Twitter was in full cry at 5pm yesterday.
Just seven days after a famous Old Trafford win the wheels had fallen off City’s hopes of staying in the Premier – at least they had if social media was to be believed. “Disgusting” was one of several adjectives that popped up on my timeline used to describe various elements of the performance.
But, to me at least, it was just one of those days when we came up against a better side, with better players, who played well.
In Manchester we were up against eleven good footballers, but who were very low on confidence and who, for a whole variety of reasons that I care not one jot about, were not functioning as a unit. As a result we were able to get our noses in front and prosper.
Yesterday was different. Despite City’s more than decent first 20 minutes the writing was on the wall from the second Declan Rudd clipped the heels of Harry Kane. Good players, comfortable with their system, full of confidence. Unfortunately there was only going to be one outcome – and that’s hard to say.
But I saw no white flags and no-one unwilling to dig in and fight for the cause. Just a team that was, in the end, outplayed. ‘Comfortable’ was a uttered by more than a few commentators and pundits post-match and it was impossible to disagree.
Yet, for City, there was nothing new that emerged. The need for a quality defender or two has been there since the summer and, as you would probably expect against a top six side, there were occasions yesterday when this need was laid horribly bare.
Alan Shearer can wax lyrical for as long as he likes about Kane’s ability to “shift it a yard” to create a shooting opportunity but for most of us Spurs’ second goal just looked a little bit soft. It was a goal out of nothing and not the sort you wish to concede when a half-time audience with Alex Neil is just three minutes away.
It was lazy defending but not for the first time, hence why everyone from David McNally through to sweary David, who sit two seats to my left in the River End, knows that we need defensive reinforcements. And which is why we all have to sit tight and hope, via some learned lessons from the last window, we can secure the services of some defenders who can do just that to good effect in the Premier League.
But it wasn’t just across the back-four that City were found wanting yesterday. A midfield devoid of the passing abilities of Howson, Dorrans and O’Neil but bolstered by the physical prowess of Tettey, Mulumbu and Odjidja-Ofoe was always going to struggle to keep the ball and, aside from the vibrant opening 20 minutes, so it proved.
They weren’t bullied, they stood their ground, they put their foot in, but against the silky passing of the hosts the difference was stark. And there in a nutshell is Alex’s conundrum.
With a squad of City’s ilk there are always compromises to be made. Yesterday, possibly with the Villa game in mind, the manager opted for power and presence – and in that regard they delivered – but it came at a cost; it being the ability to keep possession of the football with comfort.
Tottenham purred. City hissed and growled.
On occasions tenacity will triumph over quality but, more often than not, the latter will prevail. Yesterday was one of those.
The flip side would have been to flooded the midfield with our more technical players, but at a risk of being over-run. Alex opted for muscle and it didn’t pay off. Unlike most of peers, our resources don’t permit us to load our squad with ‘all-rounders’.
Our cloth is cut according to the size of our pockets and, as such, we sometimes have to endure afternoons like yesterday when operating at the highest level. Not a pleasant experience of course but, equally, not worthy of hurling toys out of the pram.
When it really counts and when we should expect and demand a performance is when encountered by those around us… and below us.
And that’s why tomorrow is so, so important.
In the world of footballing clichés, the visit of Remi Garde’s Villa is not technically a must-win – how can it be when we have another 19 games to play – but it is most certainly a six-pointer. Win and we put a full 12 points of daylight between us and the Villans but lose and just a six point gap means we’re in their sights.
Thanks to Tom Cleverly (a phrase I never ever expected to type) we remain a hairsbreadth outside the drop zone but with Swansea showing signs of arresting their freefall the margins are fine. The time for agonising over needlessly dropped points has long gone. And there’s no time to await the arrival of reinforcements.
The long run-in needs to start tomorrow and Villa need to be put to the sword. They are a side we are capable of beating – more than capable – and at 5pm let’s hope Alex isn’t left to bemoan bad luck, or daft errors, or missed chances.
The time for excuses is over.