31/12/2009

Happy New Year, Blues!

Just a quickie to wish you all a great 2010. Doesn't seem all that long ago that everyone was shitting themselves about the new millennium, i've even very fond memories of us entering the nineties. Time does indeed fly. Wishing you all, and your loved ones, the very best for the coming year, and thoughts are with those we've lost over the last twelve months.

2009 has certainly been an eventful one for us Blues. More highs than lows, but relative to those suffered the decade previously, nothing that we've not been able to deal with. At present we're a couple of points of fourth place in the Premier League, in the semi-finals of a major cup, and approaching a transfer window where hefty financial backing will be available if required. Going into the last decade we'd have all given an arm to be where we are at present.

Here's to a great year for us all, and for City!

Preview: Boro v City

Ah, Middlesbrough, famous for Paul Daniels, Chris Rea and Peter Beagrie. One of every football fan's favourite away days, i'm sure, and hardly a place where we've had anything to shout about whatsoever in my time supporting City. A drab but hugely important 0-2 win three years ago the only occasion i can remember us beating them away at all. Quite a nice time to play them, though, touch wood.

Boro are short of players all over the park, particularly in attack. Leroy Lita is suspended, Dave Kitson and Caleb Folan have returned to Stoke and Hull, respectively, and Marvin Emnes and Jeremie Aliadiere have injuries. Marcus Bent has extended his loan spell from Birmingham and is likely to be partnered up front by academy graduate Jonathan Franks.

In defence they are equally short of bodies. Sean St.Ledger has gone back to Preston, Seb Hines is hurt, and David Wheater and Emanuel Pogatetz are both doubtful. Midfielder Didier Digard is also unfit, and Villa loanee Isaiah Osbourne cup-tied. Even star man, winger Adam Johnson, faces a late fitness test.

We have our fair share of absentees, too. Captain Kolo Toure and striker Emanuel Adebayor have flown to Africa. Joleon Lescott, Wayne Bridge and Nedum Onuoha will be missing until February. Stephen Ireland has a hamstring injury, Roque Santa Cruz a calf strain, and Shaun Wright-Phillips is still struggling to overcome an ankle knock.

I expect Roberto Mancini will go with as strong a side as possible, and in truth he hasn't got much choice, having only around twelve fit and available senior players to choose from. Javi Garrido will replace Sylvinho, which i assume will see Micah Richards move into central defence. I think we'll see Tevez, Robinho and Bellamy all start, most probably in a 4-4-2 judging by our improved performance after Monday's tinkering.

The choice of Gordon Strachan as the man to replace sacked former England defender Gareth Southgate seems to have split supporters to say the least. Early results haven't been good, just two wins in his first ten games, yet Boro sit only five points off a play-off place, and a big result on Saturday could well prove the kick up the backside they need to push on.

They'll probably line up in a straightforward 4-4-2. Given the late fitness tests it's difficult to say who will feature in their back four, but should Wheater, Riggott or Pogatetz not make it then Justin Hoyte could come in, Rhys Williams move back to his natural position, or Andrew Taylor earn only his fourth start of the season at left-back. O'Neill, Arca and Bent provide significant experience.

Adam Johnson has quite understandably been attracting the attention of Premier League scouts, and may see this as a good chance to put himself further into the shop window. At home on either flank, the England u21 international has already bagged himself ten goals, and the likes of Spurs and Villa are said to be keeping tabs on him. Given their lack of firepower he's undoubtedly the dangerman, and well capable of giving Garrido, Zabaleta or Richards a run for their money.

The fact that Boro are out of form, their manager under pressure, and they have half of their squad missing will give ammo to the pessimists. The ingredients are certainly their for an upset, and given our record in the cups in recent seasons it wouldn't come as a complete surprise, but we should have enough. If we demonstrate anything like the sublime counter-attacking football we played in spells at Wolves then we ought to progress, but it will by no means be a case of simply turning up, as i'm sure Mancini will know.

Whatever happens, the very least we can hope for is that our defence is a bit tighter than it was during our last visit to the Riverside!

Possible teams:
Boro: Coyne, McMahon, Taylor, Riggott, Wheater, Williams, Johnson, O'Neill, Franks, Bent, Arca

City: Given, Zabaleta, Garrido, Richards, Kompany, de Jong, Petrov, Barry, Tevez, Bellamy, Robinho

Prediction: Boro 0 City 2

30/12/2009

Loan Watch, part 2



Adam Clayton
(Carlisle)
Tigerish midfielder Adam joined Carlisle, allegedly on the recommendation of Craig Bellamy, on a short-term loan at the start of November where he's started ten of a possible twelve games, scoring once. The England under-20 international is due to return on the 10th of January, but is expected to sign a further deal at Brunton Park until the end of the season.

A supporter of the Cumbrian side says he 'covers a lot of ground, has a great engine, always looking to surge forward but never forgets his defensive duties either'. He goes on to mention 'he's occasionally a bit shot shy, needs to be more selfish at times, but we're more than happy with our midfield options at present; him, Tom Taiwo, and Graham Kavanagh'. On the future; 'we would be happy for him to stay until the end of the season, but a lot will depend on finances, and whether your new manager wants a look at him'.

Valeri Bojinov (Parma)
One of the youngest players to ever feature in Serie A, making his debut for Lecce aged just fifteen in 2002, Valeri returned to his adopted homeland in the summer, joining Francesco Guidolin's promoted Parma. Since then he's scored four times during twelve appearances, none more welcome than the opener during a flu-hit 2-0 victory over Bari (goal here). The Gialloblu currently sit only three points off second place.

Again, comments are pretty positive, if highlighting the obvious fitness concerns. One fan tells 'He's doing very well when he plays, but obviously injuries restrict what he can do. He's a complete striker; strong, quick, good in the air, great shooting ability, he's proven a good addition'. Another adds 'We have good players, but Bojinov is the only champion, a player capable of winning games on his own', and finally 'The only problem is his injury record, if he can stay fit he could be one of the best strikers in Europe, but there are big question marks. We would love him to stay'.

Felipe Caicedo (Sporting)
The Ecuadorian has struggled to win a starting place in Portugal so far this season after joining Sporting Lisbon on a season-long deal. Now bossed by former international Sa Pinto, Sporting sit fifth in their division, already well off joint leaders Sporting Braga and Benfica. 'Big Fel' is yet to score, and the side in general are lacking firepower. Word is his loan club are looking to end his deal early, but even if that's not the case the €10m it would reportedly take to make his move permanent seems extremely fanciful.

A Sporting fan describes him as 'A player who can't make the most of his major assets; his height and strength. Add to that he's slow and a poor finisher. He's currently fourth choice behind Liedson, Djalo & Postiga, so that tells you that the move hasn't been a successful one'. On a slightly more positive note another noted 'Sometimes players are simply not suited to some leagues. At Benfica, Keirrison is struggling, but he's a great prospect. From seeing Caicedo last season for City i know he can be a good player, just maybe not here'.

Finally, and another level-headed response; 'The fans haven't really taken to him, but i feel he could be useful once he gets off the mark, though he needs more games. Definitely lacks confidence. It's hard to criticise such a young player when there's so much wrong at the club at present. Our whole squad lacks motivation and so it would be unfair to judge the move a success or failure just yet'.

