With the dust rapidly settling on City’s latest relegation from the Premier League, many have had their say on where and when it all went wrong. But whether in pubs across the city, on social media or here on MyFootballWriter, few will have provided a verdict as succinct as Alex Neil’s initial assessment;
- We missed too many chances.
- We made too many defensive errors
- We had a poor summer transfer window
- We made too many tactical changes
Four nails hit squarely on the head and four nails that effectively sealed the lid on our Premier League coffin.
But in terms of delivering the autopsy on the corpse of City’s season, Alex Neil’s assessment falls a little short. It’s like turning up at a crime scene, pointing at the body and saying “he’s been shot… with a gun”.
Well no s**t, Sherlock.
What’s needed is the detailed forensics to work out exactly what happened and more importantly why.
That’s the task that sits with those who run the club in their various capacities and you would like to think that the process is well underway following a long, collective stare in the mirror.
As fans, we’re not party to the details of how things unravelled. We’ll never know how close we came to signing the players we needed or what conversations took place in board rooms, dressing rooms or hotel rooms in Rotherham.
Events behind the scenes will certainly have influenced what happened on the pitch and vice versa but we can only pass judgement on what we see unfolding on the field of play and draw conclusions as to the underlying issues.
With that in mind, here are a few of my season defining moments; those which signalled the loosening of the bolts that ultimately led to the wheels well and truly falling off.
Cameron Jerome started the campaign with a 20 plus goal season behind him and a point to prove to all those who doubted his Premier League credentials. His overhead kick that sent Carrow Road into delirium in the season’s opener was Premier League quality. Unfortunately, the officiating wasn’t. Simon Hooper ruled out the strike for a high foot and became the founder member of the ‘2015/16 referees who screwed us over’ club.
For strikers the equation is simple…
Goals = confidence = more goals.
Who knows what would have happened if big Cameron had got off to a flier but thanks to Hooper we’ll never know.
News that Lewis Grabban had gone AWOL from a Rotherham hotel before the cup match sent the Canary Nation into full-on conspiracy mode. Had he been seduced by the blonde hair and blue eyes of media darling Eddie Howe? Or were their other factors at play?
I neither know nor care.
However, it signalled the first signs of discord within a City camp that had seemed so harmonious on the Wembley balcony just months before.
Even more alarmingly, Grabban’s replacement – Ricky Van Wolfswinkel – scored a goal.
City had begun the campaign dominating possession and creating plenty of chances. The general consensus was that we were competitive but hadn’t picked up the points that the performances deserved.
The trip to St James’s was a car crash.
The sides traded blows with neither team able to muster any defence; much like in the early Rocky films where Sly Stallone blocks punches with his face. Alex Neil went for it. His side got punished. But rather than pass it off as a bad day at the office, the result triggered an apparent crisis of confidence and change of approach.
Plan A was ditched and we struggled to find a settled starting eleven or game plan.
It’s not clear at which point Jerome turned from being a player who back-heeled goals against Nottingham Forest and ‘scored’ overhead kicks against Palace to one who couldn’t trouble a cow’s backside with a banjo. But by the time Everton rolled into town, the transformation was complete.
True, Everton should have had the game wrapped up by half-time but Jerome’s horrible miss from six-yards out to win the game was an absolute shocker. The look of confusion on his face was mirrored by all of those in the Barclay; like an old man who opens a kitchen cupboard and stares blankly at the contents with no idea or recollection of what he was looking for.
City came into the game on a decent run of form and started the night brightly. Things went properly pear-shaped when Gary O’Neil’s rush of blood to the head resulted in rush of blood to Affelay’s ankles.
Maybe our Gary was determined to prove that unlike many a foreign fancy Dan, he could do ‘it’ on a cold midweek evening in Stoke. Unfortunately in this case, the ‘it’ was a tackle that Bruce Lee would have been proud of and he was promptly given his marching orders whilst presumably muttering something in poorly lip-synced Mandarin.
City lost the match and precious momentum.
We all know what happened in the last 30 minutes. Of all the goals that City conceded in injury time, Lallana’s strike was surely the most painful. Not only did we fail to take any points from a game that was all but won, it also shattered the belief amongst players and fans alike that we had the ability to hold on to a lead as became painfully evident against West Ham shortly after.
Crystal Palace (A)
Coming off the back of Olsson’s strike against Newcastle, this was the game that could and perhaps should have seen us secure our safety. But rather than seize the moment, fear seized both sets of players and the game was played out with a must-not-lose approach.
The defining moment was not Puncheon’s strike but the moment when Timm Klose, limped his way off the pitch to signal both the end of his season and as it turned out the end of ours. Without Klose’s commanding presence, City’s defensive frailties’ returned for the remaining fixtures and that was basically that.
So now thoughts turn, not to the past but to what lies ahead.
But before drawing a line under the 2015/16 season, what other events have I missed? What are the other memories and defining moments that stick out to you?
Steve posts on Twitter @stevocook