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Things We Think We Think #253

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1. You’d be forgiven for considering not turning up to home games till half time at the moment. First, you’d avoid the queues for the turnstiles, which are worse now than at any time since the stadium opened (slow hand clap for Ehab), and secondly, because for the time being City home first halves tend to be insipid, uninspiring affairs where the Tigers seem stuck in first gear, lacking any real purpose, beyond waiting till halftime when Marco Silva imparts a deliciously meticulous plan to sex up the second half.

2. And that second half was sexy. It was top shelf in its sexiness. It was so sexy, it made a 21 year old Sophia Loren look like Deirdre Barlow in comparison. It was footballing Viagra. Cock stiffening, pussy widening, nip tingling, fluid generating sexiness.

2a. We’ll be good to go in a minute, just let us catch our breath…

2b. Okay, the second half. City’s courage in overcoming both the referee (of whom more in a moment) and a numerically advantaged Watford side felt vitally important. To win when a man light for well over an hour in the Premier League is extremely impressive, and testament to City’s resiliance and belief at home. The reaction when City scored that first goal was, at the risk of lapsing back into graphic imagery, semi-orgasmic. And from there, the will of the players and the fervour of the City fans did the rest. It was magnificent and uplifting.

3. It can be all too easy to pile into match officials: fans are tacitly encouraged to do so by broadcasters and pundits who’d rather pore over a contentious refereeing decision (making glib remarks such as ‘well you’ve seen them given’ or ‘he’s given the ref a decision to make’) because it’s easier to do that than to really earn corn by offering thoughtful tactical insight. As partisans, it’s convenient and painless for fans to blame referees in defeat, as it avoids the cognitive dissonance of acknowledging flaws in the abilities of players we are fond of and the team we love. When you’re still cursing the man in the middle hours after a win, however, then it’s quite likely that the reason is no more complex than shite refereeing. Step forward Robert Madley.

4. The decision to produce a straight red for Niasse’s supposed foul on Niang felt contemptible in realtime, and further contempt was liberally applied after seeing replays of the incident. Madley compounded the error when he elected to let off Niang for a dive on the stroke of half time that was in turns impressively balletic, dramatically hammy and unfathomably twatty.  Thus a pattern was set of City transgressions being jumped on while Watford indiscretions were ignored.

5. Can you imagine how deflating it must have been for Swansea, who recorded their first Premier League win since February on Saturday, to find out that 10 men City had beaten Watford 2-0? It must have made them feel their efforts in besting Stoke were all for naught, as they are no nearer to overhauling our two point advantage and now have one less game to do it in. Psychology is a massive part of football, and it’s hard to believe that Swansea’s sense of hope and self-belief wasn’t damaged by the weekend’s dénouement..

6. Andrea Ranocchia was named man of the match, and he was as he’s been since joining us on loan from Inter highly competent, but we’d have handed the accolade to another man. Alfred N’Diaye was tremendous in both breaking up Watford possession and in confidently maintaining possession for us. Sam Clucas is another on the shortlist.

7. Though perhaps it’s better to consider Sam Clucas for player of the year rather than just man of the match on Saturday. A game award against Watford would have neatly illustrated his growth as a player, juxtaposing the performance with the last one against Watford, when the lad endured a torrid afternoon unfairly deployed at left back, but his exponential rise to prominence since joining City from Chesterfield in the summer of 2015 would be better acknowledged by the 2016/17 player of the year award.

8. He might just take goal of the season too, after that beautiful and composed strike that sealed three points against Watford.

9. Southampton next, then. That’s an away game, and therefore impossible to contemplate without a sense of fatalist dread. Surely this extraordinary pattern of win-at-home/lose-away cannot remain for the whole of the season? We wouldn’t complain if so, as we’d be very likely to stay up if so, however the prize for even a point at St Mary’s is huge. With Swansea not playing until the next day, if they were to prepare for a fixture at Manchester United three points (or more!) behind, their task would appear formidable. Come on City, let’s summon the spirit of Saturday and sort this away thing out.

10. We enjoyed the match report in the Sunday Times pointing out, as a casual but pertinent aside in parentheses, that the referee was barracked off the pitch by a stadium that was “not full (largely because of comical ownership)”. Sadly, we suspect Ehab Allam will take that to mean he’s some kind of charismatic raconteur with the timing of Eric Morecambe, and not a manifestly inept autocrat who hates his clientele.

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Things We Think We Think #252

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1. City’s 3-1 defeat at Stoke followed a depressingly unaltered template. Play well for long periods against beatable opposition, miss chances, concede softly a few times, go home with zero points.

2. The bad bits first. City defended hopelessly in the early stages of the match, and although they became less awful once the game was about a quarter through, a cheap concession always felt likely – particularly with City looking wide open on both wings. We wondered partway through the first half whether at least two goals were going to be needed just for a point. In the end, even that wouldn’t have done.

3. Harry Maguire on the right? Well, he’s surprised a lot of people this season, but this was an assignment too far. Stoke sensibly targetted the flank he was patrolling, and enjoyed success throughout. With Omar Elabdellaoui absent through injury and Ahmed Elmohamady’s sad decline showing no little prospect of being arrested, you can perhaps see what the manager was thinking. However, round pegs, square holes…

3a. Moses Odubajo: how we have missed you.