Goals of 2009

Trying to pick ten goals from the duration of 2009 is, as you might imagine, quite tricky. In that time we've scored our fair share, and in spells during both seasons over the calender year have played some delectable, quick, passing football. It's not been a perfect year by any stretch of the imagination, of course, but there would be little fun in attempting to put together a list of the sloppiest goals conceded, or ten most deflating draws.

I expect we'll all have different opinions on which goal should top the list, and i may well have missed the odd one entirely, but here goes...

10) Javier Garrido v Wolves (League, December)
A forgotten man at City since the arrival of Wayne Bridge, the Spaniard demonstrated what he can bring to the side in an attacking sense with a beautiful set-piece only days ago. Gareth Barry had been felled just outside the area, and from a difficult angle the left-back stepped up and curled the free-kick in to Hahnemann's bottom corner. The former Reading stopper didn't even see it.

9) Robinho v West Brom (League, April)
Another good example of the relationship between Ireland and Robinho bearing fruit. A generally nervous afternoon where we were second best somehow resulted in a 4-2 win. This was the opening goal. Ireland exchanged passes with de Jong in midfield and whipped in a stunning deep cross. Without even breaking stride the Brazilian slammed a left-footed volley past Scott Carson.

8) Stephen Ireland v Everton (League, April)
Similar to his wonder-strike in Hamburg, Stevie makes up half the length of the pitch in seconds, latching on to a curled Robinho return ball over the head of the stranded Jagielka, having time for a first touch and slotting low past Howard to cap off a brilliant win at a place we tend to struggle. These sort of goals really showcase Ireland at his best.

7) Michael Johnson v Scunthorpe (League Cup, October)
An emphatic strike by the young midfielder who has since suffered another serious injury. Despite the opposition, and the scoreline, he still demonstrated great technique to switch the ball and get his shot away, and it was in as soon as it left his boot. A small sign that if we can get him fit he's still got plenty to offer.

6) SWP v Villa (League, March)
A sublime Barca-like passing move, not just the one-two for the goal but the whole passage of play. Bojinov and Evans, both late subs, combine and feed Ireland who moves the ball over to SWP cutting in from the left. He returns the ball to Ireland who spots a gap between the defence and weights a delicious throughball, Shaun curling a finish in to the bottom left corner. A delightful example of a confident side keeping the ball on the deck.

5) SWP v Arsenal (League Cup, December)
Another unstoppable effort. Similar to his goal against United a couple of seasons ago, this one would've ended up in town somewhere had the net not been there. It always surprises me how such a lightweight fella can get so much power in his shots with so little backlift. Shauny at his menacing best, Traore's probably still dizzy.

4) Carlos Tevez v Arsenal (League Cup, December)
A goal completely of his own doing, bar a quick-thinking pass from Bellamy, with whom he seems to be building up a great understanding. It didn't really look like we were going to score, but winning a challenge following a stray pass out of defence, giving to and collecting from Bellamy, then dragging the Arsenal defence out and tonking an unsaveable drive past Fabianski. A super strike which gave us the confidence to see the Gunners of quite routinely.

3) Craig Bellamy v United (League, September)
Another good break, this would prove the second of three equalisers at Legoland before the officials added FergieTime. Carlos Tevez laid the ball to Bellamy who at best looked like he might run at his full-back and get a cross away. Ji-Sung Park gives up and legs it, leaving Bells free to cut inside and smash a shot in to the far top corner of England's number seven.

2) Stephen Ireland v Hamburg (UEFA Cup, April)
Stunning vision and stamina from last season's Player of the Year. Spotting Robinho free on the left flank the Irishman swung out a long ball, somehow making up half the pitch in a matter of seconds to slot home the return at the far post. Sadly we couldn't quite do enough to get past them over two legs, but we gave it a go, and seeing that early goal still makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.

1) Micah Richards v Bolton (League, December)
A breathtaking move, us at our counter-attacking best. Sylvinho wins a 50/50 challenge in the middle of the park and within seconds the ball has moved through Bellamy, Barry, Adebayor, Bellamy again, and ultimately full-back Richards, who manages to stay composed and fire low past Jaaskelainen.

29/12/2009

Loan Watch, part 1



Ryan McGivern (Leicester)
The young Northern Irish left-back moved to the Walkers Stadium on an initial four-month loan at the end of August. His time there hasn't gone completely to plan, mainly due to the good form of rival left-back and former Swiss international Bruno Berner.

Opinion amongst Foxes fans seems mixed, but most agree that his performance against Sheffield United last week was his most convincing yet, especially when shifted to centre-half, which many suspect is his natural position, after an injury to Jack Hobbs. One describes him as a 'promising, fast, tenacious defender who seems to be improving after a shaky start' but highlights a particular issue with positioning.

Despite a lack of games Ryan has decided to extend his loan period until the end of the season.

Kelvin Etuhu (Cardiff)
An ankle ligament injury during only his fourth game, a 0-1 home defeat by league leaders Newcastle, somewhat derailed Kelvin's season. He then went on to pick up a further ankle problem against Middlesbrough, and spent a couple of weeks back at Carrington having physiotherapy. He's yet to complete a game at the Bluebirds, being subbed during both of his two starts, but impressed during a 0-2 win at West Brom, assisting the opening goal from rival wingman Chris Burke.

A Cardiff supporter highlights 'a good first touch and attitude, strength, close control and speed to burn', but mentions 'the inability to pick out the right pass' and 'an injury record which despite his obvious potential means his wages aren't really being justified'.

Donal McDermott (Chesterfield)
Irish winger Donal spent three months at Saltergate, returning at the end of October. His time there would have to be deemed a success for all, five goals and six assists during his eighteen appearances including winners against Northampton and Grimsby. The Spireites fans really seemed to take him to their hearts.

Kind words aren't short in supply - 'a breath of fresh air, and certain to make it at a higher level', 'a cracking young player who was a pleasure to have, we applauded him out of the ground and would have him back in a shot'. Another supporter describes him simple as 'special' before going on to say how he's 'got the lot; pace, tricks, two good feet, an eye for a pass, can play across the park, can finish'. Many suspect a Championship loan might follow.

A few highlights of his spell can be seen here.

December Player of the Month

At the start of the current month no doubt most of us looked at the fixtures ahead with a sense of nervous anticipation. Arsenal, Chelsea and Spurs amongst seven meetings that at the time all seemed destined to be draws like those before them. Five victories and a draw from those games really shouldn't be sniffed at, and maximum points over Christmas gives us renewed optimism for the slog ahead.

The victory against Arsenal in the quarter-finals of the League Cup has been discredited by some due to the team they chose to field. That, of course, is something we had no control over, and the twelve players who were picked have the best part of 1,000 senior top-flight games between them, so for all the likes of Eastmond, Watt and Wilshere lack experience it wasn't as if we simply had to turn up and whip a bunch of schoolkids. Shaun Wright-Phillips was quite blatantly the best player on the park, and quite frankly terrorised Armand Traore.

