“We need to smarten up”.
The post-match summary from Cameron Jerome who, prior that line, had eloquently described how City have managed to get themselves ‘in’ every game this season without getting their due rewards.
And that, in a nutshell, is it.
Yet, while many of us – with good reason – were fearing the worst from our latest trip to the diamond-encrusted Etihad, Alex Neil again proved what a quick learner he is. His plan to go three at the back and deploy Martin Olsson and Robbie Brady as wing-backs took us within a whisker of an unexpected point and served as a timely reminder that we are not far from being a capable Premier League outfit.
Alas, the continuation of our defensive woes was sufficient to ensure we suffered our fourth defeat on the bounce and we are now hovering ever closer to the dreaded danger zone. There is no denying it is starting to get just a little bit uncomfortable.
For all the positives – and there have been many in the last two performances – the negatives continue hinder any hope of progression. And yesterday was a classic example, with 95 minutes of good being ruined by just two minutes of bad.
The ‘villains’ on this occasion were Ryan Bennett and John Ruddy but the errors occur so regularly the problem is a wider one; the prospect of a clean sheet little more than a pipe dream right now.
It was tough on Bennett though, given that his arrival has had a positive influence on the centre of defence, but to permit Nicolas Otamendi the freedom to powerfully head home unopposed was certainly not what Dr Neil had ordered. Yes, the delivery from Kevin De Bruyne was magnificent and, yes , it was an equally brilliant header but to give him a complete freebie minus even a nudge was asking for trouble.
And the Ruddy rick was even uglier – a calamity from start to finish. Again it was a shame because the big man had enjoyed a good afternoon until that moment and had looked back to his assured self but cock-ups of that order only end one way in the Premier League.
That Russ Martin subsequently saw red and Yaya Toure scored the pen to win the game for Man City made it a triple-whammy. All the good work undone in a flash.
Neil felt sorry for his players who had, for the most part, implemented the game-plan to perfection but, in truth, it was the manager who had my sympathy.
The fields of Colney last week were clearly abuzz with talk of a 3-4-3 and 3-6-1 and it almost proved a master-stroke. Even the oddity of seeing Brady – a more left-footed player you are unlikely to see – taking up the berth of right-sided wing-back worked.
Clearly the emphasis was on crowding out the Man City midfield and not allowing gaps to appear between our own back three but the trick was to still have a positive mind-set and spring on the break when the time was right. And it worked, with Matt Jarvis being desperately unlucky not to put the Canaries ahead in the first half; his rising shot being superbly saved by Joe Hart.
It was Hughtonism but with a positive twist. And, but for said errors, it would have been a master-class in game management, which is why it is hard not to feel for Team Neil. The best tactical plan in the world only works if the players implement it to the letter and avoid the catastrophes. They didn’t.
Yet there is no denying there has been plenty of good to emerge from City’s mini-tour of the north-west and it is also worth recalling what occurred two seasons ago when they embarked on a similar tour. Then a 4-0 League Cup defeat at Old Trafford was followed by that 7-0 humiliation at the Etihad.
So, in the spirit of straw-clutching, that is progress isn’t it?
And crucially we finally have a fit – or at least nearly fit – Youssouf Mulumbu at our disposal, which has already proved to be a massive plus. Also, despite suffering a wobble against West Brom last Saturday, there appears to be no lack of belief and desire in the players. Another critical plus factor.
Two years ago the white flags were out as Silva, Aguero and co ran riot but there were no white flags yesterday. All I saw was puffed out-chests and a pride in wearing the shirt. And it is those qualities, more than any others, that will set this season apart from our last ill-fated foray in this league.
City’s current inability to defend is such it is impossible emphatically predict we *will* be safe, and it is clear that 17th place will be a triumph, but what did emphatically emerge from the wreckage of the Etihad is that we will be giving it a right good go – and just now that’s good enough for me.