4. The good-ish. After a horrible start, City controlled the game from about 25 minutes until Stoke brought on Crouch and Walters, which unnerved Silva’s men to a ridiculously disproportionate extent. It’s a City we often see on the road: calm, capable, able to dictate the game (even if only at a modest tempo) and able to create chances. This is a team with plenty of talent and an underrated capacity for attractive football. For that half-hour either side of the break, we were very enjoyable to watch, and well worth the equaliser when it came.

5. However, too many chances weren’t taken, again. Niasse has broadly impressed since his arrival, and he’s taken some sharp opportunities during that time, but he was disappointing in front of goal at Stoke. Hernández, benched for the day, would surely have fared better.

6.  It isn’t an ambitious way of looking at things, but it feels like the rest of City’s season could come down to matching Swansea’s results. Viewed through that prism, their defeat at West Ham made for a successful weekend, despite our frustrations in the Potteries.

7. City seem determined to salvage their Premier League status through home games alone, and with Tottenham now a fully fledged title contender, the prior home games against Watford and Sunderland, while both eminently winnable, are going to be tense affairs indeed.

8. There was an odd story over the weekend in the national Daily Mail about Marco Silva potentially being appointed last summer, but not being recruited for fear of “antagonising” fans. The proposition in this argument is patently false – the lamentable Allam family have never worried about antagonising City fans, and as their present actions demonstrate, they appear to actively relish it. However, although it carries no supporting quotes for this fantasy, it’s fairly specific in its contentions, which chiefly suggest that Ehab Allam is a man of both rare vision and acute sensitivity. He’s obviously neither, and it appears to us that this tall tale was fed to the media by someone at the club, in a fairly transparent and unsubtle manner. Ehab, or a lackey of Ehab’s? We’d love to know.

9. If managerial decisions are actually being turned over to the fans… the fans have been saying for a few weeks that Silva should be tied to a new deal now, not when he’s a free agent coveted by a string of other Premier League clubs.

10. Congratulations to Brighton & Hove Albion on their long overdue promotion to the Premier League. Like us, they had to hit the very bottom before they could start their rise to the top, with unscrupulous owners, ridiculous stadium politics and a community that seemed to be apathetic at best, especially when it came to getting their current stadium okayed. We remember Brighton fans, despite their own troubles, dropping change into buckets when we needed it, and for that alone we salute them heartily on their day of celebration. Our fingers are crossed that we’ll be meeting each other next season.

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Things We Think We Think #251

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1. There was nothing unsurprising about City’s non-attentive performance at the Etihad on Saturday. Manchester City may have been off form prior to us popping across the Pennines, but we have a fetid smell seemingly following us around the country right now, and we should be grateful that many of the hardest away games of the campaign came at times when seasons weren’t going to be defined.

2. There were dabs of light in the City display, but ultimately better players beat us. That we managed a late consolation, thereby ever so slightly reducing the impact on our execrable goal difference, pays a small tribute to our team’s perseverance (though more likely Marco Silva’s insistence we play a proper 90 minutes, whatever is going on) while also making Pep Guardiola entertainingly tetchy in his post-match interviews.

3. Michael Dawson is a fine player, a consummate defender and a great example to young players everywhere. But he isn’t among our best two centre backs any more (as isn’t Curtis Davies), and the absence in Manchester of the injured Harry Maguire, and the buckles he tends to conclusively swash in games, was truly notable.

4. Maguire was colossal, again, as City beat Middlesbrough on Wednesday night and to finally see him notch up his first Premier League goal in what was a thoroughly engaging game, and display, was marvellous. The result itself was significant, as the spirit of Middlesbrough seemed to go that night at the Circle, and now it feels like City only have one relegation place to avoid.

5. Maguire’s header against Middlesbrough understandably made the highlights reel, but we could watch THAT pass for the third goal without ever growing tired of it. If Andrés Iniesta or Paul Scholes had picked that out, the world would coo. Well, it damn well should over that, because it wasn’t a diminutive midfield schemer managing it, but a colossus of a centre-back.

6. A fascinating aspect to that victory was that even Middlesbrough’s opening goal didn’t visibly dent the confidence in the team, or the stadium. City’s remarkable home form is not merely a happenstance of statistics, it’s increasingly a matter of belief.

7. Meanwhile, the peculiar hell that is Sunderland’s 2016/17 season shows no signs of improving, and they’re now a distant ten points behind City and from safety. What impact – if any – could them being relegated before they even play us next month have? Perhaps it could go either way. They’ll either be so deflated by their pitiful relegation they’ll accommodatingly capitulate, or may finally show up and play as soon as it no longer matters. The former would be preferable, obviously.

8. As for the earlier part of what is now officially (according to Sky Sports, anyway) the run-in, we have Stoke away, Watford at home and Southampton away, prior to that game against the doomed Mackems. The home game is eminently winnable; the away games, yet again, are where we should have enough about us to compete for at least a point, even if our away record in recent months is something on the imperfect side. Imagine what seven points from nine would do prior to Sunderland making their reluctant trip down the A19.