Beating Chelsea at home will no doubt be most supporters game of the season so far. It was a terrific team performance, and we really beat the best team in the country at their own game, reducing them to frequent episodes of petulance. We out-fought them, and to a certain degree 'won ugly'. Several members of the Chelsea midfield are still allegedly in Nigel de Jong's back pocket, and Joleon Lescott, Carlos Tevez, and penalty hero Shay Given also stood out, though in truth it feels wrong not to mention everybody.

A double dose of hooky officiating at Bolton meant that the point earned wasn't a complete disaster, but the promising defensive signs from the previous two fixtures well and truly went for a burton. Occasional glimpses of brilliant football, none more encouraging than Micah Richards fourth goal in City colours, were rendered null and void by yet more calamity amongst the back four. Carlos Tevez' rescue job meaning we were then an unlucky thirteen undefeated.

In all honesty we were on the end of a bit of a pasting at White Hart Lane, a decent amount of possession but absolutely no penetration in the final third. By the sounds of it the decision to replace the manager had already been taken, but such a bad defeat seemed to be the straw that broke the camel's back for lots of supporters who had been big 'Hughes In'ers previously; three poor goals to concede and a lack of effort from the attack, it was pretty woeful.

Sunderland was the same old story; initially encouraging but then a bout of the wobbles. Events unfolding off the pitch overshadowed anything that happened on it, and seeing Mark Hughes hung out to dry was an episode i'm sure most of us would sooner forget. Roque Santa Cruz showed the first real signs that he will play a vital part in the season, and fans darling Craig Bellamy threatened to rip the Mackems to shreds.

Roberto Mancini's debut proved encouraging if fairly uneventful. Disciplined at the back and a performance which saw the Italian experiment with his side as events were unfolding, certainly signs of early promise in both respects. Gareth Barry was dominant in midfield, Toure and Kompany both commanding at the back, Tevez busy as always, and Shay Given again making vital stops.

Yesterday's 0-3 victory at Wolves was a pleasant surprise. Though they had periods of heavy possession we coped admirably with all they threw at us, both centre-halves again imperious. Martin Petrov's distribution also warrants a mention, and as the game wore on enforcers Barry and de Jong stamped their authority. However, the game was won by the terrific movement of front two Carlos Tevez and Craig Bellamy, and the fact that Roberto again fiddled with the shape of the side to positive results is absolutely refreshing.

Picking a Player of the Month isn't particularly difficult. Eight goals in seven starts means that Carlos Tevez will be a shoe-in wherever the question is being asked. Not only does he appear to have found his shooting boots but he epitomises what every fan wants to see in their side; a player who gives his all no matter of the situation, opposition or how things might be going form-wise.

As well as the more noted facets of his game, namely his work rate, we're seeing a player whose movement and footballing brain are making the side tick. On his move here we were assured that he couldn't finish, and that he was slow, or had poor close control. Those naive statements are already being proven folly, and certainly a case of sour grapes from those who profess to be fans of that other lot.

December: Carlos Tevez

28/12/2009

Classy Blues dominate shot-shy Wolves

A well-organised City side this evening made light work of a potentially tricky fixture at Molineux. Despite early pressure from the home side we ran out extremely comfortable winners, 0-3 the final score, with Carlos Tevez taking his tally for the season to twelve in a commanding performance. Javier Garrido marked his return to the side with the other goal.

Mick McCarthy's side dominated the first twenty minutes without creating anything by way of clear-cut chances. Scotland forward Chris Iwelumo, preferred over United academy graduate Sylvan Ebanks-Blake, caused us real problems. In the sixth minute he beat makeshift left-back Pablo Zabaleta in the air, Vincent Kompany blocking the resultant Kevin Doyle strike. Shortly afterwards Andrew Surman blazed over after a good knockdown by the former Stoke man.

The early stages were fairly frustrating for us, a deflected Carlos Tevez free-kick forcing an easy save from Marcus Hahnemann about as close as we got. Wolves captain Karl Henry tested Given from outside of the box, a relatively tame low drive, but from then on, in part due to another tactical change from new boss Roberto Mancini, we went on to have the better of the half. With Craig Bellamy in attack and Petrov moved to his correct side, we held a better shape, and were looking increasingly dangerous on the break.

The first sign that we were becoming more dominant involved a nice move in the 25th minute, Zabaleta and Petrov combining superbly and the end cross just evading Carlos Tevez. Our next wave again involved play down our left; Petrov's deep cross falling to Tevez, the Argentine taking on his defender and crossing low, Bellamy miskicking his first effort and blazing his second skywards when he should have made it 0-1.

The opener was on its way, and arrived three minutes after that great chance. A quick free-kick was played to Petrov, spotting Bellamy's run down the left flank he played the pass, Craig gave Jody Craddock the shoulder and took him on down his outside, laying back a pass for Tevez to take fire. It was by no means a net-busting shot, but it caught a Wolves defender and trickled past the despairing Hahnemann.

That was that until the break, barring Zab being done for pace by Foley, and a corner or two resulting in headers from left-back George Elokobi. The second period, as with the first, saw the home side putting us under heavy pressure. Henry dispossessed a sloppy de Jong but skied over, and in between Bellamy putting a great chance wide of the far post after being released by Petrov, Iwelumo put another over following a superb interchange involving Doyle and Surman.

Ten minutes in to the second half Stevie Ireland was replaced by Javi Garrido, a decision that didn't initially make complete sense, but word that the midfielder has strained a hamstring, coupled with Zabaleta's late efforts to cover Micah Richards proved that the new manager perhaps knows more than us, who'da thunkit?

Doyle again went close, Micah losing the ball and the Irishman getting the better of Toure and forcing a good stop from his international colleague, Given. The game was put to bed in the 69th minute, Craddock's header clear playing Bellamy onside, the Welshman's involvement in the ensuing move puzzlingly questioned by the Wolves bench. Barry latched on to the second ball and was pulled down, forgotten man Garrido curling a delicious left-footed effort past the statue-like American goalie.

Tevez would go on to be booked for arguing with a silly decision, Barry penalised for being elbowed in the face, but it was to prove Wolves last real foray forward. From that point on we looked superb, the football was flowing, none more entertaining than a 40-pass move leading to cries of 'Ole' from the stands. We then almost bagged the Goal of the Season, a sublime break out of defence, Petrov at right-back, to Bellamy on the left wing, in to Tevez, but his dink ran just wide.

Even record buy Robinho, derided by most of the press of late, came on and played his part. Getting a five-minute run-out in place of Martin Petrov he laid a great cross in to Tevez, switching to his left peg the top scorer slammed home a third from the edge of the box. The Brazilian could have added a fourth, cutting in and firing a shot just over with his favoured right foot.

We can take great encouragement from tonight's performance. Who we were playing is irrelevant. Wolves are in form and all away games are tough in this league. We weathered patches of their possession at the start of both halves and went on to thoroughly deserve our win. The back four again looked more organised, Bellamy and Tevez were superb, and overall it was a textbook example of how to play on the counter.

It's ridiculously early to make sweeping statements about the side, but the very early signs are that we're already more organised, though early results under any manager can be taken with a pinch of salt. The most promising aspect is that Mancini again changed things from the bench, and even late on had the team working hard. He'll be judged over the season, even two or three, but no complaints so far.

