1. A point against Middlesbrough on Saturday was very welcome, and means that City have already exceeded our low expectations for the horrible trio of games that we’re one-third of the way through. We’d have remained outside the bottom three even with a loss, but with an ever-worsening points-per-game ratio, and it really was tough to envisage anything other than a loss – after all, Middlesbrough would be top if they’d won – so we have to be pleased with a draw.
2. City weren’t bad value for it either. It was a decidedly low-quality game, with Middlesbrough weirdly unwilling to shift from their new, direct style of play even when presented with opposition as accommodating as City. That meant that providing City could stand up to Middlesbrough’s unsophisticated style, they could stay in the game – and they did. And that’s to their credit, as City folding under repeated bombardment hardly required a feat of mental gymnastics to imagine.
3. However, stand up to it City did, and on this occasion we didn’t see the sort of pathetic collapse when going behind that scarred the trips to Wigan and Reading, so a slightly less feeble mentality is welcome. And however streaky the leveller, by the end of the match Middlesbrough hadn’t done enough to deserve victory, and City had done enough to argue their case for a draw, particular given the elevated standing of the visitors.
4. Two men emerged with particular credit. Eric Lichaj is quietly becoming the standout purchase of the latest summer of self-harm, partly due to his apparent flexibility at the back. When Jordy de Wijs limped off in the first half, Kingsley replaced him and moved to left-back, requiring Lichaj to move inside. He acquitted himself well, and has done so since joining. He seems to relish a scrap, often looks to move forward when in his regular full-back berth and in a side conspicuously lacking on-field leadership, he doesn’t go missing.
5. The other is David Marshall, probably our player of the season so far. Middlesbrough offered surprisingly little threat to his goal, and but we’d have lost the point at the end if not for a superb low save. Diving to his right, he showed superb reflexes and crucially, a strong hand to deflect a very good header wide of the goal. That sort of header so often finds a way to get past even a keeper who gets a hand to it, and it was a tremendous save. We’d be clamouring to acclaim such an intervention by Myhill/McGregor/etc, and we should do it for Marshall too.
6. This brings us to Leeds. Despite having been presented with the Championship trophy several weeks ago, the fourth time in a row they’ve won the division before the barbecues were put away for the winter, the Champions of Europe have had just the faintest wobble lately, winning only one of their last five. Problem is, they really have looked the real deal at times this season – back in the days when the balance of footballing power in Yorkshire was shifting from West to East, this’d have been a game to relish. The ground would be a sell-out, and we’d have looked forward to it for a while. Perhaps not so much now. There obviously won’t be a sell-out, and if Leeds turn up they could win easily. A queasy notion.
7. It’s up to City to stop that happening. And while that’s easier said than done when there’s an obvious difference in class, if they at least make a tolerably good game of it, we’ll have to make do with that. The same mentality that was on show at the Madejski Stadium could see a massive home defeat inflicting. But the sort of quiet application that existed when grinding out a point on Saturday? And hey, we’re unbeaten in two home games and they haven’t won either of the last two away…
8. Alright, enough. The likeliest outcome is a Leeds win, and then a Sheff Utd win on Saturday, by which time we’d very possibly be back in the bottom three. The problem is that we’re in too much of a predicament to be giving away the hard games and looking at the easier ones, because we’re perfectly capable of losing those too. Give it a go, City.
9. Have you read Jon Parkin’s autobiography? It’s an extremely graphic tale of football, drinking, legal difficulties and defecation, and not for the easily grossed out. The big revelation in the one chapter on his eventful spell at City is that it was obvious from the moment Phil Brown as an assistant to Phil Parkinson that he was after the top job himself, something which may not surprise us but has never been boldly claimed by anyone before. The chapter does not flatter Brown (the author hates him) nor the first team coach, the unrelated Steve Parkin (the author really, really hates him). The candour shown by Parkin as far as his failings are concerned make us rather like him again, and a most astute observation was that on meeting Phil Parkinson for the first time, he deduced that the new gaffer for the 06/07 season wouldn’t be around for long … because he was holding a clipboard.
10. We won’t be podcasting this evening, but will be aiming for Thursday night instead, taking in both the Middlesbrough and Leeds home fixtures.