September Player of the Month

September has been a funny old month. Three home wins, two more convincing than the other, lots of goals scored, a disappointing time of it at the back, sending-off's, questionable officiating, celebrations against former clubs, injuries, suspensions and more column inches than we'd perhaps care for.

Our first fixture of the month was the now legendary win against a poor Arsenal side at Eastlands. I'm sure we've all heard enough about the events of that particular afternoon to not feel the need to dwell on any longer, but it's probably reasonable enough to say that afternoon was one of mixed emotions, or at least what followed was; a great counter-attacking performance yet some petulant and unnecessary behaviour from the man who had until that point proved our best player thus far.

A few players stood out that day. Firstly, Craig Bellamy really stepped up to the plate. He did very well for us during the latter half of the previous season, but his performance against the Gooners was his best in a City shirt. If we can keep him fit then we've got one hell of a player. Strange to think that his signing was berated in some quarters and saw as nothing more than a stop-gap measure.

Micah Richards was also terrific that day, though that might have been in part to the opposition not having a fit, out-and-out left-winger available. Micah for once looked up for it, and played a real part in the final third. Unfortunate that he followed it up with such an inferior showing at Old Trafford. Shaun Wright-Phillips also looked extremely dangerous that afternoon, and Nigel de Jong, as discussed in the previous article, really pushed his claim for a first-team slot. That afternoon, however, really belonged to Adebayor.

Though the result in the Derby was extremely deflating, i thought we showed enough character for us to take encouragement. Shay Given made at least four great saves, Barry and de Jong did admirable jobs in the middle of the park, and Tevez was a real nuisance on his return to his former club. Despite that, it was two fantastic goals from Bellamy that really kept us in the game until Fergietime, and combined with his cuffing of a townie rag really made his mark in City folklore.

Very few positives could have been taken from the League Cup win over a weakened Fulham side. The ultimate aim, to progress to the next round, was achieved, and we came from behind to win, and won without playing well, all those are a given, but it was a flat and uninspiring performance who few came out of with much credit. Martin Petrov, a 75th-minute substitute, added a bit of impetus into an otherwise drab disaplay. Zabaleta, Bridge, de Jong, Barry, Bellamy & Tevez were all at best okay to good. One best forgotten i think.

This Monday's victory over Gianfranco Zola's West Ham was certainly our most impressive so far. Kolo Toure was especially good, although the opposition perhaps didn't offer too much going forwards. Pablo Zabaleta looks an improvement at right-back, Tevez bagged a couple of goals, Nige was gobbling everything up, and Martin Petrov was at times taking the piss. It was a great performance considering the players we had missing.

The pick for this month's best player, despite the impressive form of Nigel de Jong, was, for most of us i'm sure, a formality. When Craig Bellamy is playing at his peak and clear of injuries he's breathtaking; quick, skillful, and a decent finisher, he's been vital to the side over the last few weeks. He's making himself undroppable, and is fast becoming a real terrace favourite. He's been a pleasure to watch of late, and if we're going to achieve our targets, both this season and beyond, we need players like him, who not only have the natural ability, but the hunger to drag the team forward when required.

September: Craig Bellamy


Workhorse de Jong proving vital

The growing popularity of the defensive or holding-midfielder in the modern game, particularly over the last ten years or so, might well be considered the most significant tactical change during the period. It was by no means something invented overnight, sides have always needed players to do the more unfashionable donkey-work, but the great France side of the late nineties and early noughties (is that the term we're supposed to use now?), then Chelsea under Mourinho have certainly influenced a wider use of a 4-5-1 formation over the established 4-4-2.

From Dunga, to Deschamps, to Vieira, to Makelele, and even England's increasing reliance on Gareth Barry and before him Owen Hargreaves, though at least one of those could arguably be termed box-to-box midfielders, sides at both club and international level seem more keen than ever to give their defence an added 'insurance' in the shape of someone who can, well, put themselves about a bit without rarely troubling the opponents offensively.

Early on this season it appeared that Barry would be the man to do that for us. He was imperious at Blackburn, well capable of mixing it with anyone, breaking down waves of opposition attacks, knowing when and how to do the simple things well, and being on hand to help out those behind him when necessary. After those first few games i didn't really see Nigel de Jong recapturing his place as a regular in the side, moreso doing odd jobs against the league's better opposition and being useful from the bench to defend leads late on.

Since earning his first start of the season during the home win against Arsenal, however, he's made a significant impression. With Carlos Tevez fit he might not have got the chance, but his performances, especially against West Ham on Monday, may leave Mark Hughes with little choice but to continue with the Dutchman anchoring our midfield. It could also enable us to let Stevie Ireland off the leash again once he fully gets over his recent illness and ankle injury.

To play such a role well must take tremendous discipline, and to know that we have three capable of doing the job, once Vincent Kompany returns at least, certainly gives us options. I'm not sure we'll stick with the current system once certain players are back from injuries or suspensions, but players like de Jong can only continue to perform well and ask questions of the manager.

It's been said that we overpaid when signing Nigel from Hamburg. It may or may not be true, it doesn't really make too much difference. If he continues to impress as he has been doing, though, i'd see £13m/£15m/£18m/whatever it was we actually paid, as sound business. Like it or not, every side needs an ankle-biter, United have Fletcher, Chelsea Essien, Liverpool rely greatly on Javier Mascherano. Time will tell if Nige can become as important to us as those players are to their clubs, but the signs, early admittedly, are promising.


Convincing City crush sorry Hammers

A poor and off-the-pace West Ham were tonight dispatched with relative ease at Eastlands to maintain our 100% home record. Sporadic attacks from the away side rarely troubled us as an invigorated Martin Petrov inspired a comfortable 3-1 home win. Former Iron Carlos Tevez scored a brace to keep us within touch of the big four, and the attacking nature of the performance would've pleased manager Mark Hughes no end.

The inclusion of Petrov was the only change from the midweek League Cup win over Fulham, with Stevie Ireland missing through illness. We lined up in what appeared to be a very loose 4-4-2, with the inform Bellamy partnering Tevez up top, and Nigel de Jong providing the muscle in midfield alongside Gareth Barry. The visitors were without influential centre-half Matt Upson, with recent signing Manuel de Costa coming in. Radoslav Kovac replaced Valon Behrami in midfield.

We started the game extremely brightly and took the lead within five minutes. A long cross-field ball to the left wing found Petrov via the head of Barry, the Bulgarian drove to the byline and whipped a low ball back for Tevez, free of a marker after Tomkins made a near-post dash, to tap home from a couple of yards out. Wayne Bridge, who looked lively all evening going forward, could have doubled our advantage shortly after, making a darted run into the final third and testing Green with a strong shot.

Tevez should have had a second within ten minutes, and a hat-trick within fifteen, smashing a left-footed effort wide after a brilliant passing move involving Barry, Petrov and Bellamy. The Welshman then slipped Petrov in on the overlap and a cross caught Wright-Phillips on the way to the South American, who then powered a shot over from the edge of the area when he should've perhaps done better. Inbetween these two chances West Ham right-back Julien Faubert was the subject of a miracle of sorts, having been on the end of a bad tackle by Lescott he somehow made an instant recovery in order to chastise the official. Poor form.

In truth, we appeared to be threatening to run riot. Bellamy left Faubert for dead and could have done better with a cross. SWP skinned Ilunga to cross for Tevez who might have had another and we were looking invincible. In typical City fashion, though, we let the opposition back into it needlessly. Wright-Phillips gave away a free-kick just in our half, a hoof into the area was only half headed away by Lescott and Kovac's mishit shot was calmly flicked into the goal by Cole for an undeserved equaliser.