Team:
Given, Richards, Zabaleta, Toure, Kompany, de Jong, Ireland (Garrido '56), Barry, Petrov (Robinho '86), Tevez (Sylvinho '89), Bellamy

City Vox Pops, part 7

January transfer window targets.
Where do you think we'll strengthen, with who, and why?


Alan, Blue Days

At the moment I'm more interested in seeing how our existing players perform under the new manager. If Mancini can demonstrate the same powers of restoration as Martin O'Neill has on Richard Dunne, then several of our current squad (Lescott, Toure, Robinho and Adebayor in particular) could feel like new players.

As for actual new signings, defence is the obvious area to strengthen and Serie A is the likely place for shopping. A commanding centre-half would be top of my list. I don't know much about them, but one of the three youngsters - Simon Kjaer (Palermo), Neven Subotic (Dortmund), Angelo Ogbonna (Torino) - may be the best long term solution. However Mancini needs results now, so might go for the more experienced Chiellini, who may be viable given Juve's troubles. He's tough, but a little slow and clumsy for my liking. I hope we don't go for Upson - more of the same, but slower and older. As for Cordoba, the last thing we need is another small centre-back.

The real frustration is the current injuries leave us in need of central defenders now, whereas it could be the end of the month before any new signings are able to step in. By that time Onuoha, Bridge, Toure and Lescott will be returning. In the meantime, how Kompany fares in central defence could be crucial.

As for creative, attacking players, I don't see much happening. Mancini is supposed to be a fan of Cassano so that may be an outside possibility. I don't think Robinho will go, but if he did, then di Maria comes into the picture - though don't expect Martin Petrov to be happy about it!

Danny, Bitter & Blue
It will be interesting to see quite what Mancini does in January, given that he doesn't have a lot of time to get to know the squad and assess what he has. An added problem is that there isn't a holdover of staff to really brief him either so a lot will depend on how good his knowledge of the current players is.

I'm not sure he will add too much in January unless a real stand out player (ie, a David Villa) is available. Defence looks an area that will need strengthening, more out of necessity with the injuries and Toure's unavailability than anything else, but in midfield and attack we are generally well served, so unless he has a chance of landing a player who he knows well from Italy i'm not if he'll add to what we already have.

Jason, This Is Our City
No doubt about it, Mancini will recruit a tall top-class leader at centre-half as we lack height, and a full-back or two as aside from Lescott and Zabaleta, the other options are a stuttering shambles. If Bellamy does want out then possibly another left-winger. My choices would be Maicon, Neven Subotić, Philip Lahm and Angel Di Maria.

Jack, The Lonesome Death of Roy Carroll
First priority is a centre-back. A combination of injuries and the African Cup of Nations have left us with Vincent Kompany as the only option for January, and even with everyone available we look to be missing something. It's possible that we'll go back for Matthew Upson but I think most likely is Mancini dipping into Serie A for a defender. There are some names being linked - Giorgio Chiellini, Simon Kjaer and Iván Córdoba.

I don't know much about Kjaer but I think that size and experience are important, which is why I'd be so keen for us to get Chiellini. Anyone who can take command, organise those around him, and head away balls into the box is fine by me. With Lescott, Onuoha and Toure due to return in February it doesn't have to be a big money player here on the long term, just someone to partner Kompany over the next few weeks. So Córdoba on a six or eighteen month deal is quite conceivable.

Another possibility is at full back. People talk of a crisis at left back but I don't think that Wayne Bridge and Sylvinho are a much worse pair of options that Pablo Zabaleta and Micah Richards. We could improve on both sides but will struggle to make huge strides in the January market. Maicon won't join us in the summer, never mind in January, so it all depends on whether Mancini has some good players in mind who he believes he can bring to Eastlands in mid-season.

I'm just excited about the prospect of signing players who haven't been playing in the Premier League for the last few years. We really missed out on exoticism with Hughes' recruitment policy. Oh for the days of Javi Garrido and Felipe Caicedo!

Lloyd, Man City Issues
It's a difficult one the January transfer window, it's always hard to sign the very best players because they are normally unwilling to move clubs half-way through the season. However, if they are unhappy with their situations, like Giorgio Chiellini, then you've got a good chance. He's Italian and a real no-nonsense defender - exactly what we need at the moment. He's got good leadership skills and is only 25. Personally, I'd go for him, and I think Mancini might look to Italy for some defensive reinforcements (Kjaer, Corboda, Maicon). Realistically, I think we could get all of those guys apart from Maicon, I don't think he would want to come to City just yet.

Corboda has already expressed his desire to join City and to link up with his old boss Mancini. He's 33 and we would be his last club if he joined us. He's made over 300 appearances for Inter but has fallen down the pecking order under Jose Mourinho. As for Kjaer, he's only 20 and would be one for the future, but we need immediate replacements. It would all depend on whether we think he could step up to the plate immediately.

We are awfully thin in the defence at the moment with Bridge, Lescott and Onouha all out until February. And to add to that, we have Toure leaving for Angola tomorrow. I think we could do with another left-back (maybe Philip Lahm?) and an attacking midfielder (Angel Di Maria?) and then we really would have quality cover in every position.

Wallace, ESPN Soccernet
Interesting question given the diamond formation that Mancini is said to favour. You can make the argument that given the change the club needs a left-back, at least one centre-half, a further midfield enforcer, two creative attacking midfielders and another support striker! Which I can't see happening in the January transfer window because it is rare that high quality players move.

Prior to the Hughes dismissal I was hoping that he would raid the Bundesliga for the Hamburg pair of Joris Mathijsen and Marcell Jansen as City need players that can gel immediately and both played with Kompany and de Jong previously allowing City's back four to be rebuilt given the absence of Toure, Lescott and Bridge. Further I was hoping that Werder Bremen's Per Mertesacker might be on the list as the club could use a tall, young defender. In midfield, Juan Roman Riquelme has been on my wish-list for a long time. These players would fit the culture and style of the team and the current players that City have.

Now... all bets are off. The club is being linked with numerous players from Italy and the indication is that Mancini will strengthen from his knowledge base. My suspicion is that the club will move for three players; a left-back, a centre-half and an attacking midfielder and then try and make the current team fit into what Mancini wants.

The club is being linked with players from all the top Italian teams but unless a player has had a specific falling out with their coach (as Inter's Cordoba is alleged to have done) or is looking for playing time with the World Cup approaching then I believe you can eliminate Milan, Inter and Fiorentina as they are in the Champions League last 16 and similarly while disappointing for the clubs to end up in the Europa League, Juventus and Roma.

So players from Sampdoria, Genoa, Lazio, Parma and Napoli make the most practical sense. For example the rumour that the club is interested in Sampdoria striker Giampaolo Pazzini (or Antonio Cassano) is one of the few that passes the smell test as it were, whilst Giorgio Chiellini with Juventus does not.

Norfstander
It's unfortunate that we're looking at at least a month without three quarters of our first choice defence when, despite silly goals still being conceded, there were small signs that Lescott especially was beginning to find his feet. Him and Toure have looked good in parts, awful in others, but with the right defensive coaching i think both will prove good enough, and there's no arguing with their pedigree.