9. It’s hard to know what to make of the lack of progress towards a new contract for Marco Silva. The Allam family are not renowned for valuing valuable employees, however his impact has guaranteed Silva options aplenty should there be a parting of the ways in summer. It’s understandable that all parties may wish to wait for the determination of our “divisional status”, as the club’s semi-literate membership brochure would call it – but it’s abundantly clear that there’s something special about this manager. Given that, we should be making the first move.

10. Yesterday marked three years to the day that the FA rejected Assem Allam’s imbecilic name change idea. Think it’s irrelevant? The club still refuse to use their own name on anything unless obliged to by the FA/PL, the fans’ Twitter hashtag remains unused and the YouTube channel still alludes to a fiction of his feverish imagination. It’s as relevant as ever. Now, and forever, No To Hull Tigers.

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Things We Think We Think #250

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1. City’s win over West Ham on Saturday was streaky, improbable and accomplished late. None of that can detract from a result of serious consequence. We’re halfway through a brace of home fixtures from which the absolute minimum requirement, given our ongoing difficulties on the road, was probably four points. Three are already banked. And the season remains alive.

2. It felt in grave danger at half-time against the Hammers. City trailed after a wretched concession and had done little to suggest that even a draw could be salvaged. It’s tempting to let the euphoria of the eventual result mask the first half, but it was low-grade stuff. Worst of all, it was puzzlingly short of urgency, as though the desperation of the situation was somehow being missed by everyone on the pitch.

3. Still, if we’re to scorn the first half, let’s celebrate the second. A half-time substitution and a tactical switch saw a major improvement, quickly culminating in a sumptuous leveller, one of those goals we’ll never tire of watching. It set us up to lay siege to West Ham, a modest team playing modestly…but that didn’t really happen. When Grosicki directed his shot wide after we had struck the post, it felt like a rare and perhaps final opportunity to pinch the win.

4. Sometimes, luck goes your way. When West Ham inexplicably switched off at a late set-piece, Andrea Ranocchia capitalised with a fine header. But for the visitors’ sudden inattention, we’d have had to settle for a draw. It’d have been costly, as we were well aware that Crystal Palace were unexpectedly leading, but it’d have had to do. Fortunately, the sloppiness City had shown with West Ham’s goal was reciprocated, and the celebrations were long and loud.

4a. Apropos the second goal, we loved the poor steward’s unsuccessful attempts to douse the flare. Crash course in sand deployment for our fluorescent-jacketed friends, please.

5. Predictably, a lot of the pre-match discussion centred upon Robert Snodgrass. That he’s been almost entirely excluded from the post-match debate is testament to what a completely anonymous afternoon he had. That isn’t a trait you’d ordinarily associate with such a fiery character, but it’s true of his display on Saturday.

6. Results elsewhere this weekend were an odd bunch. Sunderland are surely done for after their latest defeat, while a draw in South Wales was a significant missed opportunity for both Swansea and Middlesbrough – the latter are in serious trouble, while the former have gained just one point in games against M’bro, City and Bournemouth and are heading quickly back into danger. Just a shame about Palace. The neutral observer may think that two are already as good as down, and it’s a straight fight between City and Swansea for the promised land of 17th. Such an observer would have a point.

7. With the exception of Manchester City next weekend and Spurs on the last day, the run-in is decidedly kindly, on paper at least, which was something we wryly noted last summer when the fixture list was first released. The principal games marked down as clichéd “must-wins” will be those against Watford, Sunderland and, of course, that seriously troubled Middlesbrough side in just 48 hours at the Circle. They can’t score goals at the moment, have just sacked their manager and replaced him with our own former assistant manager, and are set to come up against a City side close to invincible on its own soil with a head coach who hasn’t lost a home game with any of his last three clubs since Abba split up, or something. That fighting goalless draw at Swansea, while not massively helping either side, should serve as notice to City that our midweek opponents will journey down from Teesside at least determined to scrap like mad for something.

8. So what to make of the brochure sent out to current patrons of the membership scheme? Well, the first thing to jump out is the illiteracy of whoever wrote it (and Ehab Allam’s name is on it, so perhaps he is the author). Indefinitely is ‘ indefinately’, eighth is ‘eigth’, and the difference between ‘effect’ and ‘affect’ is misunderstood, as both are used. Incorrectly. When a Premier League football club can’t be bothered to get a document proof-read, or at least run through a spell checker, it’s clear they have utter disdain for the intended audience.  The timing of the brochure’s distribution is suspect too,  there were 14 days between games and this brochure arrived (and  was inevitably picked up by local press) the day before an important game.

9. March 2016: Ehab Allam tells the Yorkshire Post that “Clubs should be encouraged by a penalty system to ensure crowds are close to capacity. At Hull, it would put the onus on us to get things exactly right…to fine-tune efforts.”

April 2017: The latest fine tuning of efforts? To claim memberships are increasing, then announce the closure of the West Stand Upper. Every day is April Fools’ day when you’re Ehab Allam.

10. We were as stunned as anyone when Jake Livermore was picked in England’s starting XI against Germany – we had gone on record both here and in our podcast that he would be on the bench for both games – but kudos to our recently exited midfielder for not only playing, but playing well, and making the more cutting, condescending doubters admit that he might have something to offer his country after all. It’s one of those occasions where we couldn’t be more pleased to be wrong – we just wish he was still playing for us at the time Gareth Southgate decided to include him.

