Sunday, 11th May 2014
Don't blame me, The Editor insisted I do it and he keeps publishing it. It's all his fault!
I've made a few predictions since I've been submitting stuff. Most of them were probably not terribly daring or controversial. Nevertheless, it's quite nice to see how many I've got right.
Back at the start of February in my first opinion pieces, I said I thought Fulham and Cardiff had both had it. The Cottagers briefly threatened to revive, the Bluebirds never really did. I said I thought the third relegation spot would be between WBA and Norwich, with a lesser chance of Sunderland being drawn back into trouble; Palace I expected to be comfortably safe, and they've finished above us.
As it turned out, the Mackems were well and truly in the cacky, before a resurgent last few weeks rescued them. The Canaries have duly dropped, with the Baggies just above them. I later suggested that not only would 37 points be enough for survival (and didn't we get stuck there for too long!), but that 34 might be enough this year. As it turns out, it would have been enough. Just.
I also said several times, starting with the February piece, that there was the distinct possibility that we might still have a say in the Premiership title on the last day. It wasn't much of a say, in the end. Liverpool had managed to use first one barrel and then the other of the proverbial shotgun to shoot themselves in first one and then the other proverbial foot in the last couple of games.
But it was still there. Just. Not much of a chance, but if we both won, no title for City... And, yes, I know, that's a very roundabout way of getting to the game itself, but what the heck! I've rather enjoyed my scribbling and I'm about to undergo a 3 month drought, so bear with me...
In the event, neither the result nor the performance will have surprised anyone. We've never beaten Abu Dhabi Inc. at the Etihad, and there wasn't much prospect of us doing it for the first time today. All we could really hope for was a committed performance to finish off 2013/14, and I think we got that much.
The gulf in millions and class is just too great to be easily bridged. City can be beaten; they have been 6 times in the league, plus 5 draws; but it's a big ask to get anything, especially at the Etihad. With the limited tactical repertoire that we usually display, we're not the the sort of team that's likely to do it either.
That, despite the effort we put in, was amply demonstrated again today. City had angles all over the pitch all game long. Two steps for a City player usually locked off our preferred pass up the bylines; inside there was rarely an alternative option. This has been our fundamental problem all season - the insistence of playing up the flanks, and the lack of movement, angles, options...
Still, it was a cagey opening for the first quarter hour. Yes, we were under pressure, but we were always going to be under pressure. There was a shout for a City penalty inside the first 10 when Noble got his boot to a dangerous ball across the box, only for it to flick off his hand. Referee Atkinson, who I thought had a reasonable game, rightly ignored that, and a couple of other "possibles" too.
Starting with a long range Aguero shot, comfortably saved, on 18 minutes, the chances then began to flow for our hosts. A belter from Kolarov on 24 was acrobatically, albeit comfortably, tipped over by Adrian.
The almost inevitable opener came on 38 when Nasri was allowed too much space on the edge of our box. Adrian probably won't want to watch it too often. Whilst it was well struck from about 22 yards, our keeper couldn't do more than push the shot onto the inside of the post, whence it shot into the net. 1-0 to City and, with a Skrtel oggie in the bag for Newcastle, Liverpool's minimal title hopes dead in the proverbial Mancunian rain...
It was almost 2-0 before half time. Atkinson was letting the clock run past the allotted 1 minute of injury time when a fairly innocuous shot was deflected onto the bar by one of Carroll's long legs. The ball thudding into the woodwork always generates palpitations of one sort or another. The truth is, I don't think it was ever going to go in; one keeper and too many defenders were in the way.
It didn't do us much good. Barely 3 minutes into the second period, a City corner fell, slightly fortuitously, to Kompany who promptly buried it. There was a little bit of life left in the game, but after the hour, the soon-to-be champions just eased off the gas, and the game rather petered out.
If all that sounds like one way traffic, it wasn't. We had regular, if brief, periods aorund the Man City area, especially in the latter stages of the game. Carroll and Nolan both worked had with little to feed off; the latter putting most of his shift in in defensive work. There was still enough ball in their box for Nolan to be booked for a slightly clumsy challenge on Hart, and for Andy to have two chances to compete for the ball against the same.
No, there was nothing on target, no genuine save for Hart to make, but we were not entirely toothless. Downing, yet again, provided the bulk of our attacking creativity. Five minutes after we went two down, he put in a lovely cross, that Diame rather fumbled with at the back post. Mattie Taylor eventually managed a decent strike, just wide, off the back of it. Fifteen minutes later there was another gorgeous Downing cross; this time time it was Carroll's touch that let him down.
Inevitably, man of the match goes to a defender. O'Brien was poor, Reid quietly tidy, JT quietly impressive but, on what might have been his last appearance, stalwart George, despite a couple of dodgy moments, was our best player on the day. An awful lot of City's play came down his side. He wasn't always well supported by Diame. Regardless, not a lot got by him, despite the quality and pace he had to deal with. He's out of contract now. I can only say that it will be criminal; far worse than releasing Carlton last summer; if we let him go in the close season.
As to what we'll do next season, well, we'll never compete with the likes of Manchester Whoever, Liverpool, or Arsenal if we keep setting up to play as we did today. Competing and keeping the score down is the most we can expect.
That we've conceded 14 goals against the Blues this year; scoring only one; is not necessarily an issue. Nine of those goals came in the League Cup with a severely depleted team. The way we've played against them is another matter - without ambition, without invention, trying not to concede whilst hoping for a bit of luck, is no way to build a future.
I remain firmly convinced that we we need a change of manager. Equally, alas, I don't expect we'll get it. In hope and expectation, see you all next season!
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Did not play.
Did not play.
Man of the Match: .
West Ham United
Adrian, Guy Demel, George McCartney, James Collins, James Tomkins, Mark Noble, Mo Diame, Matt Jarvis, Stewart Downing, Kevin Nolan, Andy Carroll.
Goals: None .
Booked: Winston Reid 81 James Collins 90 .
Sent Off: None sent off. .
Subs not used: .
Booked: None booked..
Sent Off: None sent off..
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