Date: 23rd December 2012 at 9:50am
Written by:

If you walked along Joe Mercer way yesterday you could have been excused for having the feeling that you were re-visiting what you once perceived to be an iron-curtain country.

The grey steel mesh that hung from the cloud under the guise of the word rain gave onto a murky uninspiring day, but as the 47,000 packed into the Etihad Stadium from all directions on what is generally the worst day in the football calendar for attendances, there was an optimism that a Twenty20 scoreline was about to unfold on the field.

With an injury-enforced unusual line-up, which saw Dutchman, Karim Rekik installed at left back to the chagrin of Lescott who cannot now find a game in either the centres or the corners, despite having played in both locations for his country. Kolo continued his run at centre back.

The A-team from Argentina were to provide the ground attack, shorn of the injured Nasri, prompted by Silva and supposedly Yaya, with Garcia designed to sit in with Barry in what presented a narrow looking feel to the team today. Nastasic and the inevitable Zabaleta completed the backline.

From the very start it was one-way traffic against a team that plundered three goals against the Chester Road Collapsibles defence which contained such accomplished players as Phil Jones and Chris Smalling, Red-Noses England bound bargain-basement buys.

But today it was all hands to the pump for a Reading team that in fairness were strangers to City’s penalty area all afternoon. As the possession stats loaded themselves in City’s favour and a startling save from Federici somehow kept out Tevez, the Etihad faithful took their seats in search of a goal difference booster.

It simply wouldn’t come. Reading’s new formation of 6-4-0 reverting to 8-2-0 at times built a blockade in front of their goal and it was to prove to be another frustrating afternoon for Mancini’s men who probed, plundered and battered Reading, but looked as though they would come up empty with an unacceptable 0-0 draw.

Until that is when time was drifting away, Silva sent a pin-point long ball in the direction of Dzeko. It was however the always unsung Gareth Barry who hung in the air like a salmon to head into the net with seconds on the clock.

I cannot concur with McDermott’s claim that Barry was all over Shorey like a cheap suit. Shorey clearly thinking that bending and sticking out your backside John Terry style was enough to get a free kick should have made more effort for his team, a team that ships goals for fun towards the end of matches, especially when your team mates have put in the defensive shift that Reading had.

Nevertheless this is a team that will be back in the Championship by the end of May. You cannot go to matches praying the ninety minutes will be kind to you every week, and yes they will feel disappointed they got all that way on equal terms and lost to what they perceive to be an unfair goal, but you get what you deserve when you play the champions. You compete or you lose.

McDermott’s team competed only in their own defensive third and discovered that you can’t keep world class players at bay for the entire afternoon. City piled up the chances early on and despite a superb all round performance otherwise Aguero simply couldn’t get open enough to see the back of the net as the yellow jerseys lined up one behind the other in front of him. Tevez, too, having spurned his early chance that would have made a cricket score a reality, couldn’t unlock the door. Silva tried all of his mastery, pushing, probing but each pass slipped into what are normally vacant channels found a yellow boot to hoof it away.

Yaya Toure simply spent too much time amongst the rearguard and never looked like performing as he had at Newcastle last week. This often left City lightweight in midfield with Garcia and Barry in protection mode. Toure needed to push more and more further forward to try to draw Reading out as they looked comfortable amongst the low-level City attack. It was little surprise that Dzeko was brought into the fray ahead of schedule, on the hour. Dzeko this season has often been the man with the golden keys, late on in games and a couple of chances did fall his way, notably when a cross from the ever-industrious Zabaleta missed both him and Aguero.

Reading didn’t really offer anything going forward, which is surprising for a team that whacked three past Stretford and have seven teams below them in the “goals for” column, one of which is ninth in the table. A header from Pearce, unattended at the far post from a corner caused more problems for the away fans in 115 than Joe Hart and then a penalty claim as Tabb was outmuscled by Rekik who simply claimed and stood his ground. There might in fact have been a claim for handball in the build up to that, but I’m sorry Mr McDermott, only you saw that challenge as a foul.

City could easily have had similar at the other end as Aguero and Tevez hit the grass under what were probably unlawful challenges and quite how Leigertwood wasn’t first in the showers can only be down to Mike Dean’s Seasonal Spirit. Yellow carded for persistent misconduct and then immediately performing the kind of tackle that earns you a straight red if you happen to be called Kompany was somewhat perplexing for the 47,000.

I have said on several occasions that there is a resilience about City that steps up to the plate in adversity and yesterday as the limbs tired, they still found that one last burst of energy to collect three points. McDermott can moan and groan all he likes but great teams like the Liverpool team of the seventies and dare I say it the Stretford of what looks like forever, usually get one. City are now amongst that elite and you have to play and concentrate for 95 minutes. If you don’t, you will get undone at some point. That point is usually when you are dreaming of a hot shower to wash away the woes of a rainy afternoon in East Manchester.

This match was not about the multi-million dollar babies from afar. It was about a tremendous effort put in by Barry who at times had to play in front of the back four but lead the way from deep midfield to show Yaya how his own job should be shaping-up. It was also about a man from afar who is everything other than a million-dollar baby, but whose performances this season have now started to defy the world of adjectives. Man-of-the-match Pablo Zabaleta was simply awesome once more. The play-anywhere man from Argentina must be City’s buy of the century. He cost practically nothing by today’s standards, probably doesn’t earn anything like the more illustrious superstars, oh and Balotelli, but week-in, week-out he punches well above his weight and will die for the sky-blue shirt he wears with total pride and total commitment.

And a pat on the back for Rekik. He doesn’t usually play left back, but he showed he has got something for the Premier League. A little rusty at the start probably due to the pace, he looked quite accomplished for the rest of it and will now be a welcome addition to the beleaguered full backs who adorn the treatment tables. Clichy did turn up for this match expecting to play but called for his car when he saw the team sheet. Kompany did something similar when replaced recently. I find that disturbing.

But don’t be fooled dear readers. A one-nil win against the league’s bottom team doesn’t look good. The pundits point to a poor performance by City. This was far from that. They simply couldn’t find space in and around the box against a team that set up to simply deny City space and pray that they got out the door at 0-0. I don’t think City could have done much more. But for me Sinclair is not a Plan-B. He looks hopelessly out of his depth at this level and is definitely not an improvement on Adam Johnson. He lacks the vision and guile to make something different happen, lacks the ability to see Dzeko in the box and remains for good reason a decision that cost Brian Marwood his job.

All that remains for the Pedmachine is to wish his readers the Compliments of the Season and a New Year that will see our exceptional football club head for the double!!!

all times East Manchester

TOMORROW 15h00 Sunderland, Stadium of Light, PL
Sa 29Dec 15h00 Norwich, Carrow Road, PL
Tu 01Jan 15h00 Stoke, The Etihad, PL
Sa 05 Jan 15h00 Watford, The Etihad, FAC
Su 13Jan 16h00 Arsenal, The Emirates, PL
Sa 19Jan 15h00 Fulham, The Etihad, PL
Tu 29Jan 19h45 QPR, Loftus Road