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Things We Think We Think #249

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1. Another away game, another defeat. The sharp-eyed will have noticed a pattern: City play a game outside of East Yorkshire, they lose, they come home promising to do better, and the whole dismal thing repeats. Look – there’s no shame in losing at Everton, who are very firmly in the second tier of Premier League sides. The problem is that previous failures on the road have left us needing results in this type of fixture. And we didn’t really get close.

2. Sure, it was only 1-0 for most of the game, and the scoreline was given an unfair tilt late in the game. But that argument falls apart when the shocking lack of shots on target is taken into account. We pose next to no threat to opposing sides on their own turf, meaning they can attack with little fear of the consequences. And, eventually, we concede.

3. The early goal was a killer. It’s always a relief to rapidly lead in a game you’re expected to win, and it soothed any nerves any Everton fans who hadn’t studied the “Away” section of the table may have felt. It wasn’t a notably brilliant move, but it was far too good for City, whose leadenfooted response was alarming.

4. That red card, eh? It’s a wrong decision, but it also has to be filed under “can maybe see why it was given”. That probably means that an appeal is doomed to fail; however, we’re doomed to fail whether Tom Huddlestone misses three games or four, should it be extended if the FA view an appeal as vexatious, so it’s worth a try.

5. Let’s try for at least one positive. After falling behind, we didn’t let the game run away from us (even if that event was deferred rather than postponed). City rarely looked like levelling, but it only takes an instant to equalise, so…oh sod it, we’re really clutching at straws here. You know it and we know it.

6. Results elsewhere were a funny lot. Palace’s streaky win was a cause for Saturday afternoon despair, but Swansea, Middlesbrough and Sunderland all remain accommodatingly toss as well. We aren’t cut off, and with two extremely winnable (and in truth, must-win) home games approaching, even this grim situation isn’t quite yet terminal. Even if the echoes of 2009/2010 are growing by the week.

7. Harry Maguire had a lot of columnists and pundits talking up his case for a place in the England squad, but unsurprisingly, he didn’t get the call from Gareth Southgate. Intriguing that Jake Livermore, of this parish until January, is back in the squad for the first time in five years, however. Notwithstanding the further propagation of the long-held belief that players, irrespective of their form, only get into major international squads after they’ve left City (36 league appearances for Spurs, one cap; seven for West Brom, one call-up; 90 for City in between, sod all), it does look an odd choice. We like Jake. We rate him as a very good midfielder, a good guy, a team player and obviously this return to the international fold takes him back to the top of a sport where he had very recently hit a horribly personal rock bottom. But we just don’t think he’s good enough.

8. If he plays in either of the games, he’ll become the first footballer to play for England after leaving City since Brian Marwood’s notorious nine-minute cameo against Saudi Arabia in 1988. If you want to fly a flag for Fraizer Campbell at this point, you carry on, but he was never ours so we don’t think he counts. We’d like Livermore to achieve this feat for his own personal redemption reasons, but sentimentality has no place in the international game and we suspect he’ll watch both matches from the bench.

9. Throughout the week, the club have been calling fans to ask if they’re interested in ongoing membership. Harmless, even proactive you may think, even if no information was divulged about the prospect of concessions for 2017/18 – except that they’ve been introducing themselves as calling from “Hull City Tigers”. Whoever’s bright idea it was to seek to pointlessly antagonise fans in this way should be sacked (or encouraged to remind his father that his promise to sell the club within 24 hours of being told to piss off by the FA is close to three years old).

10. “Crisis clubs” are nothing new in football – we’ve been one and seen plenty of others down the years (and no, you pathetic snivelling wretches at Arsenal, you aren’t even close to being one, however earnestly the self-pitying mantle of victimhood is claimed). However, they don’t get much closer to the brink than Leyton Orient, who may actually go under today. They’re already as good as relegated from the League, but their very existence is authentically threatened. We’ve long since forgiven them for the play-offs in 2001, and prefer to remember recent Cup wins there, victory in 1999 that gave impetus to the Great Escape, and for the generation before ours, that ridiculous 5-4 win in 1984. They’re an affable, inviting London club with a decent history, were screwed over by West Ham’s stadium move and appear to deserve better – we wish them well today.

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Things We Think We Think #248

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1. We needed that. Forget the manner in which it was achieved, just count up those three points and reflect upon a dirty job done well. The Premier League table and the predicament it places City in has been upgraded from “critical” to merely “severe”.

2. City’s 2-1 win over Swansea will not live long in the memory, but that doesn’t matter. After the pretty wretched capitulation at Leicester, coming on the back of a disappointing draw against Burnley, it’s hard to imagine that City’s aspirations of staying up could have survived anything but a victory over Swansea. Sometimes, it just needs grinding out. And that was done, to the significant credit of a side that must have felt immense and growing pressure throughout the afternoon.

3. For an agonisingly long time, it was a win that didn’t feel as if it was coming. Swansea were as limited as you’d anticipate relegation rivals on the road to be, but they were also organised and well aware that a point was as useful for them as damaging for us. For the first hour, City laboured against the Swans, and while the eventual victory makes it easy to overlook, the manager could do a lot worse than revisit this period for clues about how it could be improved upon.