I'm not convinced that shelling out huge money on another centre-half is the answer, though we must do anything we can to make the season as successful as possible, and January's games could shape our season in all three competitions. Wayne Bridge, whose more high-profile and particularly headless performances have undermined what i thought was an improvement on his last season's form, has never really convinced me in a defensive sense, and any good winger will fancy their chances against Sylvinho.

With this in mind i think the two most obvious areas to be addressed in January are centre-half and left-back. On the left we need someone who brings something neither Bridge or Sylvinho does, no-nonsense tackling and the ability to put an opponent in the stands if necessary. Sadly, there aren't many about. It mightn't be a household name but someone like Stephen Warnock would be okay, though it's unlikely Villa would sell another key player to a rival. He's equally at home defending or attacking, and always impresses me.

Lazio's Stefan Radu may be an option, dubbed the 'new Chivu' he can play both left-back and centre-half. Osasuna's Nacho Monreal, linked with a move here previously, might be one worth keeping an eye on. Sébastien Pocognoli of Dutch champions AZ is a young Belgian no-nonsense defender, or PSV's Erik Pieters a possible alternative. French under-21 captain Mamadou Sakho is another most big clubs are keeping tabs on, he too can play at left-back or centre-half, and has already captained the club on several occasions despite still being in his teens. Marseille's Taye Taiwo has been repeatedly linked. Any of these would be welcome additions to the squad, in my opinion.

As touched on above, we probably need to bring in a centre-half who perhaps isn't seen as a replacement for Toure or Lescott, form depending obviously, but who can steady the ship in the short-term and then be prepared to fight for his place afterwards. We need someone big and commanding, who can organise the likes of Vince, Micah & Zab, so i'd prefer someone with experience of the Premier League and a good command of English. With that in mind i actually don't think Matt Upson would be a bad call. He's played here for years, can organise well, has leadership experience, will be available, and give West Ham's financial predicament won't cost the earth.

If we do look abroad then Uruguayan duo Diego Lugano of Fenerbahce and Diego Godin of Villareal should both be on the radar, both mountanous men who take no prisoners. FC Twente's Douglas has impressed and is in the final year of his deal at the club now managed by Steve McClaren. Hoffenheim's Marvin Compper, Bremen duo Per Mertesacker and Naldo, and Neven Subotic of Dortmund are all impressing in the Bundesliga. Joris Mathijsen could add a bit of steel, and of course City fans will always put forward the name of Daniel van Buyten.

Most likely, of course, is that Mancini reverts to what he knows best and looks to raid Serie A. Fiorentina's Alessandro Gamberini, Phillipe Mexes of Roma, Juve's Giorgio Chiellini, or either of Inter pair Chivu or the menacing Walter Samuel would be welcomed, though how realistic our chances of signing any of those at the present time are is up for debate, and either of the latter three would involve hefty fees.

Elsewhere, i'm pretty happy with our lot. Once we get everyone fit or back from international commitments we have an exciting set of varied attacking options. Rather than bring in another attacking midfielder i hope we can play in a way which gets the best out of Stevie Ireland, because no matter who else we bring in i don't think we'll find anyone who can make us tick quite like he can.

27/12/2009

Hart's Brum form good news for all

Any City fan trying to put together a list of the highest points of Mark Hughes' time at the club would do very well to not include the £6m signing of Shay Given from Newcastle. The move has so far proved a resounding success, and coming up to a year since he joined both declaring it as such, and in stating that he's one of the better goalkeepers we've had in modern times, maybe full stop, would be met by unanimous agreement.

As ecstatic as we are to have the very best 'keeper in the land there was a certain amount of disappointment that in bringing in an established number one we were having to curtail the promising career of another, at the club at least, every silver lining, etc. Joe Hart had begun to emerge as the finest young English goalie around, but with Shay about he was always going to play second fiddle.

For all that Joe Hart was and is a shot-stopper of undoubted quality, there were chinks to his game, albeit ones that could be ironed out with experience. He always had that hint of the Grobelaar's about him, occasionally gifting opponents chances, even goals, through an overconfidence bordering on cockiness. I also never really fancied him in one-on-one situations like i do with Shay.

The decision to let Joe move to a rival Premier League club on loan was one that we had to take with a heavy heart. With the World Cup this summer it was only fair to allow the lad to play regularly somewhere, and given those stakes, and the stage of his top-flight career, it could only have been to another Premier League club, and one of only a few who could guarantee him to be first choice.

Initially, he didn't impress. His first few games for the St Andrews club generally involved him looking wobbly, and if my memory serves me right he made serious errors against United, Burnley, Spurs and others. Since then, however, and no-one's holding a bedding-in period against anyone, Birmingham have gone on to prove one of the tightest defences in the division, and in recent weeks Joe's really excelled.

They deserve real credit for what they've achieved over the first half of the season. We've been in the position of being recently promoted, and we know that the first year back in the top flight is solely about survival. To be well ahead of the point-per-game average so far is a great achievement, and manager Alex McLeish's canny buys, namely Joe on loan, but also Championship defenders Roger Johnson and Scott Dann, are worthy of extra praise.

It just goes to show what good work on the training ground can do, and the irony of two of the meanest defences in the country including players deemed not good enough to play week in, week out here, surely hasn't been lost on anyone, not least when we've spent over £65m on their replacements to at best mixed results.

On current form Joe stands a realistic chance of a seat on the plane to South Africa this summer, and good on him. In my opinion he's a better option than Ben Foster, or a half-fit David James. The position is obviously a problem for England in one sense, that they don't have an established first choice, but i don't think we've a shortage of good 'keepers, far from it. Hart, Rob Green and Chris Kirkland would be my three, personally.

I can honestly imagine Shay Given being around for at least two or three seasons after this one, and i'm absolutely thrilled at the prospect of that, but it will almost certainly mean we have to move Joe on permanently, which does disappoint me. Though he is contracted to the club until the summer of 2013 i'm not sure we can realistically expect him to wait around for his chance, or repeatedly loan him out.

As a fan of the club i'd much rather we had someone of his quality as backup, but he'll need some certainty over his future and if he expresses a desire to leave the club permanently i think we have to give him his chance, providing nothing unforeseen happens beforehand. The money must be right, of course, and it'll be a sad day seeing him go, but until it comes, the current agreement seems to be benefiting all - the player, his new club, England, and us.

Preview: Wolves v City

Our trip to Molineux tomorrow sees us looking to maintain our 100% record over the Christmas period following the home victories over Sunderland and Stoke City. Three points would keep us right in the mix for 4th place, and would be especially welcome with many of the sides around us having either dropped points or being due to face eachother.

Targetmen Roque Santa Cruz and Emmanuel Adebayor will be missing with calf and ankle injuries, respectively. Craig Bellamy could replace the out-of-form Robinho, with Shaun Wright-Phillips again likely to miss out. Defenders Joleon Lescott, Wayne Bridge and Nedum Onuoha will all be absent until the end of January. Benjani and Michael Johnson also won't be available.

Wolves have winger-turned-defender Stephen Ward suspended for his two yellow cards at Anfield yesterday. Michael Kightly is still suffering ankle problems, goalkeeper Matt Murray remains the walking wounded, and Dave Edwards and striker Andy Keogh aren't expected to play again until March.

