One defeat, one win, one draw and a goal difference of zero. Everything about City’s opening to the new season screams ‘average’ – except it’s been anything but.
Okay, so the defending at times has dipped into that category and certainly the finishing on occasions has been thus but generally it’s been a pulsating start to the season, epitomised by the thrilling finale to yesterday’s draw with the Potters.
Only the agility and stunning reflexes of Jack Butland denied City three points against a team savvy and gnarled in the ways of the top flight. There was none of the lethargy and indifference of Sunderland in Stoke’s performance and pre first-half water break they offered City a timely lesson in the art of Premier League football.
But once the heads had been cleared, probably courtesy of some unequivocal ‘wee words’, it was virtual one-way traffic; the Canaries’ only defensive problems from thereon-in being pretty much of their own making.
Wessi’s feet were dancing (it is just me, or is he only now entering his heyday?), Dorrans, Howson and Redmond were prompting and Jerome was bursting and bullying. At times it was magnificent, and all played out in conditions so sweltering Mike Dean – who was also excellent – offered Carrow Road its first-ever sight of a drinks break.
That City’s only reward was Russell Martin’s equaliser – which was a fine finish by the way – was obviously a cause of frustration and disappointment but nothing should detract from a performance level that was right up there with the best they have produced in 2015.
The post-match rumblings of the need of a new striker were predictable, and understandable I guess, but if the thinly-veiled threat of some more competition spurs Jerome on to perform in that manner, long may it continue.
Sadly his afternoon will be remembered by many for the toe-poke early in the second-half that flew wide of the post – and there’s no doubt it should have been buried – but it shouldn’t be. Instead I prefer to focus on his all-round game, which will have given Messrs Cameron and Muniesa nightmares.
For all the aforementioned talk of new strikers and missed opportunities, he only missed the one chance. And his acrobatic overhead kick in the closing stages was only denied by goal-keeping reflexes from the very top drawer.
(And please can we desist with the old ‘Ricky would have scored that’ – he wouldn’t).
But there’s no getting away from the fact chances were missed – good ones too – and for all his dazzling footwork, Wes will last night have been dwelling on what might have been if he’d been blessed with the forehead of Bradley Johnson. Ditto Nathan Redmond dreaming of what might have been if his mate Butland had not been quite so determined to deny him the bragging rights.
Yet for all of yesterday’s profligacy, I’m yet to be convinced that wastefulness is an inherent trait of the current crop. Eight days ago, City’s plundering of three goals at the Stadium of Light was largely attributed to the misgivings of those in red and white, yet Swansea failed to fully capitalise in the acrid air of Wearside.
“If Leicester and Norwich can beat them imagine what Swansea are going to do to them…” Really?
Instead, for now at least, I’m content to put it down to one of those days where we did everything except score the second goal – one that would have won the game – and marvel at the thrilling brand of football City are playing right now.
The half-glass empty barometer of success seems to be if there are three worse teams than us in the Premier League. Well, with only 35 games to go I’d say there are considerably more.
I’m not in the habit of using this column to extol the virtues of players who don’t wear the yellow and green (or grey and pink) but today’s an exception.
Jack Butland’s brilliance and his role in Stoke earning a point has already had every last drop squeezed out of it but from the vantage point of the River End it was also clear what a thoroughly decent young man he is.
From polite, slightly nervy applause toward said stand at the start of the second-half, to some mid-game ‘banter’ with those behind the goal and on to a wry ‘we got away with one’ smile and warm applause at the end, he was class personified. He will grace the England goal one day in the future.
He rounded it off with a tweet that commented on the “great atmosphere from both sets of fans”.
Well played fella.
As ever, and in true footballing tradition, there was still something that niggled yesterday, and this time it was the nonsensical booing when referee Dean called for the first-half water break; a break that was pre-determined and recommended by the Premier League.
Why? Just why?
A fellow River-Ender (one who I am 100% sure didn’t boo) sent me an interesting and telling stat last night. I quote: “We’ve had 58 attempts on goal in 3 games to 23 against. Amazingly dominant. Really deserve to have 9 points. Just think about that. 58 attempts in 3 games. Amazing in the PL.”
Nice one Greg. I’m thinking.