January Player of the Month

January was always going to be a key month in our quest for progression in all three major competitions. Overall it's proven a successful time, five wins from seven, and most encouragingly, wins in games when we haven't been playing particularly well, best summed up by today's three points, and us sidestepping tricky cup ties away from home, the sort we've tripped up in regularly during previous seasons.

The biggest headline of the month will ultimately be the League Cup exit to neighbours United, but progress in that competition was encouraging in itself, and though hugely disappointing to not make it to Wembley, this afternoon's mauling of title rivals Arsenal by Big Red indicates that to be edged out of a two-legged tie by an injury time goal perhaps isn't cause for anyone to be slitting wrists.

Roberto showed faith in his squad for January's first fixture, a tricky trip to the Riverside on a bitterly cold Saturday afternoon. It was one of the worst games i've ever seen, but we managed to see them off after soaking up early pressure. We were aided that day by an injury to Adam Johnson, a player likely to make the move here tomorrow, and whilst we rode our luck and were terribly disjointed, a piece of magic from Martin Petrov and a great run and finish by the Zimbabwean Pele saw us home.

The most encouraging part of that afternoon, a place in the next round aside, was the full debut of Dedryck Boyata, who after initially looking a bag of nerves went on to have a towering game alongside compatriot and mentor Vincent Kompany. Both played very well, which perhaps indicates we were never really comfortable, but the partnership told of promise, and that continued over their following games together over the course of the month.

Berto kept faith with Benjani for the home clash with Blackburn Rovers, and he didn't disappoint, ending the evening with three assists, two quite accidental, admittedly, but there was no faulting his effort. An error for their goal aside Vicent Kompany was again solid, on this occasion alongside Micah Richards, whose goal showed us a glimpse of what his early career promised in an attacking sense. The evening belonged to Carlito, though, his first treble in a City shirt including two absolute blinders.

The game at Goodison was undoubtedly the lowest point of the season so far. They had a point to prove and did so, but we were awful, and save a couple of first-half chances were rarely in the game. Robinho's substitution grabbed the headlines, but the best compliment i could pay to any one of ours that day would be that Shay made the odd great stop. One best forgotten.

When the first leg of the League Cup derby finally arrived it wasn't quite the all-action affair many had predicted, although the ultimate result was splendid, if not enough to make the return comfortable. Between periods of United dominance during the first and last twenty minutes we managed to grab ourselves a lead that we somehow held onto. For all that Tevez got the plaudits, it was Bellamy who made the difference, in my opinion, and caused them the most danger all night. Nige put in some trademark crunching challenges, too, and Shay carried his good form over from the previous weekend.

The most frustrating thing about Mark Hughes' tenure as boss was that we didn't get to see too much of lads from the academy. That was understandable in a sense, the pressure heaped on him from the day of the takeover was immense, but the fact remains that constantly adding big-name players had a detrimental effect on the chances of those coming through. For a televised potential banana skin at Glanford Park, then, it was again nice to get a glimpse of the likes of Boyata and Norweigen/Somali midfielder Abdi Ibrahim. Both played well beyond their years, Dedryck again under the tutelage of Vince, but Martin Petrov was the player who made the important difference in the other half.

The all-Belgian central defensive duo were again the pick at Old Trafford in a game where conceding three doesn't really tell the true story of a back-line that looked quite resolute by and large after lots of pressure. We had our chances, and Bellamy and Tevez both worked tirelessly, but the game was lost due to a combination of no pressing in midfield and moments of clocking off.

Carlos Tevez may well get the vote in other quarters, averaging a goal a game over the month, but in my opinion Vince has been pretty imperious since returning to what i believe is his best position. It's unfortunate that he's picked up another knock, but although we're still conceding goals i believe we look more composed with him in the defence. He's been amongst our better players every week over January, barring the non-performance at Everton, and his calm head could make all the difference as we look to improve a defensive record that has so far left a lot to be desired.

January: Vincent Kompany

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