The Hammers threatened to up their game for a short while, Cole forcing a good save from Given with a header from the edge of the box after a good ball in from the right. We began to make unforced errors and the nerves looked to be setting in. Just after the half-hour, however, we retook the lead. Nigel de Jong went up for a header a few yards outside of their penalty area and we were awarded a free-kick. Petrov stepped up and curled a low effort to the right of the outstretched Green after looking more likely to go for power.

The goal saw a return of our earlier confidence and we could have added a couple more before the interval. The lively Petrov found Tevez who took his man one way and then the other before a good save from the England goalkeeper. Joleon Lescott then headed just wide from the resulting corner. A terrific move followed, Tevez finding compatriot Zabaleta who whipped in a superb half-volleyed cross for Bellamy to head, again saved by Green. The former Norwich man then made his third stop in as many minutes after a stinging Petrov volley from twenty yards.

The second half could never have really hoped to live up to the first, one in which we were unluckily to go in not winning by at least three or four goals. Chasing the lead West Ham ran the first ten or so minutes after the restart but never really created any clear-cut chances. The petulant Diamanti earned himself a booking close to the hour for needlessly kicking the ball away after a free-kick was awarded against him. Wayne Bridge followed him into the referee's notepad shortly after but there was little in the way of chances.

The final goal game just after the hour. Bellamy whipped an inswinging free-kick into the box and Tevez found himself completely unmarked to cushion home a second of the evening. Zola will quite rightly have some serious questions to ask of his defence, all four of them, particularly de Costa, looked poor all night. Bellamy could have added to the scoreline a couple of minutes later, blazing a Wright-Phillips cross over.

The men from Upton Park did rally a little once we'd got our third. Noble tested Given from distance, and Diamanti shot just wide following a slip from Bridge, then forcing a save after a corner shortly after. With a two-goal lead the tempo of our play did drop a bit, but we still had a few efforts. Bellamy again shot over after a good move involving Barry & Bridge, and substitute Roque Santa Cruz, making his debut after a £17.5m move from Blackburn in the summer, put an effort just wide after yet more great work from Petrov. Micahel Johnson also made a very late appearance and looked relatively lean.

Overall it was a commanding performance, and certainly our best of the season so far. West Ham are no mugs but we looked absolutely superior to them in every area of the field. Zabaleta was solid at right-back, Toure imperious in the middle, de Jong gobbled up everything, Bridge & Barry seem to be forming a great understanding, Bellamy was workmanlike as we're coming to expect, and Tevez very lively. For me, though, Petrov ran the game, absolutely brilliant, when he's on top of his game he's unplayable, and we have real options down that side now, so much so that Robinho might not make the side on merit.

It would probably be unfair to dally for too long on negatives, we've won a game with ease after all. Lescott did get caught out a couple of times, though. He looks a bit unfit to me, but gelling in a new defence will take time. He was definitely lucky to be awarded a free-kick after Cole had muscled him off the ball, leading to a disallowed equaliser, though in truth our other defenders had stopped on hearing the whistle. Wright-Phillips looked quite leggy, too, but i'm perhaps being overly picky.

If we play like we did tonight we'll beat most teams in this division, home or away. We're starting to look like a team at last and we have several players who can cause damage going forwards, aswell as more than one system. Each win will see confidence build and build and we're not only winning but over the last few weeks, a drab win over Fulham aside, we're doing so in style. It's refreshing to know that players like Zabaleta, Petrov, de Jong, even Bellamy can come in and influence games so much. We could quite easily have scored six or seven tonight. Quite simply, we were bloody excellent.

Given, Zabaleta, Bridge, Toure, Lescott, de Jong, Wright-Phillips (Santa Cruz '80), Barry (Johnson '89), Tevez, Bellamy, Petrov


The League Cup; worthwhile route into Europe or a tournament too many?

It's probably fair to say that, over the last few years particularly, the reputation of the Football League Cup has taken something of a nosedive. As the financial rewards of being involved in the Champions League get greater and greater the clubs who regularly take part are forced to prioritise their aims for each season, and often an extra half-a-dozen games are deemed an unwelcome distraction.

The tournament was introduced in 1960 and seen as a good opportunity for clubs, many of whose grounds were now equipped with floodlights, to earn extra revenue via midweek games though the winter months. Aston Villa took the trophy during its inaugural season, beating Rotherham 3-2, the finals then being contested over two legs, something scrapped in 1969, with one-off Wembley showcases becoming the norm.

During the early days of the competition many sides outside of the then First Division didn't take part. On a UEFA Cup place being awarded from its conception in 1971, however, teams began to see the tournament as a good chance for European qualification. Nowadays only England and France are awarded European slots for their secondary cup competition, something UEFA are said to have been looking to change.

Of late, some clubs, particularly the likes of Arsenal and Manchester United, who are more-or-less guaranteed to qualify for Europe through the league, have taken to fielding second-strength sides right the way through to the final. To some degree this is understandable, but as the importance of staying in the big league grows, sides who are perhaps struggling for points have also deemed it a tournament too many, and see their quest for forty points as much more important.

I have to confess that i'm not a huge League Cup fan, but as the years roll by and our relatively-empty trophy cabinet gains nothing but dust, i'm actually quite glad that we seem to be having a go this season. The home draw against Scunthorpe should represent a good chance of us making the quarter-finals, and with several of the sides left in the hat seeing it as third, even fourth priority, we could, in theory, be in with a shout of a trip to Wembley.

Our disappointing cup runs have become par for the course, but the run of bad luck has to end somewhere, and i'm sure that at some point we'll at least break our quarter-final hoodoo. Even just mooching back through our very recent history in the competition is quite embarrassing. Early round exits to the likes of Brighton, Chesterfield, Doncaster, Wigan (then in the Championship), and Arsenal's reserves. The 0-2 defeat to our old cup foes Spurs just before Christmas of 2007 being the only time we've ventured anywhere near the business end of matters.

It does surprise me that so many see it as being unfashionable, even irrelevant. For a club like us it should be an obvious target every season. Firstly, it would be some silverware, albeit not the title or FA Cup it would still bring an end to our now 34-year drought. It also could provide some sort of insurance should the unlikely and unthinkable happen and we begin to struggle in the league and fall short in attaining a top six/seven position.

As things stand there just seems to be a real malaise around the whole thing. Players don't see it as the be all and end all, managers mostly don't welcome it, even some of those outside of the Premier League, and attendance are well down. I'm not sure what can really be done about rebuilding its reputation. It's been re-branded several times, and as spoken about above, the ultimate prizes; a trip to Wembley, a cup, and European qualification, are significant.

The problem might be, firstly, the prize money. The FA Cup winners get the best part of £2m, whereas Carling, the cup's current sponsors, award just £100k, and teams reaching the Second Round of the FA Cup would expect to earn more than beaten semi-finalists in it's less-prestigious sister competition. Whether clubs enter cups primarily for financial rewards is debatable, at the top level at least, but i'm sure prize money is an important part to many.

The main problem i have with the thing, though, is that the Europa League/UEFA Cup is/has been such a poor competition for so long that qualifying to play in it now means very little. Our run in it last season proved enjoyable, but with so many games involved in winning it, and so much travelling for teams to do, it's often, like the League Cup itself, deemed an inconvenience. If the cronies at UEFA could reformat their second European competition, and clubs could compete in it without having to play what is in effect another half-a-season on top of their domestic fixtures then qualifying for it, and the methods of doing so, might be deemed a little more worthwhile.


Preview: West Ham (Home)

Chelsea legend and favourite of the neutral Gianfranco Zola brings his out-of-form West Ham side to Eastlands on Monday for a televised tear-up between two clubs who ended last season only a point apart. After not winning in four since the high-profile cup defeat of rivals Millwall a month back, they'll be hoping to rediscover some of last year's good form on the road.