It's hard to know which team McCarthy will pick. Unfairly the target of some criticism for changing his entire outfield against United a fortnight ago changes tomorrow will surely be on the cards considering the busy schedule. Former Reading goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann looks to now be their number one, but Elokobi for Ward might not be the only other switch at the back, with Jody Craddock expected to be rested. Richard Stearman or Ronald Zubar may come in, or Greg Halford could move back.

In midfield, captain Karl Henry is likely to keep his place, but Matt Jarvis could have to make do with a place on the bench. David Jones or Andrew Surman are possibles to step in, but i expect subbed Anfield trio Doyle, Milijas and Ebank-Blake might have been replaced to keep them fresh for the game, though Chris Iwelumo's presence in attack might be a better bet to unsettle our back four.

McCarthy's side deserve credit for a recent run which has resulted in them having a fighting chance of survival. Only weeks ago they seemed bankers for the drop, and whilst their supporters won't be getting carried away just yet the wins over Bolton, Burnley, and most impressively Spurs mean the mood around Molineux can rightly be more one of quiet optimism than fear of inevitable despair.

Ireland forward Kevin Doyle is obviously key to their hopes for the season, and with five goals already he's proving that the £6.5m shelled out to bring him to the club from Reading wasn't too excessive. He caused us real trouble in the home fixture between the two sides, and although we should have been four or five up by half-time that day we had to weather a real storm later on, and Doyle's movement asked real questions of a defence which at that point appeared to be a bit better than rubbish.

We've been a funny old side away from home this season; generally awful but still somehow hard to beat, we can only hope the new manager brings defensive steel and organisation, but it won't happen overnight. Koure, Kompany and Zabaleta impressed on Boxing Day, and if they can remain as tight a unit, helped by a midfield which was playing to its strengths then we should be able to dictate the tempo of the game and take all three points.

Saying that, we know sides raise their game for better opposition, indeed we do ourselves. If they can keep early possession and unsettle us we're as likely to crack as anyone, and they'll know that we can at times be bullied physically and will be under strict instructions to make life as difficult as possible for us in that respect, and no problems with that.

I think Wolves will be okay this season, but hopefully the momentum of our recent changes will play in our favour and fatigue from their trip to Liverpool might also be a key factor. A game like this is made for the likes of Craig Bellamy and Carlos Tevez, and providing we make no silly errors defensively we should have enough to see them off providing we can keep the balance that eventually came on Saturday.

Possible teams:
Wolves: Hahnemann, Stearman, Elokobi, Berra, Mancienne, Henry, Halford, Milijas, Ebanks-Blake, Doyle, Surman

City: Given, Zabaleta, Sylvinho, Toure, Kompany, de Jong, Petrov, Ireland, Tevez, Bellamy, Barry

Prediction: Wolves 1 City 2

26/12/2009

Friday mp3: Yeah Yeah Yeahs

It's Saturday, i know, but surprisingly even i had things to do yesterday!

Yeah Yeah Yeahs formed around the turn of the decade in New York. Inspired by Ohio avant-garde punk they started playing supports slots to several bands and caught the tail end of the buzz around acts such as the White Stripes. They self-released an EP, played SxSW and signed a deal with Wichita in the UK.

Third single 'Maps' was their real breakthrough, and the album it featured on, scuzzy debut Fever To Tell broke into the British top twenty and to date has sold over a million copies. Follow-up Show Your Bones was released in the spring of 2006, more successful on both sides of the pond, but perhaps lacking the edge of it's predecessor.

A five-track EP, Is Is, was also generally well received, but this year's It's Blitz seemed to split opinion, the band opting for a more synth-based record produced by TV On The Radio's Dave Sitek.

This track is from the debut, and still the best thing they've done, in my opinion.

MP3: Pin
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Unspectacular but solid City untroubled by Potters

The Blues this afternoon saw off Tony Pulis' Stoke City with relative ease at Eastlands, winning 2-0. Goals before half-time from winger Martin Petrov and top scorer Carlos Tevez saw us home in a game which barring it being the first under the new manager, won't be remembered by many.

Mancini sprung something of a surprise, starting with neither Roque Santa Cruz or Emmanuel Adebayor, instead choosing to pair South American duo Robinho and Carlos Tevez in attack, with Stevie Ireland initially starting on the right of a midfield four in the absence of Shaun Wright-Phillips. Martin Petrov made only his fourth league start of the season, and Nigel de Jong returned from a one-match ban.

From early on it was apparent that so long as we kept switched on today should result in a relatively easy one at the office, although summer arrival Tuncay did worry us at times. Carlos Tevez and Robinho both went close with early efforts. For all our possession, however, it was Tuncay who had the best chance, through on goal he forced a tremendous save from the reliable Shay Given when he looked well set to open the scoring.

The deadlock was broken in the 27th minute. Breaking out of defence the ball ended up at Stevie Ireland's feet in the centre circle. He whipped a quick pass in to Tevez who took the ball left, aided by Robinho's run central. Rounding full-back Wilkinson he crossed left-footed for Robinho who mishit his shot only for it to run to Martin Petrov, who had now switched to the right flank, to tap in at the far post.

Some of the passing before the break was superb, but the performance overall was more workmanlike than flowing. Gareth Barry really put his mark on the game from the off, having one of his best games since joining the club. Mancini was constantly off his bench, too, and switched the midfield round once he'd noticed we weren't getting the best out of Stevie Ireland.

Robinho and Martin Petrov both went close before the game was put to bed shortly before half-time. The second of two Robinho corners was cleared away from the Stoke goal, landing at the feet of Pablo Zabaleta who crossed deep in to the box from the left. Gareth Barry had time to cushion down a header and Carlos Tevez got high enough to prod home from close range for his sixth strike in as many games.

Only moments after the second period had begun we should have been three up. Ireland played a trademark ball through to Robinho but Wilkinson did well to prevent him getting a shot away. The ball ran to Petrov who cut in from the right and curled a rasping drive towards Sorensen's far post, the Dane making a good stop and the rebound just running away from Robinho.

The second half was a largely lifeless affair. Stoke had plenty of the ball but rarely threatened, whilst we impressed on the break but perhaps weren't as clinical as we might've been without the advantage. Just after the hour their two only other chances arrived. Sub Beattie found himself free at the far post but could only test Given who turned wide. From the resulting corner Robert Huth headed wide. They could've played all day and not scored.

Sylvinho was replaced with 25 left on the clock, Richards coming on to play in his natural right-back position, Zabaleta, who had been quite solid, switching flanks and barring an early skinning equipping himself relatively well. The biggest cheer of the afternoon, however, was for the introduction of fans favourite Craig Bellamy, introduced for Robinho not long after. The Welshman played his part, not least by testing Sorensen with a shot despite appearing to have been hauled down.

I thought it was an encouraging if forgettable performance, with small signs that we are getting our confidence back. It will take time for both the side to perform as the manager wants and for issues to be ironed out that have been there since before his arrival, but a clean sheet and a generally solid defensive showing has to be a good start.

Barring odd lapses i thought we kept our concentration well in defence, and Kolo Toure really shone after a few questionable games of late. Though not faced with one of the most potent attacks in the league they answered the questions posed, and as the game wore on Vincent Kompany also began to stamp his authority.

