It seems an awfully long time since I described a City victory.
That I’m about to try and unpick a 7-0 defeat says a lot about the direction in which we appear to be heading right now; the spirited but ultimately fruitless showings against Chelsea and Arsenal now little more than a distant memory.
And while I’ll defend Chris Hughton the man, until I’m yellow in the face – his dignity in defeat yesterday a lesson to many – I’m rapidly running out of reasons to defend Hughton the football manager. To ship seven when in reality it could have easily been ten smacks of a complete horror show… which it was from start to finish.
That our best player was John Ruddy by a country mile says all you need to know, and ironically – on a day when England number one Joe Hart was dropped in the Man City goal – the big man was given the perfect platform to showcase his England credentials. The fact he delivered – or had to deliver in such an emphatic way – was as fortunate as it was tragic.
One of the biggest disappointments of yesterday was that we all saw it coming. A midweek catastrophe in the other half of Manchester had already sent the alarm bells ringing – injuries to key players etc – and so we all knew we were up against it before a ball had been kicked.
Yet at the back of all our minds we hoped that – as is sometimes the case – with the odds stacked against them they’d find, from somewhere, a display of guts, grit and determination that would level the playing field; one that would see City ‘get in their faces’ and give them not a second to settle on the ball.
It’s happened plenty of times before. In the face of adversity a team drags itself up from the bootstraps and confounds everyone with a display that sets the pulses racing and makes the hairs on the back of the net stand up.
Alas, yesterday’s ‘performance’ was the very antithesis of that scenario.
It’s impossible to even attempt to dissect the wrongs – there were that many – but never has the ‘rabbit dazzled in headlights’ cliché seemed more appropriate.
From the very first minute, when Ruddy had to scramble Zabaleta’s near-post cross off for a corner City were on the back foot and, as Hughton admitted afterwards, at no stage of the game did his side get anything close to resembling a foothold in the game.
Short of Bassong and Turner waving the white flags there was little more City could have done to play the role of submissive opponent to a side that needed not the slightest encouragement.
With the riches available to formerly Roberto Mancini and latterly Manuel Pellegrini the gulf in quality was always going to be evident but none of us expected it to be *quite* so stark. As mentioned earlier, we’ve successfully gone toe-to-toe with Chelsea and Arsenal recently and while both emerged victorious, both knew they’d been in a game. Yesterday not so. It was the epitome of a stroll.
Other than the over-worked goalkeeping department, not one single part of the team functioned as Hughton would have wanted, the back four in particular now looking a shadow of its former self. It goes without saying that eighteen goals conceded in the last five games – which includes the clean-sheet against Cardiff – is not good enough.
That the one area where Hughton has always trumped Lambert is no longer a strength speaks volumes and further undermines the credibility of those, like me, who have defended his tenure throughout.
Of course, when you reach a low ebb Lady Luck typically deserts you and sure enough Hughton and his troops are currently on the receiving end. With yesterday’s bandwagon kicking off with that slice of Aguero fortune the tone was set and with Russell Martin deflecting Nastasic’s header in for the third it was a classic case of football kicking a man when he’s down.
But that doesn’t excuse the lack of heart… or fight. Hughton admitted afterwards that the travelling faithful had been badly let down for the second time in five days and you can only but feel for those hardy souls.
It would be wrong to single out individuals in a performance that was found wanting in so many ways but the quality of passing by some was of an ilk that would be more befitting the Thurlow Nunn League than the top level of English football. It was shocking.
If poor defending has been one that’s returned to haunt us, the ability to keep the ball is one ill that has never gone away. And for that one you can’t blame the manager; the ability to successfully shift the ball from A to B while under pressure a pre-requisite for any top level pro.
So… where do City go from here?
If Hughton survives to next weekend – McNally of course has history of taking action after 7-0 defeats – then it will very much be in the realms of the Last Chance Saloon. Failure to overcome a team in claret and blue when staring down the barrel invariably ends badly for City managers – just ask Worthy.
It’s going to be a long week…