The Italian has done a superb job since taking the reigns last September. Many had tipped them to struggle after £35m of talent was moved on, including current City forward Craig Bellamy in an acrimonious £12m move up north. Zola, though, with the help of Steve Clarke, has transformed the team into a well-drilled unit who're well capable of giving anyone a game, and despite currently sitting in the relegation zone on only four points they should again finish comfortably mid-table if not challenge for a Europa League slot.

The key remains their solid spine, four England internationals who they've kept onto despite the financial position of the club sounding quite precarious. Rob Green, in the eyes of many, should be the first-choice national team 'keeper, and now seems to be getting his chance. Matt Upson has shed his 'injury-prone' tag and continues to be a calm head at the back. Scott Parker always impresses me and at times last season looked masterful in a defensive midfield role, and Carlton Cole has been transformed from unpredictable misfirer to a striker capable of causing problems for even the most seasoned centre-half in the land.

As with ourselves before our recent takeovers, the club have had to rely on their academy players to step up in light of a shortage of transfer funds. Mark Noble, sent off here last season, harshly in my opinion, might now be considered relatively experienced. The latest bunch to emerge look every bit as exciting as those in the mid-nineties. Jack Collison is a very tidy midfielder, and a full Welsh international. James Tomkins, already an England under-21 regular, a towering presence at the back, and Junior Stanislas looks extremely tricky and good for a goal. Zola's faith in these lads has already yielded some return, and the mix between proven domestic player, youth, and a sprinkling of foreign journeymen has worked surprisingly well.

On Monday they will be missing long-term wounded Dean Ashton and Luis Boa Morte. Upson, loanee Jiminez & Collison are all rated as doubtful but should play some part. Recent free transfer arrival Guillermo Franco, formerly of Villareal, could make an appearance, most likely from the bench. Valon Behrami, excellent last season before a serious injury during our 0-1 defeat at Upson Park in April, is expected to miss out after sustaining a back knock in the game versus Liverpool.

The fixture has in the past proven one in which we've generally taken the pickings, a Fredi Kanoute goal during a 0-1 win at Maine Road for the The Irons in 2003 being the only occasion they've taken three points from us on our own ground in recent memory, though they have inflicted a couple of cup defeats upon us, none more annoying than than the FA Cup quarter-final four seasons ago in which an Ashton double sent us packing when, unsurprisingly, we were once again certain our name was on the trophy.

We're expected to still be without Robinho, and Emmanuel Adebayor serves out the final game of his suspension for kicking Robin van Persie's face off. Stevie Ireland should play despite being the walking wounded at the minute, and Pablo Zabaleta is likely to continue at right-back in place of Micah Richards, who rumour has it was injured for the recent cup game against Fulham and not dropped. Roque Santa Cruz may make an appearance of sorts, but i'd have thought it unlikely he may get ninety minutes.

West Ham, for all they're well organised do play some nice stuff, they like to counter-attack like ourselves and it could make for a decent game. We've been looking shaky at the back of late and a fit and firing Carlton Cole could easily give Lescott and Toure a run for their money. We struggled to break down a very defensive Fulham midweek and it will be interesting to see if we can have a bit more of an impact in the final third, though we didn't do badly in that respect at Old Trafford last week. It should be a game we can go out and win, though, and i'm expecting us to come away with all three points.

Possible teams:
City: Given, Zabaleta, Bridge, Toure, Lescott, de Jong, Ireland, Barry, Wright-Phillips, Tevez, Bellamy

West Ham: Green, Faubert, Ilunga, Collins, Upson, Parker, Noble, Collison, Diamanti, Cole, Jiminez

Prediction: City 2 West Ham 1


Friday mp3: The La's

The La's formed in Liverpool in 1983, originally as a skiffle group. Lee Mavers joined a year later as rhythm guitarist, he'd go on to be the band's frontman and main songwriter. John Power, who would later form 'Cast', took over bass duties in 1987. Early bootlegs attracted the interest of several labels, the band eventually signing to Go! Discs.

Their first single, 'Way Out' only just scraped into the top 100. Their best-known track, 'There She Goes' followed. A frequently changing line-up meant their first long-player didn't arrive for two years, eventually being recorded with U2 and XTC producer Steve Lillywhite. Band and producer wouldn't see eye-to-eye, Mavers not happy with the recordings. The label would release it anyway. It would be their only album.

Power left the band in the summer of '92 to form his new band, taking their name from the final word of the La's debut. Mavers was alleged to have refused to record any further material until the first record was re-recorded, and shunned the limelight from them on. During the mid-nineties a couple of unexpected support slots for Oasis and Paul Weller led fans to believe a reunion was on the cards, but it didn't happen. In 2005, the band announced a surprise six-date tour, including the T In The Park festival. A second record is said to be on the cards but nothing has been released as yet.

It's a smashing album, hard to believe it's nearly twenty years old. It would probably be fair to say it played a significant part in blazing a trail for early Britpop bands, Noel Gallagher's certainly a big fan. If you've not heard it, grab it, a definite classic, maybe even the best British record of the nineties. Could've picked any track off it really, but this is probably my favourite.

MP3: The La's - I Can't Sleep
Buy the records


Ireland criticism uncalled for and complete nonsense

Few members of our support, even those who had watched the academy sides week in, week out for the last few years, could have predicted the transformation we've seen in a certain Irish midfielder over the last twelve months or so. From exciting bit-part youth player said to be unfancied by the current manager, he's turned himself into the most vital cog in the Manchester City engine. Disappointing to hear then that some, albeit a small minority, already seem to be concerned about his form so far this year.

As Ireland has indicated himself during interviews since the start of the current campaign, his role in the side now requires more discipline than previously. He's a central midfielder rather than a marauding box-to-box player, and with that maybe doesn't have the licence to be as explosive as he once did. Whether we agree with him having to play a deeper role is debatable, and ultimately irrelevant. I'm not sure it's particularly necessary, especially when Nigel de Jong is in the side, but the manager knows best and i trust his judgement.

The main reason for his lesser impact on games of late, though, is probably down to the ankle knock suffered during the 1-0 win at Portsmouth a few weeks ago. It was clear to me that Michael Brown had been sent out to, shall we say, 'quieten' our better players, and one challenge on Ireland left a particularly bad taste in the mouth, resulting in the player's withdrawal from the game. Since then he's looked a bit less keen to put his foot in, to grab games by the scruff of the neck, understandably so.

We're not exactly sure what the cause of his substitution last night was, just the fact that he was again relatively quiet by his standards and then brought off after suffering some sort of dizziness. That may well have been from an incident during the game, or could simply be a case of him feeling under the weather. Either way, i think criticism of his performance, both against Fulham and during previous games is extremely harsh.

Football fans are notoriously quite reactionary, i include myself in that, but people getting on the back of our best player after a few unspectacular games is beyond stupid. Last year, in my opinion, he was the best central midfielder in the country, certainly the most improved. Put bluntly, without him we'd have been fucked. As better players join the club it's perhaps fair to say we won't rely on solely him as much, but it's small-minded to suggest he's anything less than vital for us.

Despite the fact that he's transformed himself from squad player to key asset in such a way, we need to remember that he's still a young lad, and this is only his third season as a regular in the side. Even had we not changed our style, brought in several other key players and were he not both injured and ill he'd still have my full support. Some sort of dip in form had to be expected, he did the work of three men last season. The boy, for my money, is still our best and most dangerous player. The few asking questions about his form and commitment are idiots and need to cut him some slack.


Extra time needed as Blues edge past Fulham

City tonight snook into the fourth round of the League Cup with what sounded like an unconvincing win against a weak Fulham side. The well-drilled opponents had taken the lead through former West Brom winger Zoltan Gera, but goals from summer acquisitions Gareth Barry and Kolo Toure saw us home. I couldn't attend tonight, and for the first time in a long while couldn't find a good stream anywhere either, so apologies in advance if details are a bit patchy, i've had to make do with the radio!