The midfield will remain to be a work in progress, but all three who started did well. Barry was obviously the most composed player on the park, but once moved infield we began to see Stevie Ireland playing like his old self and not the player who has been forced to mainly stick to a more disciplined role so far this season. He was constantly looking for the ball and giving it quickly, proving a vital link between the midfield and attack.

Stoke City at home was never going to be a game in which we could make our minds up about too much, and in any case by installing a new management team we've made ourselves redundant to a certain extent when it comes to criticising what's on offer, at least for the time being. The very early signs, though, are that we looked more organised, more confident moving the ball out of defence, and were able to change things as they were happening, a frequent criticism of the previous regime.

Team:
Given, Zabaleta, Sylvinho (Richards '66), Toure, Kompany, de Jong, Ireland, Barry, Tevez (Garrido '89), Robinho (Bellamy '70), Petrov

25/12/2009

Preview: City v Stoke

This time last week most of us were probably looking at the upcoming fixtures and licking our lips. Not that we've performed particularly well against, with all due respect, 'lesser' sides in the league, but seven points plus was thought achievable by most from the year-ending games, and corners were looking to be turned.

Though we won the first of those three the events of last Saturday were doubly worrying. An initially promising but in the end 'same old' performance, then the callous sacking of Mark Hughes, culminated in a day we'd probably all sooner rather forget. Given those goings-on we head in to a home game against Stoke with a new man at the helm and without a real clue what we'll be met with.

The injuries are beginning to mount up. Joleon Lescott and Wayne Bridge will both be out until well in to the New Year with knee injuries. Replacement at Spurs Nedum Onuoha has torn a calf and will miss four weeks. Micah Richards also has a knee strain and Michael Johnson won't play again this season. Kolo Toure will play his last game before departing for the African Nations Cup, but Nigel de Jong returns from a ban. SWP and Emmanuel Adebayor have ankle niggles but should take part.

For Stoke, Robert Huth returns from a ban and star defender Ryan Shawcross is expected to come back in to the side after suffering from an ankle problem. Amdy Faye is out long-term with a back injury, but otherwise the Potters will be at full-strength.

With the new managerial team in place it's difficult to know who will be picked and who left out. In defence our options are pretty limited, so barring something out of the ordinary happening the back five pretty much picks itself. An uneducated guess would be that Mancini might opt for two holding midfielders, most likely to be Gareth Barry and Nigel de Jong. Given his support of Robinho in the press, and Craig Bellamy's problems with training, i'd also anticipate the Brazilian to get the nod.

Stoke, as you might expect, will be pretty tough to break down. A lack of goals seems to be the main reason they've not improved on an already respectable 11th place. A no-nonsense back four, generalled by the excellent Shawcross, and defended admirably by Abdoulaye Faye in midfield, has conceded no more goals than the likes of Arsenal or Spurs. Former Villa 'keeper Thomas Sorensen is proving himself a reliable set-piece stopper, too.

Former City academy player Glen Whelan will figure in a probable five-man midfield, with Ricardo Fuller more likely than Mama Sidibe, or the recently headbutted former England man James Beattie. A battle it will certainly be, and at so far this season, even at home, we've seen sides profit from being very direct against us. Pulis' men will be quietly confident about making their impression on us after our recent performances.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, keeping the goals out will still be the main problem. A cobbled together defence will need to impose themselves on the game, but providing they can do that we should have enough in attack to punish the visitors. We're due a convincing home victory, and rather than threatening one and panicking like last time round, if we've got anything about ourselves at all then tomorrow ought to represent a chance for the new manager to make a good first impression.

Possible teams:
City: Given, Zabaleta, Sylvinho, Toure, Kompany, de Jong, Barry, Ireland, Wright-Phillips, Santa Cruz, Robinho

Stoke: Sorensen, Wilkinson, Collins, Shawcross, Huth, Faye, Delap, Whitehead, Whelan, Fuller, Etherington

Prediction: City 2 Stoke 0

Merry Christmas!

Just a quick message of good will to Blues up and down the country and beyond.

It's been a funny old year, not best summed up by the events of the last week or so. There have been highs; some of the summer arrivals, three great wins over the Arsenal, and the UEFA Cup run stand out. Of course, there have been the lows, too; the recent draws, last January's cup humbling, the late defeat at The Swamp, and the manner of the recent managerial dismissal, to name just a few.

We now find ourselves on the verge of both a new year and era at the club, and as we all know, it's never boring following the Blues. I'm sure we're all secretly compiling lists of hopeful arrivals, and dreaming of the new manager guiding us to success. Here's to 2010 being a great year for Manchester City Football Club, but firstly, good health and wishes to you all and your nearest and dearest.

23/12/2009

Defensive absentees a cause for concern

After spending the best part of £50m on defenders since the turn of the year you would have hoped we wouldn't now be sat here virtually planning a back four from scratch, but due to injuries and African Nations Cup commitments we find ourselves on the verge of not being able to cobble together a defence at all.

Like it or lump it, these things do happen. You only have to look over the road for proof that we're not especially hard done by. The red rogues from Salford have been without six of their first eight defenders, and we seem to be trying to match them, with Joleon Lescott, Kolo Toure, Nedum Onuoha & Wayne Bridge all to be missing.

Even some of those who aren't ruled out are not fully fit. Micah Richards has been in the wars of late, Vincent Kompany's still far from sharp, and former Barca man Sylvinho has looked all of his thirty-five years during his recent starts. Javi Garrido is still AWOL, and it will be interesting to see what back four the new boss goes with against Stoke.

I imagine that as senior defenders, Micah, Pablo and Kolo will all start, but with the latter leaving shortly after we face the prospect of none of our four first choice centre-halves being fully fit for January, a month that will probably decide both our league, Carling Cup, and possibly FA Cup credentials. It may well force us back in to the market.

It's looking increasingly like we'll have to shell out on another centre-half, and whilst that might prove fuel for the fire of those who think we shouldn't have sold Richard Dunne, who realistically wouldn't have sat around content as fourth or fifth choice, and shouldn't be ruled the new Bobby Moore after half-a-dozen good games at his new club, money will have to be spent.

You get the impression that there will be two arrivals or more in the window in order to shore up a fragile back-line, but maybe it could prove a chance for Micah Richards to step up and show some steel. We can only hope that the defensive coaching of Roberto and his team is better than that of the last regime, because we need to start playing like a side who've seriously spent in that department, and not a set of muppets.

22/12/2009

Mixed emotions about Hughes leaving

The decision to axe Mark Hughes seems to have split supporters. He'd long had his critics, mainly sensationalist plums, but even those who have supported him must admit to our lingering doubts. I have to say that i don't think he was given long enough, not since the heavy backing in the summer anyhow. The performances have been dire for a while, though, and the decision to make a change perhaps proves that the ambitions of the board were different from those stated pre-season.

In my opinion our current position is almost acceptable, but the football really hasn't been. Sixth place and four points off the top four with a game in hand wouldn't have had me reaching for the panic button, but it's fair to say that we've gone backwards this season and few are performing to levels they ought to in order to justify their pricetags.

