Date: 1st September 2013 at 4:51pm
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Autumn sunshine around the Etihad gave rise to sky blue skies, but emerging scattered clouds introduced an element of the unexpected as the early kick off caught us in earnest.

Which City would emerge today? Would it be “home City” who simply destroyed the opposition 2 weeks ago, or “away City” which surrendered a hard earned lead at Cardiff with 3 moments of non-concentration leaving themselves looking like the laughing stock of the Premier League just one week ago?

Steve Bruce has a pedigree of bringing teams to the Etihad and causing City problems. How many times did the Blues suffer at the hands of unfancied Wigan? It is not a new phenomenon reserved for Wembley. A series of 0-1 results against teams managed by Bruce is near testimony to that. Indeed, was it not his Sunderland team, which although it lost on the day, turned out to be the swansong of erstwhile manager Mark Hughes? His visits to the Etihad generally seem to cause discomfort to the home side.

From the start it was to prove so. Clearly encouraged by the plight of Cardiff last week, Bruce set up his team to be almost inpenetrative and also to break swiftly, unafraid of what City’s reshuffled back line was to offer. Nastasic was restored instead of the ill-fated Garcia and Kolarov for Clichy, both of whom could be said to have been at fault for the goals conceded in the Welsh capital.

Behind the back four Hart retained his place under the warning from Pellegrini that he improves or else and ahead of them was an unchanged sextet who once again found it difficult to break down a well-ordered defensive effort that we know will become the norm for the rest of the season. Even Stretford and Chelsea seem to be packing their defences this season!

As City tried almost in vain to get any kind of offensive effort together it was the Tigers, not the toothless ones from Phil Brown’s on-field lecture days, but better drilled ones, who caused concern both on and off the field. City’s back line looked like they had just met in a pub before the team sheets were handed in as rapid attacks fuelled by superb passing from Huddlestone carved open the Blues like a knife through butter. City were lucky to survive 2 such attacks with their goal intact.

First off a move involving two incisive passes put Aluko clean through one-on-one with Hart but he squandered the best chance of the match. Second, a similar move tore City’s beleaguered defence to shreds, but was flagged marginally offside with the Tigers fans going mental at the other end.

And this defensive uncertainty seemed to reverberate throughout the team. Gone was the confidence of having the nation’s net minder behind them and ahead, Yaya and Fernandinho felt the need to try to protect a back four that simply didn’t know what it was doing, leaving Silva and Navas and to an extent Dzeko and Aguero hunting deep for the ball leaving whoever was up top isolated and starved of the football.

If a goal was going to come it would have a Tiger attached to it as the Hull midfield devoured the Citizens as if a wild pack had stumbled upon a herd of impala.

Supreme in midfield was Huddlestone, so often a thorn in City’s side from his days at Spurs. Is it still Talk Rubbish who says we have no defensive English midfielders in the Premier League? His range of passing dictated the pace of play in much better style than Yaya and Fernandinho and he was very much the gaffer in there for most of today’s match.

With Lescott and Nastasic generally doing the same job they were often tangled in each other’s web as the hungry Hull forwards found space time and again and with any additional class in there they could have been home and dry by half time. It was interesting that the first time Hart caught a corner a round of applause boomed around the Stadium as if he had learned a new skill. Maybe we’ll get something through on linked-in!

Hart was forced into one excellent save down to his left, but at the other end McGregor, who made a couple of saves early on was heading for the redundancy queue. It took City almost 40 minutes to produce anything that looked like a goal chance but an unfit Aguero couldn’t get on the end of it and then from a corner Yaya made a complete mess of a totally free header of the sort that Campbell converted with apparent ease last week. Dzeko and Aguero had been totally ineffective as a less than dynamic duo and it was clear during the break that changes had to be made.

And indeed they were as Negredo was introduced at an earlier than normal stage and instructed to do something different. He is a quietly confident young man and always looks a threat to opposition defences and this was to prove so today.

Almost immediately he got open and on the end of a cross that he should have converted, his header going across the face of goal, but shortly afterwards a pinpoint cross from Zabaleta was right on the money as Negredo rose like a salmon, bent his neck like a giraffe and propelled a superb header beyond McGregor to finally get the scoreboard rolling. Rolling? Well not really because Hull didn’t wave the white flag and prompted by Huddlestone kept their attacking effort going.