Roy Hodgson, as promised, had played more-or-less a second-strength side, the likes of Schwarzer, Paintsil, Hangeland, Murphy, Dempsey & Johnson all rested or out with knocks. Micah Richards, very poor at Old Trafford last Sunday after a promising performance the previous week against Arsenal, made way for Pablo Zabaleta in our only change.

Rookie goalkeeper David Stockdale was called on to make comfortable saves from Bridge & Barry but the game never really broke into a fast pace. Toure and Joleon Lescott both put headers well wide and Carlos Tevez had a couple of efforts blocked before the visitors, having sat back and absorbed our pressure, took the lead, Gera smashing an unstoppable effort home from well outside the area.

Six minutes after the interval we managed to get on level terms. The lively Bellamy whipping in a corner from our left for Barry to head home at the far post after Stockdale had been caught in two minds over whether to come or stay on his line. The lads continued to push forward with little going their way, Tevez busy but unspectacular and the recalled Zabaleta getting plenty of the ball down our right. Fulham, several players constantly behind the ball, defended resolutely, and without a real target to aim for the breakthrough seemed like it might not come.

With a quarter of an hour left Martin Petrov replaced Stevie Ireland, who still doesn't appear fully fit, and injected some pace into the game. Barry, Wright-Phillips and Zabaleta all had attempts on goal to little effect, and the visitors continued to hold us. Vlad Weiss was introduced, with SWP moving into the middle of the park and within minutes he'd poked a shot over the bar. Stockdale saved from Tevez again, and Bellamy. Fulham had a couple of chances, too, Seol forcing Given into a good save and Riise curling an effort just wide of the post after evading Lescott.

Penalties looking like they might be on the cards with only ten minutes to go in the second period of extra time, a Martin Petrov corner was met by Kolo Toure, the defender heading home from close range for what turned out to be the winner, his first goal for the club since joining from Arsenal, and we managed to see it through to earn a place in Saturday's draw.

What had, going by the team they put out, appeared a relatively routine task, in the end needed a tough and unconvincing performance. This happens, and after last weekend's defeat it was just important to get back to winning ways. It's refreshing to know that we can win without playing well, in recent seasons we've not been to used to that. Scunthorpe at home, please!

Given, Zabaleta, Bridge, Toure, Lescott, de Jong (Weiss 91), Barry, Ireland (Petrov 75), SWP, Tevez, Bellamy


Preview: Fulham (Home)

When Roy Hodgson took over as manager of Fulham following the disastrous eight-month tenure of former Northern Ireland boss, one-time Cup Final hero and Reggie Kray lookalikey Lawrie Sanchez as 2007 was creeping to a close, most saw it as something of a panic appointment. Strange in a way considering the man in question is one of England's most famous managerial exports, having bossed teams in seven other countries during a reasonably successful thirty-year coaching career.

Starting off at Swedish side Halmstads in the late seventies, Hodgson turned the unfashionable south-west outfit from regular strugglers to two-time champions, the first major honours in their history. Following an unsuccessful stint back home with Bristol City he returned to Sweden to guide Malmö to two further titles, aswell as two cups, after a stint at Örebro. Offered the Swiss national job in 1992 he oversaw qualifications to the World Cup of 1994 and Euro '96 before leaving for Italian giants Inter Milan. A trip to the UEFA Cup Final followed before a move to Blackburn.

In 2000 he was one of three names on a shortlist for the England job, losing out to Sven-Göran Eriksson. Instead he moved back to Scandinavia, to Danish club FC Copenhagen, winning the title in his first season. Unsuccessful stints at Udinese and as coach of the United Arab Emirates national side followed, before a credible year at both Viking in Norway and as Finland national manager. On joining the West-London side they were looking a good bet for relegation having amassed a paltry four wins and fifteen points from twenty games.

Apologies if this seems like a bit of a eulogy to the manager of another club but i think it's a terrific story, and the job he's done during his twenty-one months in charge is nothing short of phenomenal. Firstly, to drag the club from trouble during the final games of his first season, picking up twelve points from a possible final fifteen including three away victories, was quite extraordinary. What he's done since has arguably been even more impressive.

Not only did Fulham achieve European football last year, they also did it with style, and discipline. They were extremely well-organised, watertight at the back, passed the ball as well as any side in the division but are also well capable of battling when necessary. They were, even still sometimes are, a terrific side to watch, and the embodiment of their manager. I always found them quite a nice side to watch under Coleman, and obviously before with Keegan at the helm, but under Hodgson they're expansive yet well-drilled, and they're going to come and give us a game, i'm certain of that.

They are, to a certain extent, another one of our bogey sides, a couple of pretty sickening home last-gasp defeats spring to mind, aswell as last season's comfortable result for them coming on the back of our valiant UEFA Cup exit to Hamburg. We've won all of our six home games since then, however, and indeed that was the only blip on an otherwise perfect record at Eastlands since the humbling by Forest last January. They remain hit-and-miss on the road but could easily catch us out should we be below par.

By the sounds of it, though, they won't be taking the occasion all too seriously, understandably so, in my opinion. The Premier League will remain priority, even with the Europa League participation, we've seen too many sides struggle domestically when taking part in previous years. With the FA Cup to come later, too, this competition may simply be one too many. Clint Dempsey and Brede Hangelaand are carrying knocks and won't travel. Erik Nevland is also missing with an ankle injury. Hodgson has indicated his starting eleven will be closer to the one that earned a credible draw in Sofia last week, so Chris Baird, Stephen Kelly, Chris Smalling, Jonathan Greening and Bjorn-Helge Riise should keep their places.

As for us, i'd expect Hughes to stick with a pretty strong side. Emmanuel Adebayor will serve the second of his three-match suspension, Robinho and Roque Santa Cruz will miss out again, despite rumours of the latter making his debut. I expect Carlos Tevez might well be rested in lieu of his surprise ninety minutes on Sunday. Hopefully we'll see Pablo Zabaleta get a run-out after Micah Richards horrowshow at Old Trafford. You'd like to think we'd go as attacking as possible, but with no targetman fit i suspect a front three of Petrov, Bellamy and SWP will start ahead of an unchanged trio of Ireland, Barry and Nigel de Jong in midfield. Some sort of action for Vlad Weiss would be welcomed, too.

I think this game represents a decent chance for us to get back to normality in more ways than one. It will be nice to play a side where there shouldn't be much needle after two controversial fixtures. It should also prove a good opportunity for the defence to settle back down after a great start to the season, some of the comedy defending on show on Sunday really was unacceptable and we'll hope for a clean sheet against what should be largely their second-string. With Fulham not really in it to win it either we should be able to see them off and hopefully bag at least a couple of goals, though we'll by no means underestimate them.

The two home games coming up now should enable us to get back on track following our last result. Not playing until Monday after this one should also give us a bit of breathing space and given our two disappointing cup humblings last season it's probably fair to say this game could be seen as some sort of marker of progress, irrespective of the opposition playing their strongest side or not. Over previous years this is the sort of situation we'd have messed right up, an expectedly unproblematic tie, at home, would've once had us all concerned. No pissing about, please, Blues.

Possible teams:
City: Given, Zabaleta, Bridge, Toure, Lescott, de Jong, Barry, Ireland, SWP, Bellamy, Petrov

Fulham: Schwarzer, Baird, Paintsil, Smalling, Kelly, Etuhu, Gera, Greening, Davies, Kamara, Riise

Prediction: City 2 Fulham 0


The changing attitudes towards the club...

