Peter Sixsmith had his perfect day out carefully planned. A red and white win at the Etihad, a quick trip to Hyde to watch the Gatesheed Goats in Conference action then a trip to Old Trafford for the Rugby League. Well as we know the first part went awry, the second proved a bridge too far – after all a man has to eat and drink – but fortunately the third part saved our roving reporter from a Sunday of gloom with only the thought of English Lit with Year 7 to look forward to on Monday. He reflects on the first part of his Saturday here, with a promise of more to follow.
MANCHESTER DOUBLE – ONE OUT OF TWO AIN’T BAD.
Many years ago, when I was nobbut a lad, I used to take myself off to Shildon Rec and play football as often as I could. I was terminally useless but there were lads my age who were decent players and who I thought were really good.
And then the big lads came down from the King Willy corner, pinched our Frido ball and proceeded to give us a lesson in how Park football should be played.
Fifty years on, I witnessed something similar, as Manchester City destroyed a Sunderland side that I thought were beginning to shake themselves and to look half decent. We don’t.
The seven word assessment I delivered immediately after the final whistle was not as accurate as it could have been. A better one would have been along the lines of “Completely outclassed by City; very worrying”, “£40 to watch us look distinctly average” or “Ball retention poor as City cuffed us”.
The dream of repeating last season’s performance disappeared when Carlos Cuellar clattered into Carlos Tevez and Alexander Kolarov put a brilliant free kick over the wall and into the net after 180 seconds.
Cuellar could have been sent off and would have been had he shown his studs in the tackle, while even the most one eyed Sunderland fan could not accuse the wee Argentine of simulation.
For the rest of the half, we struggled to keep in touch and to go in only one down at half time meant that we had a chance if we could actually keep hold if the ball and pass it to one of our own.
We opened brightly enough, ran at their creaky defence and Fletcher forced a good block from Kolarov and a good save from Hart – although the Scot was offside.
Then Mancini, who had decided to help us by playing the 12 year old known as Mario Balotelli, decided that enough was enough, sent the sulking Italian to his room to do his homework and brought on the quick, slick and quite brilliant Sergio Aguero.
Within minutes of his entry, as quick as a flash, he was onto a pass from Kolarov. He was certainly quicker than a sluggish Cuellar, who knew he would be off if he mistimed his tackle. Aguero’s superb touch meant the ball was nestling in Mignolet’s net before he even moved.
Game over. City turned on the style, Mignolet made a number of fine saves, before James Milner wrapped up the scoring in the final minute to give City what they deserved – a trouble free afternoon and 3 easy points.
Disappointing to say the least for the Sunderland fans that had travelled and paid a lot of money to see the team humbled for the first time this season. For some, it was a first and probably last away game and they will not have travelled home with a great deal of optimism.
There are things to be concerned about. We have an impressive goalkeeper, an excellent centre half in John O’Shea and a good centre forward in Steven Fletcher. That leaves eight places where the players are either limited, disappointing or both.
There was no shortage of effort, but there was not much class out there. Tactically, we are set up to squeeze the central midfield, get the ball to the wingers and attack down the flanks. Against City, it just did not work and the two in central midfield were simply overrun by Toure and Barry, who are bigger, stronger and better.
Colback is a good player when he has the time – he got none here and looked distinctly lightweight. Larsson works hard, but it is abundantly clear that he is not a central midfielder and that he needs to play wide right.
At the moment the wingers are a major disappointment. McClean is suffering from that terrible condition known as “second season syndrome” and is really finding it difficult to get into the game. Neither Kolarov nor Zabaleta were worried by his presence and swatted him off with consummate ease. He looked a forlorn figure as the game wound down. Maybe a spell on the bench would help him regain last season’s form.
Adam Johnson started quite well, but did little to make Mancini or the City fans regret selling him. One good cross, a couple of jinking runs and then off to the dressing room to throw up.
Sess was ok, but nowhere near the player who ripped them apart last season, while the others stuck at it and showed that they were not quitters. Rose failed to complete a game yet again and is rapidly becoming the new Steed Malbranque in that respect.
O’Neill is struggling with a squad that has too many decent players in it, but not enough who can change a game and win it. Look at the bench. Out of Kilgallon, Bramble, Vaughan, Campbell, Meyler and Saha, the only one who can remotely do that for us is a 34 year old Frenchman with a dodgy knee.
Cattermole was missed again as he might have got amongst Barry and Toure and at least forced them into errors. He won’t be there for the derby and MON has a difficult choice as to who to play in the centre to combat Tiote and Cabaye.
Vaughan is busy but lightweight, Meyler is quick but not a great passer, while Gardner may be the preferred choice if Bardsley is anywhere near fit. We need something there to stop the opposition grabbing hold of a game and dictating it to us – something we have failed to do this season. I would go for Gardner and Meyler to start with.
It was a pleasant day out and the City fans were good to talk to. They are decent, proper fans, who have come into money and who still remember the days when City and mocking laughter were synonymous. Like the late Viv Nicholson, they want to “spend, spend, spend” as would we if we had owners with the same bottomless funds.
But the club itself doesn’t come out of yesterday particularly well. The admission charge was quite unacceptable – £40 for a run of the mill fixture like this is far too much, particularly, as Paul Dobson said, when they could let everyone in for free and it would scarcely register on the owners’ bank balance. And they charged £30 to park the coach, which adds a pound to each passenger’s fare. And that’s not fair. But whoever said that life or football was.
The more I think about it, the less I like it. Should we write off games like this and concentrate on beating the sides in our mini group – Villa, Stoke, Everton etc.? Is there any way that I can justify shelling out good money to go and see a game that we appear to have little or no chance of winning?
Next up are the Mags. Martin O’Neill knows how important this fixture is. I trust him to get it right and hope that all our internationals arrive back on Wearside injury free and that Johnson is untainted by the presence of the reprehensible Ashley Cole.
More to come from Manchester in due course as events at Newcastle meant that the Sixsmith mood improved considerably…