If these current City players are going to achieve immortality and gain promotion to the Premier League, posterity may well look back very fondly on that Jordan Rhodes goal on Saturday afternoon.
In the face of adversity and Albion’s sustained high press, Daniel Farke’s heroes rallied, once again demonstrating their unwavering defiance and sending the Y’Army back down the M6 to Norfolk in jubilant spirits.
‘The wheels are falling off you lot’, chirped my Manchester City-supporting boss as I turned up to work in the North West on a murky Monday morning.
‘Rubbish’, I retorted. If three hard-earned draws and a loss while in the depths of an injury crisis constitutes the wheels becoming detached from our efficiently-driven German vehicle, this really is a blip that I don’t mind having.
While the Farkeball we’ve become so accustomed to after those brilliant away wins at Hillsbrough, the Liberty and Ewood Park may have been largely absent in the West Midlands, Saturday’s point once again represented the triumph of this team’s character and psychological resolve. City were far from their fluent, enterprising best at the Hawthorns, but, once again, Farke’s great escapologists somehow found a way.
Amid the Jordan-inspired joy on the concourse as I exited the ground, several observations concerning the dire nature of City’s performance became audible. The general perception among the away end was that City were lucky to escape with a point, particularly given their inability to control the game in the first half and regularly having to resort to long balls.
In my mind, such a scathing analysis of our team’s performance was unwarranted. Although City did struggle to find their quintessentially aesthetic style throughout the first period – largely the product of Darren Moore’s side effectively executing an intelligent gameplay – the display we saw in the second was much improved, dominating large parts of the latter stages as they attacked towards their fans in the Smethwick End.
That City successfully managed to control the second half against what is essentially an experienced Premier League squad is testament to their growing precocity as a unit. Faced with the challenge of thwarting the likes of Dwight Gayle, Jay Rodriguez and Hal Robson-Kanu, the ever-improving defensive quartet of Max Aarons, Christoph Zimmerman, Ben Godfrey and Jamal Lewis stood strong.
Zimmerman resembled not so much a centre-back as he did what parliament currently represents for Theresa May, an intransigent obstacle that refuses to succumb to relentless attempts to wear it down. And then there was Tim Krul, a goalkeeper whose heroic late saves are beginning to rival his teammates’ late goals in terms of their significance.
Despite peppering those sat in the lower rows of the Hawthorns’ East Stand following a period of – let’s be honest – abysmal distribution during the first half, Krul’s importance to City cannot be overstated. He provides both visible dexterity on the field as well as less tangible leadership off it. Indeed, as I saw one observer state on social media, a goalkeeper’s job is, fundamentally, to keep the ball out of the net.
Many onlookers – my boss at the DIY shop where I’m currently working included – may perceive no wins in the last four league outings for City to be something of a decline in form. However, what a less cursory glance at our results will reveal is that these games have come without the likes of Moritz Leitner, Emi Buendia, Marco Stiepermann and Jamal Lewis, albeit not necessarily all at the same time.
This, viewed in conjunction with the quality of opposition we have come up against since the end of December, is surely insufficient to warrant any major form of concern.
City now have two home games ahead of them that are important yet nevertheless winnable. Friday evening’s televised clash against Birmingham City – whisper it quietly, but Farke has still never lost a game in front of the Sky cameras – will hopefully witness the return of the dynamic Stiepermann, a player who more than compensates for what he lacks in grace with his continual sense of directness and physicality.
The following week’s game against those deplorable ‘#TwitterBlades’ is an even bigger contest, hopefully providing City with the opportunity to leapfrog their rivals and depose them in the top two.
My expectations for the remainder of this season have in no way deviated from what they were at the beginning of December. Yes, Farke’s team have endured a difficult period, but let’s not forget that that period has been characterised by a series of tough opponents and the considerable burden of injuries. Win on Friday night, and all will be forgotten.
The imminent return of Leitner to our midfield will almost inevitably give this team an immediate boost, hopefully witnessing the return of those strikingly fluent performances that we saw so regularly throughout the autumn.
The return to the raucous Carrow Road on Friday will see our opponents confronted with a cauldron of noise and colour, with Farke’s side being roared on by a sea of yellow and green livery. A win will not only see both confidence and momentum restored but also heap the pressure on Leeds, Sheffield United and West Brom over the following couple of days.
So yes, we’ve encountered what can best be described as a minor stumbling block. Wheels coming off, however? Not a chance.