PREVIEW: Leicester v City

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Leicester. It’s must-win, this. For Leicester.

Or so says their manager, the former City boss Nigel Pearson. He’s probably right. Four points adrift at the bottom, seven from safety and nine behind the Tigers, the window for them to stage a remarkable recovery is almost shut. By 5pm today, it could be closed completely.

That’s the incentive for City, who would be able to rest just a little more easily tonight knowing that one of the three relegation slots is effectively filled, that that there are only two remaining and that we could enter the 30s, probably just a win and a couple of draws from safety.

Sounds easy, doesn’t it? But City’s disagreeable habit of coughing up cheap 1-0 defeats in games such as this all season long reminds us it won’t be. Leicester, knowing anything but victory is useless, will be fighting for their lives, and in Pearson that have a wily, obdurate manager who will not be accepting defeat yet.

As well as the division’s lowest points tally, Leicester also have the worst home record in the Premier League; that outstanding 5-3 victory over Manchester United must feel quite distant now, and has been added to just once at the King Power Stadium. City’s away form is hardly stellar, with two wins from 14 and defeats in half of our fixtures on the road, but we’ve actually gained more points on the road than Leicester have in Leicester.

What this is all means for this afternoon is anyone’s guess. Likewise, the two managers’ approaches are an interesting mystery. Will Steve Bruce send his side out for the kill, or will we sit back and hand the initiative to a team in need (see Burnley away)? Will Pearson go all out for victory, or will he be more circumspect, hoping his side can play their way into the game and snatch a narrow victory?

City have no new injury worries, which makes in a change in this ill-starred season. Mohamed Diamé is not quite fit enough to be in contention, though it’s close. Leicester will welcome back Kasper Schmeichel, but see Knockaert and Hammond unavailable.

City have won twice in Leicester since regular resumption of regular meetings nine years ago, a 1-0 win in 2006 and 2-0 win on the way to promotion in 2008. Historically, we actually have the edge over today’s hosts, with 28 wins to 26, though our last two visits to this part of the world have been defeats. Home advantage is enough for Leicester to be the bookies’ favourites, available at 6/5. City are as long as 3/1, while a draw that does little for City and even less for Leicester is 12/5. C’mon City.

PREVIEW: City v QPR

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The performance at Man City, and the result against Aston Villa went together like beer and curry, gin and tonic, Brown and Duffen. No, wait, scratch that last one. But you see the point, from a really difficult to watch period for City, whisper it quietly but a corner seems to have been turned.

QPR, what can you say about QPR? There’s not an awful lot to like about QPR is there? From the list of dislikeable managers… Colin, ‘Arry and even stretching back to John Gregory to name but three. Taarabt, Barton, Rio Ferdinand…they don’t have very likeable players either.

Although we’ve had some pretty enjoyable games against them in recent years, party poopers in 2011, Stuart Elliott’s last gasp brace in 2007 and the opening game of this season when Allan McGregor continued his 100% record of saving penalties for Hull City, not a bad stat after two seasons.

City are expected to be unchanged from the Villa game, with Mo Diamé not quite making a full recovery, while QPR are expecting to be able to name Charlie Austin in their starting XI, not our medical department’s finest hour in deciding his knee wasn’t up to scratch.

City are evens for the victory while QPR come in at 14/5, the draw at 23/10. I’d be an awful lot more nervy about this game if QPR hadn’t won at Sunderland last week, the ‘no away points’ monkey that was on their back has gone now so no need for any TypicalCity.

It’s another must-win fixture, with Stoke, Sunderland and Leicester to follow, the next three weeks will give us a massive hint as to which division City will be plying their trade in next season. C’mon City!

Joseph Oldroyd

PREVIEW: City v Villa

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Saturday was excellent, really superb from City, it certainly restored the pride of supporting the club after a couple of months of highly frustrating viewing. However, Saturday was a bonus point, Man City dropping two points means cock-all to City’s season, other than us gaining one, but if we can take all three against Villa, and in the process stop them scoring any points, it will be a massive step in restoring the faith and the belief that we will stay up.