When we were taken over by Sheik Mansour and associates last autumn we were all aware that the club and people's attitudes towards us had instantly changed forever. For years we'd had the respect of most fans, with a few obvious examples, many of whom claimed to admire us because of the unwavering support of our fans through extremely tricky periods. Whilst that is true, and not many clubs could have maintained capacity gates when playing in the second and third tiers of English football, i always thought them reasons were a bit of a cop-out. Fans of other clubs respected us, mainly, because we were crap, rarely a real threat to them, and always good for a laugh.

Thankfully we've now shed the 'joke club' tag that people had attached to us, as much as we'll always have the capacity to trip ourselves up, cups for cock-ups, etc, etc. Newcastle United seem to have inherited our title in that respect, if anything can go wrong, it probably will, if there's any chance at all of alarming mismanagement, it's most likely to happen at St. James Park, as much as they've started their first season outside of the top flight in years in very impressive form.

I'm sure we've all found ourselves in taxis or pubs when outside of Manchester, being asked 'Red or Blue?'. On giving the person in question what is indeed the correct and less offensive answer the reaction has always tended to be a positive one. This has, in all honesty, had quite a lot to do with the success of our cross city rivals, success breeds contempt, it's just a fact of life. Relatively early into our as yet trophyless 'new dawn', though, the attitudes of outsiders towards Manchester City Football Club have changed drastically.

The most obvious answer would be 'Couldn't really give a shit!', but i'm not sure that's actually how i feel. I do care what people think about the club i support, and whilst i wasn't really enamoured with their mocking fondness of us when we were a bit rubbish, i can't really see the new-found 'Moneybags Citeh ruining football' spiel as anything more than completely ridiculous, uneducated and desperate. Our crime, by the sounds of it, is wanting to sign good players and not be a bit shit.

I suppose people being envious of money is perfectly natural. In personal terms, we'd all love to be wealthy, that's no secret. Because the majority of us never will be we comfort ourselves in thinking those who are rich must be vulgar, spoilt and out of touch with the real world, all nonsense of course. The fact that we have wealthy backers, though, really shouldn't make us public enemy number one all of a sudden. I certainly never resented Chelsea on Abramovich took over, or the fact that United's modern successes are built on debt, or Leeds for putting together an exciting side on the drip some years ago.

There are some criticisms of the new City which, as a fan, i can take on the chin, even laugh about. The chasing of Kaka was ridiculous on an extraordinary level, a definite case of us trying to run before we could walk. Garry Cook, who i rate very highly and think is doing a tremendous job, came out of that particular affair looking like a bit of a balloon, he's admitted so himself. The public pursuit of John Terry, during which Mark Hughes indicated he'd spoken to the player, didn't show us in a great light, and we'd have had something to say about that were it another manager. The incidents against Arsenal last week, much as they've been overblown, didn't reflect well. These occasional unfortunate incidents aside, though, which happen at every club, i really don't see what we've done wrong.

General attitudes towards the club have changed massively. The friendliness from fans of other teams has pretty much disappeared, which is peculiar considering we've not actually done anything as yet. What's most disappointing, however, is that our attitudes as supporters seem to be changing with and probably as a result of them. We seem to have developed this siege mentality, a bit of an ego, and an air of attitude. Perhaps it just comes with the territory, i don't know, but i find it quite unpleasant on occasion.

The press probably do have a lot to do with it. Their often ill-advised garbage effects the views of the general public, and although a few journalists have laid off a little, the hatred of the club in certain quarters since the takeover is there for all to see. In the end you get a vicious circle - the papers slag the club, idiots read the bullshit, idiots slag club more, fans of club feel the need to get defensive, leading to this constant negative feeling around and about the club, at least outside of it.

The last ten days have seen us presented in an especially bad light in the media, perhaps we've not done ourselves favours here and there, and you get the sense that attitudes towards the club are becoming more and more negative, which is tremendously frustrating considering we play some terrific football. We need to rise above it, though, on the pitch, through the manager, and as supporters. Today, for instance, we're moaning about a bit of extra injury game when we lost a game because we defended like amateurs, it's as simple as that. I'd prefer our manager to come out and be humble, say we lost to a better team and we look forward to the return, praise those who played well and take it on the chin.

For years and years we've mocked the managers of the so-called Big Four for their arrogance, and their sides sometimes questionable tactics and attitudes. Take Arsenal for instance, the sorest of sore losers, or Ferguson, always toys out of the pram if he doesn't get his way. I don't want us to be like that. Ade deserves his ban for the van Persie incident, he deserves a word in his ear for the celebration, him getting pulled up for his conduct shouldn't be seen as some reffing agenda, and we shouldn't defend him for the sake of defending him. Yesterday the referee was well within his rights to play between one and two minutes extra on top of the four awarded previously. Let's let it lie, stop causing a fuss about nothing, we've not been hard done by in any way, shape or form.

If the idiot minority of other clubs fans want to hate us, let them. If they want to harp on with their ill-advised rubbish and clutching at straws because they're jealous we're going to be successful, then bollocks to 'em, we don't need to fight fire with fire, we don't have to. If we're occasionally on the end of bad officiating, then we should grit our teeth and get on with it rather than borrowing from the Ferguson, Benitez or Wenger book of whinges. If our players misbehave now and again, let's admit as much. If we sometimes lose games, let's do it with a bit of decorum, not go looking for people to blame.

Looking at the clubs who have been successful at the highest level in English football in the modern era, few if any have maintained that decorum, the class, the respect of the neutral. Perhaps the stakes are simply too high, or the money involved means more ego's, or maybe that sort of stuff is just simply no longer a part of football. I hope that we can really push on without making enemies of everyone, though. Football needn't be a case of pantomime villains. All we can do is try and keep our house in order as a club and our views as grounded and sensible as possible as fans. Hopefully those elsewhere will see that us having ambitions to break into the top four and lots of money really doesn't deserve widespread hate and every minor incident isn't really worthy of the headlines and bile. Of late i'm not sure we've been helping ourselves in either respect.


Disappointing derby defeat not the end of the world

Today's defeat over the road will no doubt come as a tremendous disappointment to any City fan. Though questions will be asked about the timekeeping of the officials i think we need to take the positives from a game that very nearly resulted in a very credible point. Last year's defeat there was an absolute damp squib, at least today we gave them a game and there are enough encouraging signs for us to be optimistic about our chances this year, in my opinion.

I don't think we should look to make excuses, we were beaten by a better team, it's as simple as that. Missing your best players is unfortunate, but those who came in played very well, we were just a touch short. Sad as the defeat is we've gone there and given them a real fright, not many sides will go to Old Trafford and score three goals. We've defended like headless chickens at times, but so have they, just they've been fortunate to put away a final chance.

The thing that annoys me most, and it's been the same for months and months, is that we concede bad and needless goals. You accept that some teams will score, but we prove time and time again that we've not even got the basics right. Our full-backs constantly fail to press their wingers, leading to soft goals conceded in the air, and our centre-halves, good as they've been, seem to suffer lapses in concentration more than most. They're good defenders, all of them, but they seem to lack the discipline to stay switched on, and whereas the opposition in recent weeks perhaps haven't been good enough to catch us out, United were.

The most pleasing aspect of today was the performance of Craig Bellamy. He's proving that if kept fit he can be a vital player for us. On signing last January he really gave us the impetus to put a good run together, and he's played very well in his last three games, and is arguably doing enough to keep his place in the side over more high-profile team-mates. Some were a bit surprised we went for him, and were quite vocal about him being well down the pecking order following the summer arrivals, but when the going gets tough he's amongst the first to step up to the plate, and it's nice to see. Chinning a pitch invader also earns him brownie points.