4. It’s also easy to assume it’s nothing more than City playing for too long with one striker, and it’s true that the improvement upon playing with two up front was swift and considerable. However, City looked to be lining up with a 4-5-1 designed to quickly morph into a 4-3-3 – except that it was far from quick. Swansea had the better of the opening stages, and nervous or not, City simply didn’t start the game well enough.

5. At least City stayed in the game when struggling. And when Llorente went off close to half-time and Swansea realised they’d forgotten to devise a Plan B for life without the Spaniard, we grew nicely into the game. It still took the addition of a second forward though. As touched upon in the match report, strikers hunt in pairs, and even the most willing of forwards must find it dispiriting to plough a lone furrow. Hernández brightened when Niasse arrived and the combination for their goal was delicious. Silva appears not to favour a front two – but might the instant impact that pairing Hernández and Niasse had give him cause to reconsider? (post-Everton, at least…)

5a. The laughable attempts of Swansea fans on Social Media to paint City as little more than thugs trying to cripple all of their players glosses over a simpler truth. Swansea are a team of fadges.

6. The effectiveness of a front pairing was further emphasised when City reverted to one up front for the closing spell, allowing Swansea to press forward with urgency and score a preventable consolation which made it uncomfortable for the last couple of minutes of added time. It seems that this is sewn into City’s fabric, this notion that winning comfortably is anathema and somehow we have to make it hard for ourselves. Taking off attackers when in winning positions, very simply, endangers that winning position. Swansea had nothing left to lose by piling forward anyway, the last thing we needed to do was make it easy for them.

7. It’s fair to say that Kamil Grosicki had a difficult and frustrating afternoon on Saturday, epitomised by his rueful expression after slicing a free kick into touch (when City had sent everyone but him and Jakupović ahead of the ball). Still, his determination and graft are plain for all to see and highly admirable,  hopefully it will click for him soon.  Comparisons with David Beresford (Beresicki?) on the grounds of ‘lots of pace but no end product’ seem a bit harsh and premature, but that’s preferable to comparison with Lazar Marković, a man with little end product largely down to little work rate.

8. It was brilliant to see plenty of Poles in the ground on Saturday, presumably to see their compatriot. Several near us looked as though they’d thoroughly enjoyed their build-up to the game, and it was depressing to see the City stewards acting in such an unfriendly manner towards them. We hope they come back.

9. Attendances would be further buoyed if kids and seniors weren’t priced out. The courting of the city’s Polish community is admirable, but it also highlights the continued contempt for the young and old of the indigenous community. Concessions City, stop divving about and offer them again as the rules of the league you play in stipulate.

10. Much furore over Marco Silva’s comments about the state of the Circle’s greensward, having been rugby-ed up just 19 hours before a Premier League football match. From our vantage, it didn’t look too bad – however, both managers bemoaned its condition, so appearances were evidently misleading. It’s a pity the BBC chose to so callously misquote the City manager, for his complaint was about the proximity of a rugby league match to a football one, not the actual presence of it, something that naturally riled the eggchasing fraternity and meant we’ve had to spend all weekend listening to them moaning, as if the Premier League and “Super” League are somehow comparable. Nonetheless, the episode serves as a reminder that groundsharing with a rugby franchise is occasionally exasperating, and that it really isn’t on for City to have to play so soon after.

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Things We Think We Think #247

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1. Some weekends in a season feel pivotal. The one we’ve just suffered certainly feels that way. A rotten defeat for City combined with unhelpful results elsewhere have cut us adrift once more, and a plausible route towards safety feels difficult to discern.

2. Leicester first, where City were dismayingly poor. We even led (with a fine counter-attacking goal), but offered alarmingly little afterwards and ended up being easily beaten by a side who could’ve been dragged into the mire with a better result. Fulham aside, it was comfortably the worst performance of Marco Silva’s time in charge.

3. Gone was the cohesion, spirit and purpose that have lit up Silva’s time in charge. Instead, City looked disorganised and dispirited and were cut open with embarrassing ease far too often. It’s hard to believe we’d beaten Liverpool and Manchester United just a few weeks ago.

4. Brickbats invariably fly about after a defeat like this, and while one tries not to overreact, plenty of them are meritted. Ahmed Elmohamady may not be a natural right-back (and his selection over Elabdellaoui looks a real rick by Silva), but that doesn’t disqualify him from doing his best. Increasingly, Elmohamady is a player trading on a reputation carved out a few years ago.

5. At least he wasn’t the wretchedly milquetoast Marković. Frustratingly, we’ve actually seen what he can do; but we’ve certainly seen what he sometimes can’t be arsed doing, which is pretty much anything. It’s mystifying to see a professional footballer not want to give his all in a game of football, and not doing so isn’t good enough.

6. Eldin Jakupović can’t escape scrutiny either. David Marshall would have been questioned for conceding either of Leicester first two (though Robertson hardly helped for the second), Jakupović merits at least a quizzical eyebrow for his contribution.

