There is nothing like a game of football to bring you crashing back to earth. The second you start dreaming and thinking too far ahead it’ll kick you in the wotsits before you can say van Wolfswinkel.
Just seven days after announcing potentially the transfer coup of the summer (in the spring), City produce one of their away day specials; a performance so frustrating it has left us wondering where these two much talked about wins are coming from and how the heck we are going to get to the Utopian tally of forty points.
Let’s not kid ourselves either. The last time we returned from the North-West empty handed was following a disappointing, but not unexpected defeat at Old Trafford; this was the DW.
Wigan began the game in 18th place, having won just three games at home since the start of the season. Their squad had only been reunited on Thursday – the World Cup qualifiers causing their multi-national squad to clock up huge numbers of air-miles.
In short, opportunities to win away from home don’t come much better. If City are to add to that victory at Swansea, which seems an age ago, then Wigan (a) is right up there.
That it didn’t happen – didn’t even look like happening if I’m honest – does cause the brow to furrow. In the cold light of day one win in fourteen suggests a team in trouble, yet – despite the resultant furore – City’s destiny still rests in their own hands.
Thanks to a fruitful autumn – that ten game unbeaten run now taking on the form of a lifeline – they still find themselves with a small but eroding cushion. Quite how much longer I’ll be able to say that I’m not sure, although Aston Villa’s ‘charge’ being halted by Liverpool yesterday certainly helped.
But for how much longer can they rely on those below them missing opportunities to close the gap? How long before the cushion disappears and the next game becomes a ‘must win’? How many times does the next game have to be ‘massive’ before the games eventually dry up??
Saturday was another example of City being tidy enough in possession, solid enough at the back yet sadly lacking in midfield quality. While the ball is being shifted sideways and under little pressure things look comfortable enough, but when the crunch comes – when a killer ball in the final third is required – things invariably break down.
Unlike many, I don’t have an issue with the system itself per se – the ‘one up top’ has generally served us well when the execution has been good – but when the passing is slow, laboured and lacks precision, like on Saturday, clear-cut chances then become as rare as a Paul Lambert clean sheet.
While Chris Hughton’s post-match assessment that City were worth a point was to be expected – certainly in terms of possession they matched the Latics – it was also hard to argue that, as the game entered its final quarter, only one team believed they could win it.
And so it proved.
When Kone’s shot fizzed through Lee Camp’s grasp it left a feeling of inevitability. The warning signs had been there; Alcaraz and Gomez both going close before the Ivorian finally found the net.
Equally disappointing was City’s response to the setback; if Wigan were expecting the Alamo they’d have been pleasantly surprised. Alas not a single chance created, not even a close call.
While the defeat typically triggered post-mortems abound – Hughton’s cautious approach again coming under scrutiny – few argued City deserved anything from the DW, despite the manager’s suggestion to the contrary. They didn’t.
To win a game at the top level takes skill and bravery and while City have oodles of the latter, the finesse and flair required appear in short supply right now.
No shortage of willingness, no lack of desire, even organisation – certainly from a defensive perspective – is in good supply, but the technical nous to create goal-scoring chances appears alarmingly absent. When you’ve won once in fourteen the danger is you forget HOW to win.
And until that can be rediscovered we should all be prepared for this fight for survival to go to the wire.
A few weeks ago Hughton commented that he expected the run-in to produce some nervous moments….
He wasn’t kidding.
Follow us on Twitter