Two home games now should give us opportunity to get back on track. The League Cup tie could prove a welcome break after a busy early season league schedule, and if we attack as well as we did today then we should see off Fulham, though we won't be underestimating them, they're a very good side and battered us on our own patch last year. West Ham will also be tricky, but you'd fancy us to beat most sides at Eastlands. Hopefully the two fixtures will enable the defence to settle back down after conceding six goals in just over a week.

A defeat was always going to come at some point, at least it was one in which we fought valiantly rather than a bit of a mauling. Sloppy defending has cost us a point, but overall we have to be pleased with twelve points from our opening five fixtures, and the improvement overall is there for all to see. A minor setback, nothing more.

Given, Richards, Bridge, Toure, Lescott, de Jong (Petrov '83), Barry, Ireland, SWP, Tevez, Bellamy


Preview: United (Away)

You really can't beat the week leading up to a derby. Well, you can, when you win them, but the joint excitement and banter that precedes our usual two meetings per year with those from the dark side, well, it's what football's about, is it not? Players from both sides have been sticking to the norm; as much shit-talking as possible midweek, the two managers are equally dismissive of eachother's sides, and factories and offices around the city will have been full of phony overconfidence from each club's fans as both hope their boys aren't on the receiving end of a defeat come Sunday.

Old Trafford is a hard place to go for the best of them. Our record there is better than that of some, but victories at The Swamp have been few and far between since the days long ago when we'd whip them there on a regular basis. We have only one win at their place in the last twenty years; the 2-1 on their big day two seasons back when club legends and feared strikers Benjani and Darius Vassell thwarted their allegedly decent defence. Before then you'd have to go back as far ago as 1974, best not mention that one.

We should fancy our chances of getting something from the game given that their squad is perhaps the weakest it's been in years and short of match-winners after Madrid poached their best player and we relieved them of Carlos Tevez ('rubbish', 'no pace', 'can't finish', 'we didn't want him anyway', etc, etc). I can't imagine that those brought in this summer have the fans on the edge of their seats either. Valencia is a decent enough Premier League player but nothing more, Michael Owen's hardly banging the goals in and the French lad, well, i think most have forgotten about him already. They're not a selling club, though.

Despite their side creaking towards middle age with, amongst others, the suspended Paul Scholes, still unable to master the simple art of tackling, and Ryan Giggs, a shoe-in to retain his Player of the Year award, and featuring the likes of John O'Shea, Ben Foster, Darren Flectcher and a whole load of other world-beaters, they continue to grind out results, the embarrassing defeat at Burnley the only blip in six games so far. They're a proper side, despite perhaps not looking so strong on paper, and they're more than prepared for a scrap when necessary, as their recent tie with Arsenal proved, with the aid of some comedy officiating, admittedly.

Ben Foster should start in goal, bit of a flapper, in place of injured pensioner Edwin van der Sar. I think we can get at him, especially from set-pieces, it's a shame that with Emmanuel Adebayor's ban coming into play, we won't have as much height and presence in there as we might've. Martin Petrov, if Hughes does start him, should get lots of change out of John O'Shea, also. Eight major honours he's won, i shit you not.

How well we can do without £100m of strikers will have to be seen, but i'm confident our midfield can cope with theirs. Michael Carrick can be got at, a couple of kicks to him and he'll go missing, and Nani, who should start over Giggs, seems to play when he wants. The main danger, goes without saying really, will be the potatoheaded fat little scouse lad upfront. If he decides to play we could struggle, he's well capable of stretching us, but he's their only real dangerman, the rest don't really bother me, Berbatov seems to spend most of his time stood around catching flies, and even with a depleted attack we should be able to get stuck into them.

Losing your best striker would be a blow to any side, and one with a 100% scoring record. To be without four, well, it's a tremendous disappointment. I'm not convinced we'll be able to keep the ball in the final third enough with one upfront, and a midget at that. I'm anticipating that we'll see a midfield three of Nige, Stevie Ireland and Barry, with SWP and Petrov wide and Bellamy playing a lone role, i don't think we've got too many other options. Benjani might be an option, no seriously, it could be written.

I'd have been very confident about maintaining our winning start to the season with our strongest side out. Injuries are simply part of the game, no excuses, but it's unfortunate that our three most expensive signings will all be missing. This should have been our real statement of intent, going to the 'Theatre of Dreams' (vomits) and giving them lot a lesson in the art of football infront of over 70,000 southerners. Sadly we might have to battle and grind out a result now instead of serving up our typical spectacular passing stuff. I suppose a draw wouldn't be a complete disaster, we can save the pasting for the return in April.

Possible teams:
United: Foster, O'Shea, Evra, Ferdinand, Vidic, Fletcher, Valencia, Carrick, Berbatov, Rooney, Nani

: Given, Richards, Bridge, Toure, Lescott, de Jong, Barry, Ireland, SWP, Bellamy, Petrov

Prediction: United 1 City 1


Friday mp3: The Libertines

The Libertines were, for a short while, pretty fucking exciting. What's gone on since, be it Babyshambles, Dirty Pretty Things, or the grating headlines, shouldn't take away from the fact that for a short period they were one of few British bands worth bothering with.

Signing to Rough Trade in 2001 they secured support slots with The Vines and The Strokes. Debut single 'What A Waster', produced by former Suede guitarist Bernard Butler, caught the attention of Radio One and the NME. A debut album followed in the form of Up The Bracket, widely considered to be a modern classic. Shortly after, the band began to experience problems and the relationship between its two main songwriters broke down, not before a second record was squeezed out.

The rest was pretty boring and pointless; drugs, wars of words, a split, all your typical rock 'n roll fayre. It's probably fair to say, though, that the band were significant in reintroducing punk and garage ethics into mainstream British music, both in terms of style and accessibility, with gigs often played in flats, or at venues without notice. The tunes were pretty decent, aswell.

They were also quite a strong b-sides band, with an endless list of demos, sessions and rarities available for free download through fan websites. I think this track, 'The Delaney', from their debut American EP, is the strongest they made.

MP3: The Libertines - The Delaney
Buy the records


Ten pieces of probably useless City trivia...

1) Ardwick's first ever professional player, Jack Hodgetts, was paid the princely sum of five shillings a week.

2) During November of 1959 centre-half John McTavish put three own goals past Bert Trautmann in four games!

3) We created something of a record during the 1962/63 season when due to postponements we played three rounds of the FA Cup at home within eleven days.

4) In 1949 the club signed a player called Archie Aikman, who was involved in a car accident during pre-season and never played in a competitive game.

5) Charlie Williams was the first City 'keeper to score in a league match, at Sunderland in 1900.

6) In January of 1912 the team missed three penalties in one game against Newcastle. Irvine Thornley missed once and Eli Fletcher with two efforts. Not quite Martin Palermo but still!

7) During the 1957/58 season Billy McAdams scored in ten consecutive league fixtures.

8) With games off all over England due to the 62/63 freeze, the Blues managed to play one of their fixtures, a 1-1 draw with Burnley, in Dublin.

9) In Autumn 1957, experimenting with a new defensive masterplan, the Blues conceded fifteen goals in two games, losing 1-6 at Preston and 2-9 at West Brom. During that same season they'd score four goals on seven occasions on the road including an 4-8 defeat at Leicester and a 5-4 win at Hillsborough.

10) Our first ever foreign player was a Nico J J Bouvy, a Dutch amateur international who had played in the 1912 Olympics.

What's your favourite piece of City-related pub ammo?


Sorely missed City Debate Show back! (well, sort of...)

There's not much on the old telly nowadays, or the idiotbox as some prefer to call it. If it's not a soap it's a reality show, or a repeat, or the latest celeb chef telling you how to cook with ingredients any normal person isn't likely to spot whilst dragging the kids around Asda. Occasionally you might get into a new series, or there will be a decent game of footy on terrestrial once in a blue moon, 'scuse the pun. By and large, though, modern television is a load of old arse.