It's hard to bear any ill will towards the board, they're bankrolling the club to a degree we'd have never thought possible, and they've been quite honourable in standing by Hughes when most people had him as a dead man walking from the day of the takeover. They've backed him heavily in the transfer market and can quite rightly expect us to be playing better than we are currently, but i'm a touch disappointed by the nature and timing of the managerial change.

Most annoying was the fact that Hughes was threw aside in such a charmless fashion a week before Christmas. It's a cut-throat business, sure, and everyone who earns very handsome salaries within the game in whatever role knows that. Managers shit on clubs and in turn they are done over, but we could have conducted ourselves a hell of a lot better than we did, and given his hard work i really think he deserved more.

We have to be honest and admit that Hughes was never going to be the man for the job. In the eyes of some his links with our fiercest rivals were always a stumbling block. I think those opinions are pretty small-minded, but over the last six months of his reign i think Mark did a great job in making himself one of us, and his 'building from the bottom' methods were the right way to go about things.

What he lacked was tactical acumen, and although that's an easy slant levelled at most managers who don't win for a few games, i don't think Hughes brought much to the table in regards to making the side play. We defended like mugs for most of his eighteen months, and even at home have become far too heavily reliant on the counter attack. This season we've seen our best player suffocated in a side of new boys. It wasn't working.

For many hardened Blues goings-on away from the first team also proved a subject of concern. We all accept that an Academy is there to help the seniors, and that given our new-found wealth we'd be less reliant on it than before, but 'fixing' something that absolutely wasn't broke, whether you believe the rumours of Jim Cassell being forced out or not, left a sour taste in the mouths of many.

For me, i'm not disappointed in the fact that Hughes had to go at some point, we all knew he wasn't the man to lead us to where we ultimately wanted to be, but besides Saturday's unfolding drama, as discussed above, it's just a stupid decision that should have either been made last summer or next. You don't give a manager you're not sure about over £100m, likewise you don't judge one an imbecile at the first sign of wobbles.

I honestly think we've come out of this looking like real fuckwits, and the events have completely overshadowed the most important thing from now on, the arrival of the new manager, Roberto Mancini. It's a huge coup for the club, as much as the press try and pretend it isn't. This is a guy who has managed an elite club to repeated silverware. We should be embracing his appointment, but the dismissal of the man he replaced have made it something of a sideshow.

What must be said, and it's a point a couple of fellow bloggers have touched on already, is the press reaction since Saturday has been way over the top. The unease at the timing and nature of the decision is fair enough, in my opinion, as are the opinions on Garry Cook, who i do like but who tends to not do himself any favours. What is below the belt are those having digs at the new owners, and more so the new chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak.

Since day one Khaldoon has gone out of his way to be the perfect chairman. He's kept quiet where most don't, given only selected interviews to trusted sources, backed the manager 100%, and instructed his staff to do the very best they can for us supporters. One decision and the press are throwing stuff around like wildfire, branding the owners reactionary, clueless, cowardly and inept, which couldn't be further from the truth.

As a fan of the club i'll support whoever is in charge and out on the pitch. I don't agree that Mark Hughes should have been sacked but it's happened, and the new man has my 100% unwavering support. The board have taken a decision they feel is in the best interests of the club and i'll trust their judgement. My only wish, and it's not a criticism of the owners, more Cook and Marwood; when tough decisions must be made, let's go about things in the correct manner, we are, as they put it, a 'multi-million pound business' after all.

18/12/2009

Friday mp3: Kings of Leon

Kings of Leon formed ten years ago, a band of three brothers and one cousin schooled on southern American rock and Blues. The Holy Roller Novocaine EP in 2003 proved their big break, the tracks that would make up the debut, Youth and Young Manhood.

Second album Aha Shake Heartbreak remains their outstanding work, and led to tours with Dylan and The Strokes. Their last two records have certainly shifted more units, but perhaps haven't lived up to the promise of the first two LPs; more chartable singles but less critical acclaim.

This is their best track.

MP3: King of the Rodeo
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Preview: City v Sunderland

Uniquely by our standards we have a 100% home Premier League record against this weekend's opposition, the biggest club from the North-East, Sunderland. The Elephant man seems to be laying some solid foundations, assembling a good squad, though results of late have been indifferent. As it goes, Bruce is one of a select few ex-Salford stalwarts i bear no real ill grudge to, but the thought of the gammy-eyed, pot-bellied Geordie doing a jig down the touchline in his outdated dancing shirt tomorrow fears me with a certain amount of dread.

The injury to Joleon Lescott may well be the most worrying for boss Mark Hughes. The England man had been starting to look quite imposing in the centre of defence, but will now miss between five and eight weeks after surgery. Wayne Bridge will be missing until well in to January, and Michael Johnson won't play again this season. Nigel de Jong starts a one-game ban for collecting five bookings.

Sunderland have their fair share of absentees, too. Recruit from Hull Michael Turner has an ankle injury, newboy Bolo Zenden has a tweaked hamstring, Craig Gordon a wrist knock and the better Ferdinand will play no part. Inspirational captain and bargain of the summer Lorik Cana is suspended, but former Wigan ratter Lee Cattermole should replace him.

We keep saying this week in, week out, but tomorrow really must result in three points. Sunderland, for their poor recent run, are a side that can hurt us. Darren Bent and Steed Malbranque are two players who especially enjoy playing us, and their attacking four, especially the newly-trim Andy Reid, should not be underestimated. If we go at them we should have enough, but if we umm and err they'll cause us worry.

The left side of the defence is becoming an increasing problem, it couldn't not do with over £30m of players there crocked. Sylvinho had a mare on Wednesday, and i think he'll be replaced. With Nige suspended it can only mean playing Vince, Zab or Ned out of position, with the latter probably being the safest bet. Whether Emmanuel Adebayor warrants a starting place is up for debate, but he's certainly looking more like the player Arsenal fans warned us of than the man who bagged a goal a game early doors.

I'm not entirely sure how Sunderland will line up. Michael Turner sounds unlikely to start, meaning either John Mensah could come in, or George McCartney, harshly sent off here in March, might play central with Kieran Richardson at left-back. Nyron Nosworthy has been getting the nod over United reject Phil Bardsley, and Paraguayan legend somebody Da Silva will play at centre-half. The impressive Jordan Henderson should get another start.

It's a tough one to call. Sunderland have two real footballing wingers and strikers capable of unsettling any defence, but are out of form and awful on the road. For all we should fancy ourselves for three points, confidence really can't be high, and you don't hold too much hope in a patched-up defence coping with their presence in the final third. We're in the habit of conceding bad goals, and that's unlikely to stop any time soon.

If we've any chance of finishing in the top six, let alone top four, we must be beating teams at home, simple as that. Given Sunderland's defence, too, we ought to be looking at this game as a guaranteed three points, but any such result would be a godsend. It's a tough game, but these players get paid very handsomely to not run round like a bunch of headless fuckwits, and it's about time they did as much.

Possible teams:
City: Given, Richards, Onuoha, Toure, Kompany, Barry, Wright-Phillips, Ireland, Tevez, Adebayor, Bellamy

Sunderland: Fulop, Nosworthy, Richardson, Da Silva, McCartney, Cattermole, Malbranque, Henderson, Bent, Jones, Reid

Prediction: City 2 Sunderland 2