7. Silva has a week to do a lot of thinking about how to react. Damningly, we’ve led in games against both Burnley and Leicester in the past nine days, and collected just one point. Add five points onto our total, and we’d be odds-on to stay up. Hell, add even three and our prospects would be so much rosier. As it is, cheap concessions and the sort of crummy away defeat we’d be raging at Mike Phelan for have left us with a mountain to climb.

8. Well, the ascent begins on Saturday, with Swansea at home. If there really is to be a Great Escape for the Premier League era, it must surely include victory in this fixture. Such a win certainly won’t be engineered with the sort of limp display we endured at Leicester. If Silva was frustrated by losing at champions-elect Chelsea, he must be boiling at what we saw at the weekend. Channelling that frustration into a positive response will be an interesting test of the new City manager.

9. It’s March, and still nothing from City about their plans for season tickets/memberships/whatever next season, while clubs with proper owners are increasingly unveiling their plans for 2017/18. Vindictively removing concessions for various groups this season has probably set City back a few years; repeating this same malicious trick could extend the damage for a generation.

10. Let’s try to end on one positive: noted elsewhere, Sam Clucas has now scored in the Conference, League 2, League 1, Championship and Premier League in successive seasons, something that can’t have been done very often in English football. He was blameless at Leicester and has impressed all season. Well done that man.

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Things We Think We Think #246

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1. Given our Premier League form against Burnley at home, perhaps we should just be happy that we didn’t lose on Saturday, but still a draw felt like a disappointment. Losses for Sunderland, Middlesbrough, Swansea and Bournemouth meant that a point, though useful, represented an opportunity missed against a side whose away form is stinkier than a fishmonger’s apron.

2. It could be down to enforced changes, as three players who featured at Arsenal (Lazar Marković, Evandro and Sam Clucas) were unavailable on Saturday, but this was the first time that Marco Silva’s Tigers looked unfocused and lacking in purpose. Silva himself put it down to nerves, though it’s odd that City can play at Old Trafford and the Emirates with Vince McMahon-ian swagger and then seem psychologically undone by Sean Dyche’s Clarets.

3. Dieumerci Mbokani has waited a while for a chance to show Marco Silva what he can do, and frankly he blew it. Impressive when played as a lone frontman by Mike Phelan, the Congolese striker was unavailable when Silva arrived, called up for international duty at the Africa Cup of Nations. Against Burnley though, he gave the Portuguese head coach no reason to consider him for the Leicester game whatsoever, and he may find himself pencilled in with the kids and stiffs against a Sportpesa XI.

4. Shaun Maloney is another one who hasn’t had much of a look in under Silva, but he didn’t just fail to impress given a start against Burnley, he was near anonymous. Back to bench duty for him, most likely.

5. If we’re to extract positives from Burnley – and it’s hard, given the game’s remarkably uneventful nature – it’s that City rarely looking like losing. The visitors did flay a few shots wide, but concerted pressure on the City goal materialised infrequently. Given our ability to haemorrhage both goals and points in the 2016 bit of the 2016/17 season, that’s a plus point. Even if, two days on, it still doesn’t quite feel like it.

6. Leicester, then. They’ve been in the news lately after sacking the man who created a miracle for following it up with the expected. Since undertaking the sporting equivalent of butchering Bambi and violently dismembering its cervine remains, they’ve slipped into the bottom three, a position the horrified world probably hopes they remain in. They’re next for City, and it’s a game we cannot afford to lose.

7. That’s assuming they lose tonight, while we’re recording the Amber Nectar podcast (which we’re sure you’ll be watching instead of the football itself). It’d be handy – if they start their next home game in the relegation zone having just committed heroicide, it’ll be a febrile atmosphere at the King Power stadium. One that City can hopefully capitalise upon.

8. We’ve noticed that the Hull City twitter account, while still resolutely declining to use the club’s name as per the instructions of the owner’s dismal offspring, has become a little more interactive of late. We congratulate them on this and for finally realising that the owner’s view of City fans as “militant hooligans” is slanderous rubbish – however, our query about the restoration of concessions next season went ominously unanswered. It’s getting close to the point at which clubs begin to annouce their pricing for the following campaign, and you’d have to be an idiot of unfathomable proportions to look at the membership scheme and conclude anything other than that it’s been an act of colossal, avoidable self-harm. So why aren’t the club eagerly promising to ditch it and end the ludicrous practice of punishing seniors, the disabled and the next generation? Unless…

9. Paul Merson has now, unbelievably, suggested that Leicester should chase Marco Silva up as their new manager. Where do you begin? In Merson’s world a few weeks back, Silva was a know-nowt foreigner who had no place taking a job that was tailor-made for the numerous out-of-work English coaches (who, at the time if you remember, included that well known English gent Thierry Henry) that deserved an opportunity at a Premier League club despite their various previous failings. Now, apparently, Silva is worthy of being headhunted by the reigning Premier League champions. Just shut your face Merson, you are clearly as thick and entirely unaware of yourself as you come across.

10. Concessions, City, will achieve more than five games for the price of four offers, and make you Premier League rules compliant.

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Things We Think We Think #245

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1. Disappointment at Arsenal – but that we’re disappointed at all to lose at Arsenal is perhaps a sign of progress. We’ll touch upon Mark Clattenburg’s afternoon shortly, but let’s not let a referee’s performance wholly overshadow City’s, as Marco Silva and his squad can influence only the latter.