If you're anything like me, though, you don't really bother that much now and can whip through hours and hours worth of on-screen menus or flick from front to back of your free weekly guide that no-one ever really reads without stumbling across anything at all that tickles your fancy. It's extremely disappointing then when stuff you do like gets cancelled without warning. On top of Setanta going bump, whose football shows were brilliant, there's not too much footi-related nonsense onscreen now, especially for those of us who'd rather not top up old Rupert's deep, deep pockets.

The City Debate Show had, with another Channel M programme, as it happens; The Great Manchester Football Show, become staples of my TV week. Infact, alongside Match of the Day and Footi Focus they were probably the only televisual treats i looked forward to, not that i've got a one-track mind! Now, due to major cutbacks at the station, both are gone, along with what over Channel M's short life had been some very refreshing new music coverage.

I probably am being somewhat selfish here, it's a slight inconvenience for me whereas a significant amount of people at the station were made redundant. The station having to downsize isn't really my issue, just that cancelling programmes like the Debate Show, which must've both brought in decent viewing figures and been quite cheap to produce, doesn't really make too much sense. Why would you do that but keep nasally eighties legend Andy Crane in work?

I've been debating writing to the club to see if there's anything they could do. Perhaps they might consider funding the show, or put on some Q&A's with the hosts and guests, or make a version and stream it on the new all singing, all dancing official website. I was very pleased to see, then, that they've decided to do something along the lines of the latter ahead of this weekend's victory over United, getting Buzzer, Chinch, Gary Owen and, erm, Fred Eyre together for a roundtable chewing of the fat.

I hope they're planning on making it a frequent thing, i'm always interested to hear the opinions of ex-City players, especially the likes of Mike Summerbee, i could sit and hear the man talk for hours on end without ever getting bored. It would be great if they could keep Jimmy Wagg involved, too, i miss his blind optimism. Since the end of last season Monday nights haven't really been the same. Make this a regular feature, i beg you, i'm going insane without my weekly fix.


Glimpses that Richards might be finding his form again?

The performances of Micah Richards since breaking into the first team would perplex even those who've seen it all at City. Bursting into the side four years ago, against the Gooners as it happens, his early form and presence made a huge difference to the side, both in defence and going forwards. A goal at Villa Park, and the interview that followed earned him more national attention, and he went on to pick up the Young Player of the Year.

That season also saw him captain the Academy side to the FA Youth Cup Final, and soon after other Premier League clubs began to be regularly linked with his signature, with figures as high as £20m being mentioned in the press. At that time we could have well done with the cash, but the impetus the player brought to the side, along with another youth team graduate, Joey Barton, was too much to lose, as much as the sensible business decision might've been to cash in.

After only three appearances for the under-21 side, Richards received his first full call-up in late 2006, becoming the country's youngest ever capped defender in the absence of Gary Neville. At this point he looked pretty unplayable (in a good way!), the build and strength of an established centre-half, yet the pace of a winger, he seemed certain to go on to earn many caps after excelling there for nine of his eleven.

During his third season in the senior squad, he made the switch to centre-half, as many had expected with the loss of Sylvain Distin. Initially it looked like a pretty effortless move, and he and Richard Dunne formed quite a good partnership, resulting in him winning a Player of the Month award and, and for a short while inheriting the captaincy. In February of 2008, and just after signing a new deal, Richards picked up an injury that ruled him out for four months and the rest of that campaign.

Since then, for whatever reason, he's never looked like the same player. Reasons for that aren't really known. The new manager coming in could have had some effect, the two have had words and we can't really blame Micah for having a poor last season when in truth every defender on our books did. Fans had their own theory. The player did and still does look bulkier, whether that's down to too little CV and too much time spent polishing his guns, i'm not so sure. Between the late teens and early twenties lads will probably grow at their optimum rate, i certainly wouldn't say he was overweight!

Whatever the truth, be it a decrease in fitness, too little defensive training, an unsettled back five, knocks to his confidence, or simply the trappings of such a prestigious living going to his head, Richards has looked well below par for some time. From being England's first choice right-back he now finds himself not even in Capello's thoughts and the basics of his game have seemed shot. It's proved especially disappointing given that that position is still the national team's most troublesome. Glen Johnson, though brilliant going forward, can't defend to save his life. With a good run he could quite easily regain his place when the other options are so sparse.

I'm not going to get too carried away, but his performance against Arsenal was promising, perhaps his best in a year, even longer, and odd signs are that he's making progress (though against Wolves and Palace he didn't really cover himself in glory). Arsenal's lack of a natural wide player probably had some impact, we wouldn't deny that, but it was a marked improvement. He was still caught out on occasion, people did get in behind him, but we certainly had glimpses of the old Micah Richards and i hope he can push on from here. There's no reason he can't, especially with Toure to his left and a winger in SWP who will help him out.

Maybe we expected too much, too soon from the boy. He's not helped himself, he was responsible for so many of the goals we conceded last year, either from not blocking crosses, being caught out of position, or being heavy-handed in the penalty area. I've never hid the fact that i'd prefer Zabaleta in the role, but i respect the manager's call. There's probably a lot of work needed, but he's got a real opportunity to play regularly for both a club who should go on to appear in Europe and of playing in a World Cup for his country. I hope he can keep his head down and refind his fantastic early form. If he can, we've got a real asset, and so might England. The hard work starts here.


News Round-Up

- The main talking point of the day has obviously been the actions of Emmanuel Adebayor during Saturday's demolition of Arsenal. Nothing i might add hasn't been covered in a hundred other places, so i'll keep it as simple as possible. Yes, he has let himself down, and moreso the club ahead of an important game next week, but the vilifying of the boy is blatantly over the top. He was thoughtless to celebrate so extravagantly infront of their supporters, but they didn't cover themselves in glory either, at the time of the incident or beforehand. The way he's been treated by elements of their fanbase over the last year or so, especially some of the, well, let's just say more unsavoury comments, well, it's a bit low, so to some extent i can understand his reaction, it was silly and uncalled for, but heat of the moment and all that. A slap on the wrists will suffice. The van Persie incident should probably result in a three-match ban.

- Bookmakers William Hill have released their odds for any possible suspension. The common consensus, both there and elsewhere seems to be that four games is the most likely scenario. They're offering 9/2 that he won't receive any ban, 6/1 for one game, 5/1 for two, 4/1 for three, 7/2 for four, 9/2 five, 13/2 that he'll miss six and 14/1 for seven plus. Mental.

- Two Championship managers have today sprung to the player's defence. Middlesbrough's Gareth Southgate said of the incident "I stand in the dug-out and get abuse at away grounds, players get abuse at grounds and yet when the boot is on the other foot, we are quick to jump on people's backs. I don't go for people saying it's totally out of order. The wind-up goes both ways. If you give it, you have to take it". Ipswich's Roy Keane, still looking for his first win at the Portman Road club, added "He probably knows he’s done a bit wrong. The Arsenal fans were clearly frustrated with his behaviour, but players make mistakes. When he scored he got a bit carried away. We shouldn't go overboard on him. I think we should go easy on the boy. He’s apologised and from my point of view, if he was one of my players I’d hope everybody would leave it at that".

- Stephen Ireland has assured fans he will be fit to play in next weekend's derby at Old Trafford. He seemed well off-the-pace yesterday, understandable carrying such a knock, but we could certainly do with him, especially bearing in mind we'll probably be without £75m+ worth of forwards. Cheers, Browny.

- The reserves' Senior Cup tie against United, due to be played at Altrincham FC a week on Thursday, has been called off.

- Tickets for the League Cup tie at home to Fulham are now on open sale, available from either the ticket office or Ticketline, but not through the official website due to maintenance. They're priced £15-£25 for adults, £10 for seniors and a fiver for kids.

