“I wasn’t pleased with the mistakes today and they were the reasons we lost the game.”
Daniel Farke was right. It was two very preventable and careless errors that cost City the game. Of more concern though should be the fact that even taking those two errors out of the equation, at no point did we ever really look like winning it.
Neither did it look as if we believed we could win the game.
Even the most supreme of optimists should allow themselves to feel a little concerned at City failing to find the net for the fourth game in a row. However that’s dressed up and however many stats are used to massage it into something less negative, that has to be a worry.
Unlike some, I’m not unduly bothered by the fact that if Swansea and Brentford win their games in hand we will end up in third place. For me, it’s too early to get bogged down in the ifs and buts because, regardless of what other teams are doing, if City could rediscover their rhythm of November and December then they would finish in the top two.
Alas, right now, that does seem a long time ago, and the rediscovery of that rhythm a long way off..
A couple more stats to ponder:
» Four shots on target in the last four games.
» One win in 16 games when Emi Buendia has been unavailable.
All of which adds up to a long week before Michael O’Neill’s Stoke rock up at the Carra next Saturday.
One of the mitigating factors Farke produced post-match was that last night was City’s third game in six days – a gruelling schedule in anyone’s book – and there’s no doubting it is tough to keep churning out performances against that backdrop, especially against opponents who had no midweek game. But when the shoe was on the other foot, when Middlesbrough arrived having had a midweek tussle compared to our ten-day break, still we stuttered and looked toothless.
Fatigue of mind and body was not an issue as in the late autumn City threatened to accelerate clear of the pack but Farke is right to remind us that they are not robots, and there are plenty of factors at play, all of which tend to work for you when things are going well and not so when you’re in a rut.
But, whatever the reasons for this blip, for things to stay the same will only end in City heading southward. The pack would slowly but surely gobble us up and we’d end up scrapping for a playoff place.
Most definitely not part of the plan.
But the margins have been fine all season. We have marvelled at this more grown-up approach of being able to eke out single-goal wins rather than relying, 2018-19 style, on swashbuckling opponents out of the water, and, of course, it’s a good thing that we now have a defence worthy of the name, but it leaves little wriggle room at either end of the pitch.
Sorry to state the obvious, but if the goals dry up, as they have, you find yourself drawing games IF the defence can still hold firm. If the defences are breached, as they were last night, and the goals still don’t arrive, then you lose.
With 13 of our 16 wins coming by a single goal, any slowdown to the already limited productivity in front of goal was always going to be costly. And that’s where we find ourselves. The two two-goal wins over Bristol City and the 2-0 home win over Cardiff now feel like bona fide goal-fests.
The obvious conclusion is that Teemu Pukki’s reversion to his early 2020 self is the key factor here but that ignores the paucity of clear-cut chances being created on his behalf. And for the whole caboodle to flounder when Pukki is off-colour suggests the caboodle is maybe not quite as robust as we’d like in the first place.
And there’s the Emi factor as mentioned in the earlier bullet point.
The stats don’t lie. One win in 16 games when he has been absent is really quite troubling, especially when said Argentinian has a penchant for falling foul of referees.
Without him, the passing remains neat and tidy but becomes a little formulaic and predictable. Without him, there is no obvious change of rhythm, no subtle tricks, and no moments of the unexpected. We become too easy to defend against, especially when the best defence is the league is doing that defending.
But, to try and end on a positive note, Emi is back for the Stoke game and players now have a full week to re-energise. Hopefully, the return of our most creative spark will have a knock-on effect on our most productive goalscorer and things will start to click again.
And hopefully, to ease the burden on Teemu and Emi, another will emerge from somewhere in the squad, capable of taking this promotion quest by the scruff of the neck. Several heroes stood up when it really mattered in the 2019-19 run-in, and now it is the time for new ones to emerge.
We’ve struggled with being the hunted. Maybe it will take for us to become the hunter again to reignite this season.