightfully though agonisingly wide from 25 yards. It’s a rare flash of gold in a coalmine of a match.
Entirely in keeping with the match City took the lead not from free flowing football but from a scruffy penalty – both earned and executed. Keane was adjudged to have handled, and Tom Huddlestone slammed home the penalty despite the Burn netminder getting a strong hand to it and may feel a tad disappointed on reflection. So the dirty Lancastrians are behind and we can now do what every other team has done to them this season by going on to win. But of course this is City. We don’t. And within three minutes they’re level.
A corner finds its way over to the far edge of the area and City have tertally switched off allowing Keane time to drill home under Jakupović. It’s witless defending, City unable to focus for 100 seconds after the lead, and the equaliser is entirely in keeping with this scrabby match.
During injury time Barnes finally receives a second yellow for his 50th and most blatant foul of the lot – this time going through Ranocchia – and Burnley had to see out four minutes of injury time with ten men. They do this easily despite a couple of goalmouth scrambles and our Italian Frog boy blooters well over after being tee’d up.
The stats showed that City had twice as much possession as their visitors, but our nine shots on goal yielded only one on target, and that was the penalty. Therein lies the problem that Phelan could never answer and we hope Silva might.
City missed the pace of Lazar Markovic, the guile of Evandro and the Lincolnshireness of Sam Clucas, and it’s hard to imagine some of those not receiving an immediate recall once fit/unsuspended. Huddlestone played a lot deeper than recent matches – at times behind our centre backs – and as a result saw a lot of the ball but did little with it in a ProZone enhancing performance. Maloney started brightly but was totally anonymous after the break. Mbokani similarly faded badly, and it’s hard to see Oumar Niasse not starting next week.
It wasn’t a game City looked like losing, but in all honestly never did enough to win, and although it’s fair to say a home point against a bogey side is never a bad one City passed up a great opportunity to move clear of the drop zone. Silva’s post-match interviews suggested he learnt a lesson from this, and I suspect it will be a very different City side which pitches up at the cardboard-clapping home of the Champions next week.
Andy Medcalf (report first appeared on the Tiger Chat mailing list)