2. City, again, played well. The side kept a pleasing shape and discipline throughout the match, rarely looking anything but compact and organised. The greatest threat to our goal in the first half came from peculiar acts of self-harm when in possession in our own half, a combination of the skiddy surface and unusual hesitancy frequently coughing up the ball. That aside, the Tigers looked every bit a side that’s strongly improving, and but for some more attentive officiating and greater incision with the final ball, a point could have been ours.

3. Mark Clattenburg had a game he won’t forget in a hurry, but we’re not inclined to go with the popular view on a few points when the referee’s performance is discussed. Two of our number are qualified referees, even if we’ve not taken up whistles in some time, and though it’s not easy to put club loyalty to one side, we are coming at this from a Laws of the game standpoint…

4. Did Alexis Sanchez handle the ball? Yes he did, replays are conclusive. But was it handball? Hmm. That’s a whole other animal. Some people think the ball striking an arm or hand automatically means handball, but Law 12 states unequivocally that “Handling the ball involves a deliberate act of a player making contact with the ball with the hand or arm.”

It goes on to say:

The following must be considered:

  •  the movement of the hand towards the ball (not the ball towards the hand)
  •  the distance between the opponent and the ball (unexpected ball)
  •   the position of the hand does not necessarily mean that there is an infringement

You’ll notice that notions of ‘unnatural position of the arm’ have been removed from the 2016/17 update of the Laws. That was always a nebulous term that caused more confusion than it cleared up, it isn’t unnatural after all for a player to have his arms away from the body or even high as he runs, makes a shot or stretches to make a tackle. In the case of Sanchez, he was in an odd pose as he stretched to shoot, his arms were raised to provide balance as he shot. The shot struck Jakupović and rebounded on to Sanchez’ hand, changed direction and went in. The ball moved towards the hand rather than the hand to the ball, Sanchez’s hand was where it was as he tried to balance following through from a shot, and although slow motion replays distort the fact, this all happened in a split second, it seems unlikely that Sanchez had the time to process and physically respond to this in such an infinitesimal period of time. Not impossible, he could have chosen to use his hand, but it seems unlikely. Now it seems unjust that the ball can go in off a body part whose use is prohibited by outfield players, but the focus of the letter of the law is deliberateness of action, and because of that we feel the goal should stand.

5. This makes the referee’s half-time apology all the more strange. We aren’t accustomed to mid-match expressions of remorse when they’re patently vindicated, let alone when sufficient doubt exists as to excuse an official. Perhaps it was an attempt at mitigating City’s displeasure. If so, it failed spectacularly when a far more obvious decision was made incorrectly. There’s an argument for dismissing Theo Walcott when his pathetic tantrum saw a ball hurled at a linesman, though we’d lean more towards an early bedtime with no reading. However, there exists no plausible reason not to send Kieran Gibbs off for an obvious, deliberate denial of a goalscoring opportunity for Lazar Marković. It wasn’t even remotely close to being contentious.

5a. And no, we don’t buy deliberate bias; referees are proud, professional people whose careers depend upon accuracy. However, the sheer scale of the error does hint at other things, which are still troubling. Does he not know the laws? No, clearly he does. Was the referee just not paying attention? Lazy. Take a week off. Was he afraid of giving a red card against a Big Club? Now we could be onto something. And this isn’t consciously favouring one side either. Referees are an admirable bunch, but they’re also human, and they know at the back of their minds that wrongly issuing major punishment against one of the Sky Sports Mega Clubs will guarantee days of media opprobrium and thunderous, libellous disapproval from their managers, none of which will be adequately punished by the spineless authorities. No such fate awaits if you similarly err against little old Hull City. How could that knowledge, lodged in the subconscious of every official, not occasionally influence and explain a ridiculous decision favouring the favoured?

6. That we’re all still discussing some of Mr Clattenburg’s decisions two days later demonstrates one thing: video referees may cut down upon some of the more obvious howlers, but whatever their merits, they’ll never get everything correct to the satisfaction of everyone. Football’s just too messy, too imperfect for that. And therein lies its charm.

7. It’s often easier for us as partisans to scapegoat the referee than to acknowledge the failures of our heroes. It’s worth pointing out that had Oumar Niasse better anticipated the magnificent run of Lazar Marković in the first half, and had Eldin Jakupović not embarked upon an absurd adventure outside his box leading to the dismissal of Sam Clucas and a penalty for Arsenal, City could have taken something from the trip to the Emirates Stadium despite the hand of Sanchez shenanigans.

8. It was good to see Ahmed Elmohamady back in City colours, and now we have an actual right back in our squad, fit, playing and capable, maybe there’s a big opportunity for our long-serving Egyptian to restore his reputation as a fine deliverer from wide midfield of quality service and not worry as much, if at all, about that unglamorous defending lark. An in-form, focussed Elmohamady, now a player of great experience, is still a very good thing to have in our squad.

9. City now have a fortnight off to recuperate before a string of “winnable” fixtures. However, we thought the same shortly after losing to Chelsea in October – that, having emerged from a series of difficult games, we could gather points against the lesser lights. And conspicuously failed. A repeat of that ruinous autumn form will surely relegate us. A repeat of our recent form against the big lads will see us safe. Lots of big games await, and we enter them in significantly better condition that some of our relegation rivals. We can’t wait. Sort of.