They continued to create chances, but City’s defenders were starting to get to know each other by now and somehow managed to keep them at bay.

A second goal was needed but it looked unlikely to happen. That was until the last minute when City were awarded a free kick on the edge of the box in more or less exactly the same spot as against Newcastle in the last match here. Same spot may as well be same taker, i.e. Yaya. Same taker may as well be same end product i.e. a goal. It came to pass as another fantastic bending shot from Yaya outwitted the goalkeeper plus one on the line to at last settle down the frustrated hoards.

Not a comfortable 2-0 win by any means but certainly one that papered over the cracks that will send Pellegrini into the final day transfer market to hunt down cover for a centre of defence that looks vacant without its leader and captain, Vincent Kompany. Nastasic grew into the game as it progressed but his partnership with Lescott is not one that we would want to see too often.

Ahead of them Navas was probably the pick of the bunch and the sponsor’s Man of the Match although I found it difficult to see beyond Huddlestone for that accolade. Although replaced agter 70 mins I thought Aluko looked lively enough to disturb Lescott all afternoon and almost made City pay. Navas was getting wide and deep but in the first half Dzeko often took the wrong route coming near for long crosses and far for short ones. There was no cohesion between him and Aguero.

Negredo looked a different kettle of fish. He immediately examined Hull’s defence and asked more questions in 10 minutes than Dzeko and Aguero did in 45 and although Pellegrini has nailed himself to the Dzeko mast and although Dzeko has put in a couple of decent performances, I cannot see it being too long before Negredo gets himself a starting berth. I actually think Aguero needs a bit of time to get fully match fit. He looks a bit distant from that just now. He also needs to fit into the new tactics and use the players around him in space rather than taking on 6 defenders alone.

Yaya and Fernandinho need to look at the way Huddlestone got the Hull offence going with simple quick passes. Too often Yaya dictated the pace of City’s play like a snail that had been on a day’s hike. Once Fernadinho had been cautioned for a lean tackle quite early on he became effectively ineffective and really should have been sacrificed for his indiscretions. What are the odds that he will be City’s first red card of the season?

Silva again found things tough largely because the two in the centre didn’t get the ball to him, nor Navas for that matter, quick enough and he found himself time and again in the familiar territory of three men smothering his work. This left Navas as the only truly positive creative force and boy did Hull try their best to kick that out of him. I like the way he doesn`t roll around writhing in agony, but bounces up like a roly-poly policeman in a budgie’s cage and gives them some back, albeit subtly under the referee’s radar.

Sterner tests do lie ahead for City. Next up at the Etihad is you-know-who and you have to think that Van Persie will have a field day against that defence so we will have to get our prayer mats out and hope that our hero and captain will be able to ply his trade on that day. Stoke away will probably be more of the same as Hughes will set up his new team to try to do what QPR so nearly did on what was probably the best ever day in the life of a City fan.

Today was not such a day. It was one of frustration yet again. Maybe we are getting arrogant by expecting to get 4 or 5 every time City plays at home but too many teams in this division are spoilers. True, they have to play to their strengths and limitations and there are bound to be upsetting results, but City’s players need to step up to the plate and show why they are paid ridiculous amounts of money.

The Blues will gladly pocket the 3 points and move on. We forget they are now in another transition mode with a new manager and new styles don’t we?

And what about this week’s “typical City”? We must ask why we haven’t seen Jovetic yet mustn’t we? The rumour going round death row is that he hasn’t got a work permit! How much did they spend on him?

UPCOMING DATES FOR YOUR FILOFAX:
all times East Manchester BST

Sa 14 Sep 15h00 Stoke City, Britannia Stadium PL
Tu 17 Sep 20h45 Viktoria Plzen, Doosan Arena, CLGS1
Su 22 Sep 16h00 The rags, The Etihad PL
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We 2 Oct Bayern Munich, The Etihad, CLGS2
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Sa 19 Oct 17h30 West Ham, Upton Park PL
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Su 27 Oct 13h30 Chelsea, Stamford Bridge PL
Sa 02 Nov 15h00 GMT Norwich City, The Etihad PL
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Su 10 Nov 1405 GMT Sunderland, Stadium of Light PL
Su 24 Nov 13h30 GMT Spurs, The Etihad PL
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