- Martin Samuel, one journo who definitely seems trying to stay on the club's good side after a succession of fair articles, wrote a good piece for the Mail (it's a shitrag, i know!), outlining how pathetic some of the claims by French clubs against English sides for stealing young players are. I think clubs need protection, but it's especially hypocritical for people at these clubs to point fingers and make accusations of 'child trafficking' when they're essentially giving legally-binding contracts of employment to lads just in their teens. The idea that a thirteen-year-old could sign a sort of pre-contract, a contract tying them to a future one, just strikes me as preposterous.

- The academy lads got back to winning ways on Saturday, mauling Boro 5-0 at Platt Lane. John Gudetti grabbing a hat-trick, with Ahmed Benali & Harry Bunn also on the scoresheet. The ressies make the short trip to Wigan tomorrow night with Glyn Hodges' side hoping to keep up their 100% record after wins against Hull and Everton.


A shortage of striking options for next week's win at Old Trafford?

With news of Robinho being out of action for at least three weeks due to his ankle injury, and with Carlos Tevez and Roque Santa Cruz also injured and Emmanuel Adebayor facing a ban of some sort following Robin van Persie headbutting his foot, we might struggle to have a fit strike pairing for next week's Derby, funny when you think folks were making a big deal of our having about ninety strikers just a few weeks back.

Adebayor's actions yesterday really couldn't have come at a worse time, as much as i think the reaction since has been a bit silly and over the top. I'd be surprised if anything by the way of a ban came from his goal celebration, but the van Persie incident was unnecessary and will probably result in at least a three-game suspension.

It means that Sunday's trip across town might not be as easy a win as we'd have hoped. Craig Bellamy was excellent against Arsenal, our man of the match by some distance, in my opinion. He'll almost certainly have to play a more central role against them lot, but without a targetman alongside him he might well find himself short of support.

It's a funny situation we find ourselves in, and it may result in us having to call on Notts County target Benjani, who himself is said to be carrying an injury. I had hoped we might not have to suffer the embarrassment of seeing him in a City shirt again, but we may have little choice. Saying that, the boy does have form there, scoring what proved to be the winner in our easy three points the season before last. I'm sure the irony of the world's richest club having to stick a donkey with a 1-in-4 strikerate upfront won't be lost on anyone.


Adebayor has the last laugh as desperate Arsenal capitulate

In an ideal world i'd be launching myself into an in-depth ten paragraph report of today's 4-2 win over the Arsenal. Truth is i've had a few two many Singha beers and can't be arsed. I thought we were awful for an hour, the worst i've seen us play so far this season. We were quite solid at the back but beyond that we didn't seem at the races. Ireland, who i assume was carrying a knock, was well off the pace, as was SWP, and Adebayor seemed to have virtually no support from midfield.

Once we'd weathered a twenty minute spell of Arsenal attacks after the break, however, we did what we do best, beat a side using pace on the counter attack. They lost all their shape and we punished them down the right especially. Micah Richards was superb going forwards, and i say that as his biggest critic. SWP pulled his finger out second half, too, and really stretched them, and Bellamy didn't stop all afternoon. I'm not sure Adebayor deserved Man of the Match, but he certainly had the last laugh.

In the end, we've pissed on the best footballing side in Britain with two of our very best attacking players missing and another, Ireland, as above, never looking matchfit. They say a sign of a good team is playing below par and winning, and i certainly thought we did that today. The first half was the most disjointed i've seen us play in a long while, passing was poor, we were far too negative and we reverted to the long ball too much, but we stuck at it and earned all three points. No complaints whatsoever.

Given, Richards, Bridge, Toure, Lescott, de Jong, Barry, Ireland (Petrov 74), Wright-Phillips, Adebayor, Bellamy


Friday mp3: LCD Soundsystem

LCD Soundsystem is the musical side project of producer James Murphy, co-founder of dance label Death From Above Records. 2005's 'Daft Punk Is Playing at My House' was perhaps their UK breakthrough, the first single from their self-titled debut record.

Long-form LP 45:33 followed in conjunction with sportswear giant Nike. 2007's Sound of Silver received Grammy & Shortlist Award nominations and was considered one of the albums of the year by Rolling Stone & The Guardian, amongst others.

This track is from that last record. It's worth buying just for this and following number 'All My Friends', both absolutely brilliant.

MP3: LCD Soundsystem - Someone Great
Buy the records


Preview: Arsenal (Home)

The visit of Arsene Wenger's Arsenal side to Eastlands on Saturday will undoubtedly prove our toughest test so far this season. As well as we've played in our opening games we're yet to meet one of the top four, or even a club who might challenge for a Europa League place. Past results, of course, don't really have any bearing on things, but we do have a dire record against them, just two wins in 25 since the formation of the Premier League, and we've been on the end of a few whippings. Both of our victories, however, have come in recent seasons, and with the squad improved significantly over the last year we'll hopefully stand a real chance of some sort of result.

We should, in theory, be in for a terrific game. At home we're often brilliant, playing quick, flowing, counter-attacking football, and Arsenal, on their day, are the best team in the country to watch. We do tend to give sides chances, though, and we might not get away with that against such decent opposition. Against most sides we play at home we'll dictate the tempo of the game, on Saturday we might not, so it's important we're tight at the back and snappy in midfield. With that in mind i'd perhaps bring in Nigel de Jong rather than replacing the injured Carlos Tevez with Craig Bellamy. I expect that might be our only change.

It could certainly be seen as a bonus that Arsenal are going to be without Andrei Arshavin. He's looked in excellent form since signing from Zenit St. Petersburg in January, and he was the player i was worried about most. They have quality throughout their squad, however, and you'd expect Cesc Fabregas to come into the side to replace him, albeit not like-for-like, after missing their defeat at Old Trafford a fortnight ago. Them having one less match-winner in their side has to be seen as a positive thing for us, and their lack of natural width could well prove key.

Arsenal have points to prove, of course. They owe us one for the absolute pasting we gave them last season, though admittedly they were short of several key players that day due to a mixture of injuries, suspensions and off-the-field matters, but we did make them look a bit silly. Then there's the fact that we relieved them of two of their better players this summer, for very generous fees, it must be said, but both looking bargains so far. The press will typically have a field day should the result go one way or the other. They'll also want to get back to winning ways after their awful second-half showing at The Swamp, culminating in their manager's embarrassing touchline antics.

As Mark Hughes has alluded to today, we really can't let them settle, if we do that they could well turn us over. They don't like it up 'em, it's been proved time and time again that they shy away from a battle away from home, so we should have no conscience about putting ourselves about and if need be giving them a bit of a kicking, as United did. Not that we absolutely have to resort to a more physical approach to win the game, but it will probably help. It might even be an idea to get either de Jong or Barry to man-mark Fabregas, he and their attacking two all have the ability to cause us real problems, but you'd hope Toure's experience of them would come in handy. It will surely be our defence's first major test, the clean sheets are extremely positive but we're yet to face a side with real quality upfront.

I'd take a draw if offered one now, as much of a shame as it would be to lose the 100% record. If we get at them early doors and take our opportunities then we've got half a chance, but i think we'll have to play to our absolute best and they be below par for us to take all three points. They appear more organised at the back, Vermaelen looks like a sound buy, their fringe players seem to have the bit between the teeth, they're playing some good stuff and they'll fancy their chances.

Possible teams:
City: Given, Richards, Bridge, Toure, Lescott, De Jong, Ireland, Barry, SWP, Adebayor, Robinho

Arsenal: Almunia, Sagna, Clichy, Gallas, Vermaelen, Song, Denilson, Fabregas, Eduardo, van Persie, Diaby

Prediction: City 1 Arsenal 1