Bruce changed things for Saturday, perhaps resting players for Tuesday’s big game…but what does he do now? Keep faith with those who battled hard for the point at the Etihad or return to those who’ve played most of the season? I genuinely don’t envy having to make that decision. Meyler, Livermore and Huddlestone were superb in the middle of the park on Saturday, yet all have had below-par seasons. Aluko and Ramirez played high up the pitch and hassled and harried the Hunter’s back four, but surely in a game of this magnitude, Bruce has to select at least one out-and-out striker.

That striker may well be Dame N’Doye, who, not being an expert on the Danish or Russian leagues, genuinely looks superb on YouTube, but more than that, his goal record stands up and should be respected. He is a proven centre forward who scores, Hernandez isn’t that (which makes the £10m price tag very bizarre). Also N’Doye was always excellent on Football Manager, high praise indeed, just ask Freddy Adu and Cherno Samba.

Villa travel to City with just one goal in their last 11 hours of Premier League football and with their only proven goalscorer, Benteke, having a little spell on the substitute’s bench. They’ve flirted with the relegation zone for the past three seasons without ever being in any real trouble, somehow this season feels a bit different to others, they genuinely have no goal threat (TypicalCity ALERT) and I fully expect them to be scrapping for survival come May-time. City were absolutely minging at Villa Park, the one (and possibly only ever) time we can blame a poor league performance on a European tie and the ‘fatigue’ that comes with it.

City are 13/10 to take the three points, while Villa come in at 23/10 and the draw at 21/10. To be perfectly honest I couldn’t care less about the performance tomorrow night (that mattered on Saturday), three points is what we need, and three points is what we demand. Come on City.

Joseph Oldroyd

PREVIEW: Manchester Hunter v City

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City are 16/1 to beat the champions, Bradford were 28/1 to beat Chelsea the other week. So if you bravely put £20 on Bradford to beat Chelsea, you would have received your £580, if you put £20 on City to beat Man City, you will probably lose £20.

City travel to the Etihad in truly rotten form, four wins all season and on the back of four defeats without a goal scored. Yet, and yet, City certainly haven’t disgraced themselves when travelling to Man City, since the 5-1 debacle, a credible 1-1 draw in November 2009 and a highly respectable performance in a 2-0 defeat was difficult to take particularly with a disallowed Danny Graham goal (no, really) for offside preceding Sone Aluko’s glaring miss at 0-0.

Dame N’Doye, our latest YouTube sensation, isn’t expected to make the squad for this weekend so Jelavic and Hernandez will have probably one last opportunity to retain their place with the Senegalese striker surely coming into the side by Tuesday night. Man City are without Yaya Toure and new signing Wilfried Bony, I wonder how they will cope? Oh yes, Aguero, Silva, Kompany et al.

In some ways this is a free hit for City, little can be expected, yet with Leicester hosting Palace and QPR at home to Southampton, it is conceivable could end the weekend bottom of the table, a depressing thought.

Joe Oldroyd

PREVIEW: West Ham v City

tactics

Erratic form. Injury woes of such magnitude as to, for once, deserve the term “crisis”. Barely any fit strikers. A wretched record at Upton Park. Ee, it’s all glamour this Premier League lark, isn’t it?

It won’t be for the faint-hearted, this one. Not at a preposterous £43, and with Sky Sports preparing to beam the gory details into the nation’s living rooms. But while we can feel a little down in the dumps, we must raise the team. And they must raise themselves, because however unpromising the circumstances, we no longer have the luxury of writing games off and waiting for easier ones – largely because we invariably lose the easier ones anyway (Burnley, Swansea, Leicester, West Brom…), but mainly last weekend’s grim outing combined unhappily with other results to deposit us back in the bottom three. Points are needed, not just next month when everyone’s fit, but right now.

