The international break provides a number of opportunities. It’s a chance for a wider audience to appreciate the magical talents of Wes Hoolahan, who at 33 is surely enjoying some of the best football of his career.
It also provides a reminder that Russell Martin is actually an international centre-back, albeit one who occasionally gets caught out and in doing so provides just enough ammunition for those who continue to doubt him.
And it’s a period when Kyle Lafferty transforms from a third or fourth choice bench-warmer into a goal machine who has carried Northern Ireland to their first tournament in 30 years. The transformation when he pulls on that green shirt and enters ‘beast mode’ would not look out of place in an Incredible Hulk comic (Argentina beware!).
As Gary points out, it’s also a chance to speculate as to why Roy Hodgson continues to overlook those who play for Norwich. Maybe Delia once dished up a dodgy pie? Or maybe Roy has yet to realise that the dualling of the A11 means that a scouting trip to Carrow Road is no longer the ball-aching trek it once was?
For me, it also provides a period of respite in which to write a piece for MyFootballWriter because for those of us who write at the pace of Jan Molby in his City days, the season can be a bit too much to keep up with. By the time I’ve drafted some thoughts on one match, the next is already upon us and it’s yesterday’s news.
So a time for reflection and although we find ourselves in thirteenth (one place higher than in my pre-season prediction) there is perhaps a nagging sense of what might have been. By my reckoning we could (and possibly should) have been sitting in the top six.
That may sound fanciful but there are a number of moments which bear that out and after eight games, it’s clear that the margins are tighter than a pair of XXXL shorts on the aforementioned Mr Molby.
From my perspective, here are the ‘ones that got away’ or in the first example the ones that were stripped from us.
Crystal Palace – Simon Hooper added his name to the list of referees who can lay claim to having had a genuine shocker. The lack of a penalty for Wickham’s ‘assault’ on Seb Bassong in injury time left a feeling of injustice. The decision to disallow Cameron Jerome’s overhead kick has to fall under the ‘what on earth were you thinking?’ category. Some people refuse to criticise referees on the basis it’s a difficult task. However I’m not that reasonable and still feel embittered that he robbed us of at least a point, possibly all three. I’m half expecting him to turn up the next time I watch Escape to Victory and ruin that for me and Pele too.
Verdict – one point stolen.
Stoke – Apparently Jack Butland had a broken finger and it was touch and go whether he would play. His bravery and the nine fully functioning digits effectively prevented us from claiming a first home win. In the Premier League you expect to come up against a decent keeper each week and Butland is surely destined to pick up a stack of England caps. However when a keeper pulls off five or six ‘worldies’ and you create the number of chances we did, you have the right to feel aggrieved. Sometimes you leave a match knowing it just wasn’t your day and this was one of them for City.
Verdict – two points lost.
West Ham – In 99 out of 100 alternative realities, Andy Carroll would surely be taking the money for the dodgems at a travelling funfair whilst smoking ‘rollies’, so in any other circumstances the pony-tailed Geordie taking a ball full in the face would provide me with a tremendous sense of satisfaction. However, when the ball then drops to Kouyate who bundles in an injury-time equaliser and denies us an away victory it’s no laughing matter. I’d have settled for a point before the match and even at half-time but to get to get within a matter of seconds of claiming the win was galling. The free-kick was unnecessary and if John Ruddy’s punch had a slightly higher trajectory it was job done.
Verdict – two points lost.
Leicester – On the first half display it would be hard to make a case for deserving anything from our last home match. Leicester’s game-plan worked to perfection and credit to them for that. The reason for including it in the list is that I was genuinely convinced we’d claimed a point when Nathan Redmond’s deflected shot spiralled towards the River End goal with Kasper Schmeichel wrong-footed. My eyes are not what they once were but from my vantage point in the Upper Barclay it looked in and I engaged ‘go mental’ mode only to realise my mistake a few seconds later.
Verdict – one point and a good opportunity lost.
So there’s six points ‘lost’ that would have taken us up to fifteen and a place in the top six. Throw in the Jarvis chance at Anfield and it’s Champions League!
All of this is largely irrelevant of course. We are where we are and there’s no use in crying over what might have been. I’m sure it would also be possible to present scenarios where we’ve been lucky to pick up anything at all.
But the point is that for all bar three halves – the game against Southampton and the first-half against Leicester, City have been competitive and looked every inch a Premier League outfit. It means that we can look forward to each and every fixture with a sense of expectation and genuine hope of coming away with a positive result and I’d have taken that back in August.
Ben K says
I like your optimism, Steve, and I agree with the general sentiment. We seem due a little luck. The other way of looking at it is that we haven’t played anyone that decent yet. That’s my concern.
Apart from the three halves that you mention the football has been good. Even in the poor display of a first half against Leicester we were committed to playing it out from the back and there’s been very little long-ball. For that I’m pleased, but there needs to be a more clinical streak, as obvious as that might sound.
colin m says
Good points raised Steve.
Reckon our next game away at Newcastle is pivotal and 3 points there will do wonders for the spirit and a tough couple of months ahead.
Stewart Lewis says
I share Steve’s feeling that our points total so far underplays the quality of our performances. We’re set up to play positively and well, and if the players can keep that belief we should be OK.
Having said that, Palace and Leicester exposed some naivety on our part at this level. We need to keep learning, as I’m sure we can.
Ben K – yes, we haven’t played the big names yet. But I’m not convinced that’s as significant as it seems. Over the two months of the season so far, I’m not sure West Ham and Leicester have been less difficult opponents than Chelsea or Spurs.
The big names often win games before they ever go out on the pitch, by overawing their opponents. I have a feeling Alex Neil will send out City teams ready to go toe-to-toe with the big boys.
Cambridge Don says
We’ve played 50% of the current top 10 in the first 20% of games – that’s a tough start by any definition even if the ‘big names’ lie in wait for us.
In the book of football clichés, a candidate for number 1 has to be, “over the course of a season, the luck tends to even itself out.” As long as the boys give it 100%, I think we’re ‘owed’ a break or two in future games to make up for some rotten luck we’ve had already (Palace and West Ham mainly).
I also think we’ve had the shitty end of the fixture list in terms of getting 3 Sunday matches (all away to boot) in the first 9 games. In contrast, Watford have had 2 (both at home), while Bournemouth haven’t had one at all. Football wasn’t supposed to played on a Sunday when it was invented.