10. May we offer up a better ode to Harry Maguire than ‘Arry! ‘Arry!’? How about an appropriation of the Will Grigg song, going…”Harry Maguire! Theo Walcott’s terrified…”

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Things We Think We Think #244

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1. A week ago, we wistfully sighed at the triumph that a point from Manchester United, Liverpool or Arsenal would be, doubting that even that modest total could be met. Get ye gone, pessimism! Marco Silva is in charge, and there are shades of 2008’s “anything’s possible” mindset bubbling to the surface.

2. Manchester United first. Not unlike our other recent trip to Old Trafford, we went hoping for a point but more realistically aiming to keep it close. Instead, City fought tenaciously enough to pinch a draw, and came desperately close to even stealing what would have been a first win at that ground since 1952. And thoroughly merited it was too, with City playing with a confidence that belied our lowly league status.

3. We can scarcely imagine the chaos that would’ve ensued if Lazar Marković’s cute shot had struck David de Gea’s post another inch further along. In contrast to some visits to the “big clubs”, the away end was largely free of tourists and their revolting half-scarves, and instead the atmosphere was a good one and we all richly enjoyed the performance. But if only Marković had fractionally adjusted his shot…or Hernández had controlled that high ball when twenty yards clear…

3a. Of course, the embittered halfwits at Old Trafford would probably have lodged a High Court injunction striking the game from the records. Jose Mourinho is a nasty specimen whose repellent bullying attitude increasingly render him yesterday’s man, while being chided for playing to the cameras by Zlatan Ibrahimović is simply beyond parody. In case you’re wondering, you pair of dildos, it made the result even sweeter.

4. As it was, we didn’t have long to wait for bedlam in the stands while socking it to one of the Sky Sports Super Clubs. Liverpool may have been wobbling, and our resurrection is clear, but we still started as distant underdogs against a side that panned us 5-1 earlier in the season. This could scarcely have been different. Sure, the statistics may record that Liverpool had more possession, shots, corners and so on – but they looked fretful throughout, whereas City applied themselves with steely resolve. This is a side that really knows what it’s doing and calmly does it. And when Oumar Niasse unflinchingly stroked the game’s second goal past the Liverpool keeper to win the game, we had our moment of Tiger Mayhem.

5. There’s such a long way to go that this cannot be regarded as anything other than the start of things. We remain in the bottom three, and it’s going to take something remarkable at Arsenal to alter that next weekend. What’s clear is that Marco Silva is restoring confidence to a side that (and we really must remember this) was playing well under Mike Phelan, but rarely seemed to believe it could finish sides off. Whatever he’s doing, he needs to continue it.

6. City’s relegation in 2015 should forever dispel the myth that you can ‘win’ the January transfer window, but nonetheless there is good reason to be pleased with the recruitment done on Marco Silva’s behalf. Polish winger Kamil Grosicki seems a particularly exciting signing, giving us width and a ready made dead ball specialist to replace the departing Snodgrass. Grosicki seems genuinely excited to be a City player too, rather than just being here to rehabilitate a faltering career.

7. That might sound sneery, as City have signed a few players on loan who have essentially failed with their parent club (Niasse with Everton, Marković with Liverpool, Ranocchia with Internazionale), but no such sneer is intended. On the contrary Marco Silva’s plan of mobilising a mob of misfits is admirable (possibly inspired), and the vast improvement we’ve seen in David Meyler and likely 2017 Ballon D’or nominee Tom Huddlestone under Silva is testament to his ability to coach and improve players regardless of what has gone before. Sign one such player and the destabilising impact of Hatem Ben Arfa is a possibility, sign three or four and the odds of one or more being a success dramatically improves, and lessens the disruption if one fails miserably.

7a. City apparently missed out on Guingamp midfielder Yannis Salibur because they ‘ran out of time’. The transfer window is only open for one day after all. What’s that? It isn’t? Oh!

8. City fans have got so used to a lack of meaningful communication from either of the Allams that some have responded to the club’s ‘Transfer Window Review with Ehab Allam” with delirious glee. Regular meaningful communication is a MINIMUM REQUIREMENT of a chairman, it should not be considered an unexpected bonus or anything particularly laudable, even if the latest attempt is a positive step.

9. The Allams just don’t do admissions of personal culpability do they? Ehab attempted to pin the ‘permanent’ hiring of Mike Phelan (and indeed the overlooking of Marco Silva in the summer) on “three potential buyers” as if he had no input. With those deals no longer pursued (they lost interest as City dropped down the table, Ehab says; his standing up one of the bidders, Peter Grieve, had no impact) Ehab took positive, decisive action to bring Silva in. Nicely staged Ehab, of course you’ll come across well when there are no probing or challenging questions on the table. It’s way past time for you to address the Premier League rulebreaking on lack of concessions and the laughable marketing mess caused by using different club names on different media platforms.

10. Hard luck to Ahmed Elmohamady, who last night featured in the Egypt side that lost the final of the African Cup of Nations. He’s going to find a lot’s changed here when he returns to East Yorkshire…