The task, then. West Ham are having a stellar season, vying with Southampton for the most unexpectedly impressive ascent of the table. They currently lie 8th, on the cusp of European qualification, and with fears of the bottom three long extinguished. A hefty 33 points have already been amassed, 20 of them at home, and their view is upwards, not downwards.

Avoiding defeat has been a hallmark of their season. Three at home will be a slight disappointment, but with only three away as well, they regularly add to their points tally. 16 goals from 11 home matches isn’t amazing (though it compares well to City’s paltry 10), but a relatively miserly concession of 10 suggests our makeshift attack will need to exceed expectations just to register once.

That there’s been talk of putting Harry Maguire up front is a sign of City’s desperate situation, though Sone Aluko and Gastón Ramírez may be fit to play. For West Ham, Winston Reid and Guy Demel may return to action after recent injuries. Though presumably a little jaded after their epic midweek Cup game against Everton, they’ll at least have the confidence boost of emerging successfully from it. Their form has actually dipped a little lately, and they’re winless in the first four Premier League games.

Set against that is City’s ghastly record at Upton Park. The Tigers have lost the last five trips there, including a 7-1 thrashing in 1990 – the same year in which our last victory came there. Nor is our overall record against the Hammers much better, with last season’s 1-0 win at home the only success in eight. Crumbs of comfort are sadly lacking. But the incentive’s a good one. Today’s results weren’t bad for City, meaning that a win would elevate us to 14th (or 13th if it’s by four goals…) – that’s a 9/2 shot with the bookies. The draw that’d lift us to 16th is 11/4 – but a home win is just 3/4. Hm. C’mon City.

To Wembley…

AFCCup

For those who remember Raich, Ken and Chris, and thought time was running out…
For those who carried a coffin through Hull…
For those who stood heartbroken at Burnley…
For those who suffered the dog days of Fish/Dolan and still stood firm…
For those who loyally stood on empty terraces while the rest of the world mocked…
For those who threw coins into a blanket to pay the players…
For those who saw us collapse to bottom of the Football League…
For those who said No to the Boulevard, and No to Hull Tigers…
For those who never gave up and always believed our day would come…
For those whose journey is just beginning, and for whom tomorrow will ignite a lifetime of love…

See you all at Wembley.

For the FA Cup Final.

PREVIEW: Cardiff v City

ChesterJames

Interest in this game is pretty widespread on a national scale but, for the fans of the two teams at least, that interest will be largely restricted to events on the pitch. That both outfits have ludicrous owners with egos the size of the Serengeti and destructive plans that will marmalise the very fabric of their clubs is a side issue on a local level, as football still, when it has the grace to turn up, comes first.

Cardiff City’s mad bloke in residence is currently trying to undermine the efforts of the previous manager with the effect, it seems, of putting needless pressure on the new one. Gratifyingly, our manager and his position – and, indeed, his team – have not been involved nor affected by events involving the hypocritical maniac in charge of Hull City, but nevertheless his own activities, brought to a head with a new revelatory piece of self-absorbed bullying just this week, make this fixture a high-profile one even among clubs without much of a top flight pedigree.

Both teams could do with the win; Cardiff have just one from their last ten in the Premier League while the Tigers have just one in 2014. For City, it commences an especially big 72 hours of the season with Brighton on the way up to the KC on Monday night for the FA Cup fifth round replay that will put one team within 90 minutes of a Wembley semi-final.

Steve Bruce may have much-needed defensive options returning in James Chester and Liam Rosenior, who have just about recovered from hamstring and thigh injuries, but he is without Paul McShane and Robbie Brady. Transfer window investments Shane Long and Nikica Jelavić are back after being cup-tied at Brighton on Monday night.

Cardiff have lost Mark Hudson for the rest of the season with a hamstring injury, while midfielder Gary Medel and veteran striker Craig Bellamy are injured and suspended respectively.

It’ll be on Bruce’s ticksheet, this one; the bookies have City at 7/4 to take the points in the Welsh capital. Cardiff are priced at 17/10 and it’s 11/5 for the draw. It’s on our ticksheet too with green highlighter right through it. C’mon City.

