Those who genuinely believed this was going to be a straightforward Project Return were always destined for disappointment.
The Championship isn’t like that. We should know.
And having one of the most, if not the most, technically able squad in the Championship counts for nothing.
We should know that too. Yet we never learn.
The opening 45 yesterday were about as Championship as you could possibly get and were also about as Rotherham as you could possibly get, yet we seemed surprised.
That the Millers didn’t give City even a millisecond on the ball, pressed, harried and generally played as if their lives depended on the outcome was written in the stars. And on Paul Warne’s whiteboard.
While I never kicked a football professionally, I played a lot of amateur football and there were always away-days you dreaded. Certain grounds and pitches where you knew it would be horrible and niggly and uncomfortable, and where you knew, before the game started, it wouldn’t be remotely fun.
I strongly suspect the New York City Stadium is one of those, even when it’s empty.
So for City to have emerged with three points, however ugly the performance and fortuitous the circumstances, was what mattered. To have come away with just a point would have engendered a very different mood this morning (and a very different tone to this piece).
But, somehow, the stars aligned just sufficiently enough for us to scramble home with three of the most welcome points ever.
For once it felt like the fickle finger of fate wasn’t, in our case, the middle finger.
- Tim Krul doesn’t save that penalty, City lose
- Angus MacDonald doesn’t go full Karate Kid on Oli Skipp, City probably draw
- Rotherham take any one of several gilt-edged chances, City lose
- Jordan Hugill remembers he’s a Norwich City penalty taker, City draw
But – and we’re really not used to this – all the major calls and big moments went City’s way; ironic on a day when Liverpool FC suffered its first terrible call from officialdom in its 128-year history.
That City were at least able to make the most out of the good fortune was something in itself. It would hardly have been the first time a gift horse had been looked in the mouth by folk wearing canary yellow and green.
Yet, there is clearly much work still to be done and it’s only right that questions are asked of the players around how they had clearly been fore-Warned of Rotherham’s approach by Team Farke, yet for 45 minutes looked wholly incapable of doing anything about it.
Going toe-to-toe with teams who, like us, try to get the ball down and pass it through the thirds is one thing, but Rotherham are far from alone in the Championship in using muscle, pace and strength as their go-to weapons.
Those teams will be analyse the life out of yesterday’s first half in Rotherham and will be buoyed by what they see. Don’t expect, for example, Wycombe to retreat and watch our pretty passing patterns next Saturday. Not happening.
In the words of Mark Rivers, “we have to be better” at imposing our passing game on those whose modus operandi is to not let us settle into any sort of rhythm.
We got away with it yesterday. We may not be as lucky next time.
The deficiency of being too lightweight in the areas where it’s important to not be lightweight hasn’t been addressed either. Identified but not addressed.
Both Stuart Webber and Daniel Farke spoke of this over the summer months and I guess they’ll point to the additions of Jacob Sørensen and Hugill as mitigation, but with the former yet to feature and the latter only really able to use said presence when defending set-pieces – which he does well – the current engine room is too easily outpowered.
That’s not an intended slight on either Skipp or Lukas Rupp – both are able technicians in their own right – but as a pairing, without the ball, they remain susceptible to being out-muscled too often and so unable to offer that layer of protection to the back four.
In a nutshell, the team as a whole still appears fragile when other teams put it up ’em and so, along with the obvious centre-back issue, this looks to be another hangover from the Premier League campaign.
But, there were positives to emerge from yesterday and also Friday, which saw that bloody window finally slam shut with Emi Buendia and Max Aarons still in the house.
Both were prominent yesterday, especially in the equalising goal, and with Emi earning the match-winning penalty, we were reminded how invaluable they both are in the space of 45 second-half minutes.
What now needs to happen is for this team to kick on so when the January window opens Webber can use the ‘give us to the end of the season and see where that takes us’ line while discussing the inevitable offers with the pair.
Todd Cantwell too would be well advised to throw himself into the task at hand.
Now’s the time to push on. Two home games incoming offer an opportunity to put the first few tricky weeks of the season behind us and start to develop a style that suits the makeup of this new-look squad.
There were flashes of Farkeball yesterday, both early on and then in the creation of the equaliser, but the dynamic of this re-shaped group feels different to the older version and so needs to discover its own identity. Right now that battle is ongoing but I’m hoping a pattern will emerge which will fit the key personnel.
But, crucially, we have a win to talk about, one borne of an early disaster that, for once, was overcome. We scored a late winner and everyone loves a late winner. We came from behind. And we have the best goalkeeper in the league.
Things are not so bad. At least not until 10pm on Tuesday 🙂