 

PREVIEW: Brighton v City

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So, we know what our reward for victory tomorrow will be: Sunderland at home.

Will that impact upon Steve Bruce’s team selection? It should certainly compel him to take his strongest possible side to the South Coast tomorrow, for we are now just two victories against lowlier sides away from the FA Cup semi-finals for only the second time in our entire 110 year existence. History beckons for City, and to throw that away would be a desperate pity.

What we do know is that the manager will be without Shane Long and Nikica Jelavić, both ruled out of because the ludicrously archaic cup-tied rule – seriously, in an age when the Cup’s lustre has never been dimmer, who cares whether a player turned out for someone else in an earlier round? Whether they’d have been selected is immaterial, it’s an idiotic regulation that needs scrapping.

Available for selection is Sone Aluko, whose return to fitness has allowed him to make appearances from the subs’ bench in the last two Premier League games. Might this be the perfect opportunity to give him a start? It’d work for two reasons: we’re more likely to win with him in the attack, and it’ll build up his match fitness for the run-in. Allan McGregor has also served his recent ban and can play again; whether he is brought straight back in or Steve Harper keeps the gloves is an interesting question.

Brighton’s approach to this game will also be a quandary for them. They’ll fancy beating both City and Sunderland, and not without justification. It’s hard to imagine them not playing their strongest possible side. Will Buckley and ex-Tiger Keith Andrews are both fit again, should Seagulls boss Óscar García require them.

It’s been a decent season for Brighton so far. They’re currently 7th in the Championship, just one point away from the play-off places in which they finished in 2012/13. Their record at the Amex Stadium is a little mixed, with seven wins from 15 matches and a slightly disappointing return of 21 goals in those games. That said, City’s record on the road is hardly stellar, with two League wins supplemented by Cup wins at Middlesbrough and Southend.

We also have a staggeringly terrible record at Brighton, wherever they’ve played. None of our last twenty matches at the Goldstone/Priestfield/Withdean/Amex have seen us win; you must go all the way back to August 1965 for the time that Brighton v Hull City ended in an away win, an incredible sequence that also included an FA Cup loss in 1985. And of course, this unfathomably dreadful sequence began before any of the current squad were even born, but as supporters, we’re long accustomed to East Sussex bringing footballing despair.

That’s one of the reasons Brighton start as favourites, the announcement of the sides notwithstanding – they’re 7/5 to win, while City are as long as 12/5. A draw neither side would appreciate is also 12/5. So, to Brighton we go. Defeat would not be a disaster, but not taking it seriously would be.

PREVIEW: City v Southampton

Aluko, Sone (v Blackpool, 2-10-2012) 4

Ooh, to win two games in a row, now, eh? That would be very handy and very timely indeed. And with the visit of Southampton to the Circle tonight, we’re allowed to think it possible.

City have, after a wretched start to 2014, come into a semblance of form. A creditable draw against Tottenham Hotspur followed by a destructive, utterly dominant victory at Sunderland makes the Tigers notable and noticeable again, and Southampton won’t take this one lightly. A likeable club with gallant fans and a good team, they’ll do what a lot of clubs who’ve fallen by our wayside this season haven’t done, and take us seriously.

It has potential to be a smashing game, with two progressive, high-pressing, forward thinking sides who each have a smattering of England wannabes for the summer in their ranks (though Saints have more chance at the moment of getting a player in the squad than City). Southampton are at the bottom of the “safe” section of the Premier League with City (jointly) top of the “less safe” section. There are nine points in between but only two places and all games that don’t involve the Champions League contenders feel winnable, especially at home.

Steve Bruce has to make one alteration from the side that started at the Stadium Of Light, as Liam Rosenior suffered a thigh injury on Wearside, hence his non-appearance for the second half. It feels improbable that Ahmed Elmohamady’s potency will be nullified by a stint at right back, so maybe the wing back system will come back into force, allowing a return for either Robbie Brady or Alex Bruce, the latter of which would shift Maynor Figueroa into the advanced wide role. Sone Aluko will again edge his way back into contention via a cameo from the bench.

It’s also an important occasion for Steve Harper, who has impressed in goal during Allan McGregor’s suspension and may give Bruce a problem with selection with a good performance tonight, as McGregor is eligible again afterwards.

Southampton have no fresh injury concerns following their 2-2 home draw with Stoke at the weekend, but remain without long-term absentees Dejan Lovren and Gaston Ramirez. They’ll be aiming for a double tonight, having cuffed City 4-1 in November in what was arguably the Tigers’ poorest performance of the season.

City have won one, drawn one and lost two against Saints at the Circle. Turf accountants have laid odds of 7/4 on City, with Saints priced at 13/8 and the draw 9/4. Two wins in a row, as the Premier League squeezes itself even tighter: how nice would that be? And just in time for a Premier League break too. It’s doable. It’s tonight. C’mon City.

PREVIEW: Sunderland v City

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When friends become enemies. It’s something of a running theme for tomorrow’s visit to Sunderland as City aim for a first win for ages and a first away win for …. ever, really. You could throw in the stats if you so wished (it’s five Premier League games without a win; 19 without an away win) but there is something much more urgent about City’s form that mere numbers only manage to dilute. And as we troop up to the Stadium of Light, one feels like a score or two on a personal note need settling too.

City have three ex-Sunderland players in the current starting XI, Sunderland currently have two ex-Tigers in theirs (albeit their two were only loanees for City). Above all, however, there is the spectre of a returning, slightly scorned former Sunderland manager. Steve Bruce had a shocking closing spell in charge on Wearside before getting the boot, with his reputation so tarnished that he was out of work for over a year before his appointment at the KC. While he is generous and astute enough to play down the significance, stating he has never been back to Sunderland since they gave him his cards and (of course) it’s all such a long time ago, one can’t help but feel he really wants to turn his old employees over on Saturday.

He won’t be alone. Ahmed Elmohamady never cut it with the Sunderland faithful, David Meyler was peripheral and Paul McShane is regarded as one of their many joke players of the recent past, and all of them will be mad keen to show their true worth as Premier League performers. All three are likely to start the game too, making this very spicy of fixtures even spicier. Throw in Vito Mannone, who was excellent when he played for City, and Jozy Altidore, who wasn’t, and the number of poachers turned gamekeepers is remarkably high.

The game will be a real old test for City. Sunderland are on form, having climbed out of the bottom three under Gus Poyet and reached the League Cup final. However, they are still susceptible in defence and with Altidore up front instead of the much more proven Steven Fletcher, are having to find their goals from more unorthodox routes. Adam Johnson, touted for an England recall, is currently in his best form since joining the club and with Roy Hodgson in attendance, the time is right for City to also impress. The game is always hot-tempered – there have been six red cards in the last seven meetings between these two – and has had its emotional days too, such as Michael Turner’s (temporarily) scoring debut for the Mackems against City three days after leaving one club for the other.

Bruce has no new injury worries but will be thrilled that Sone Aluko sparkled for the stiffs for a whole hour in midweek and can take a place on the bench. Steve Harper continues in goal and will be guaranteed a hostile anti-Geordie welcome from the hosts that may almost match that reserved for the City boss himself. George Boyd may feel he has a strong claim to begin the game but it feels likely that Bruce won’t alter the starting XI that drew with Spurs last week beyond a recall for Jake Livermore. Sunderland haven’t got Fletcher due to an Achilles injury but otherwise also have no further injury concerns.

A win for City will complete a first Premier League double since beating Fulham in March 2009 and also acquire the first ever points at the Stadium of Light, having lost on all three previous occasions going back to 2006/7. Sunderland are priced at 11/10 to win, with City at 11/4 and the draw set at 9/4. Tyne and Wear has been the only happy hunter for City this season in the Premier League, so having done the Tyne, there’s just 50% of it left to conquer.