Today dawned with torrential rain battering the City of Manchester Stadium and it was a tribute to the groundstaff that by 1.30pm the pitch looked fantastic.
The Blue Mooners were already reminding themselves that the last time they faced such conditions we rattled six goals past Burnley in short order. Could the same be about to happen?
The match began in testing conditions with both teams tentative and intent on getting an early feel for the ball.
City paraded the line-up I expected and the Mags decided to field Ameobi in a dual strike force with Hatem Ben Arfa, a player I was looking forward to seeing play.
Smith and Carroll found themselves amongst the subs, almost literally today.
Boateng looked particularly out of sorts early on, backing off and allowing space down Newcastle’s left. City however threw down the gauntlet and set sail hopefully for a hatful of goals.
Then just as things were getting under way a typically robust tackle from de Jong on Ben Arfa saw the Newcastle youngster, who has definitiely impressed in his appearances so far become the victim of a broken leg.
De Jong tackled with his left leg and his trailing right leg caught Ben Arfa and did the damage. I don’t recall the Referee even allowing a free kick, let alone further punishment and it was far from the deliberate two-footed tackle being suggested by a certain broadcaster getting the collywobbles on talk rubbish.
The game however was cheated of the opportunity of watching an excellent young footballer pit his wits against a Club destined to become one of the Premier League’s Elite whether or not Arsene Wenger likes it.
The early exchanges suggested that City’s line-up whether you call it 4-5-1 or 4-3-3 with a difference, was certainly starting to work to the extent that instead of replacing Ben Arfa with Carroll, they looked to Routledge to beef up their midfield.
City looked the more likely to get on the scoresheet first and I believe that if Balotelli had been fit and playing he would have scored a bagful today.
Silva was in scintillating form but a lot of his work came to nothing in the absence of an out-and-out striker. His understanding with Tevez is starting to buzz but to get the best out of Silva we need someone to convert the passes he plays into the danger areas.
With Ben Arfa gone Newcatle looked a bit blunt with Ameobi unable to produce the magic he did a couple of years ago.
And so when Tevez latched onto de Jong’s chip towards the box after 17 minutes and was scruffily bundled over by Williamson inside or outside the box, Martin Atkinson unequivocally pointed to the spot. Tevez as a penalty taker is exemplary. No histrionics, a slow stroll up, check which foot the keeper stands on and then accept the invitation to score. No exception today, 1-0 City.
Would the floodgates open in every sense of the word? Could City really get on board and emulate what they did to Burnley? Well no they couldn’t. The Geordies stuck to their game plan and despite Milner failing to produce a second for Tevez and a great save by Hart from Coloccini, Gutierrez equalised on 25 minutes having collected a rebound and with the right hand side of City’s defence absent blasted the ball beyond Hart.
The defence needed to regroup and Kompany ensured that it did, taking command and nipping most of what Newcastle had to offer in the bud. City saw much of the ball, set up some great chances but none of it came to fruition and both teams trooped off at half time probably content not to be losing.
The second half continued in the same vein. Newcastle tried very hard and City scorned chance after chance with Tevez for once seemingly reluctant to shoot, Silva getting clear but with nobody on hand to set up. Toure Yaya looked off the pace and gave the ball away too much and was replaced by Adebayor just before the hour. Adebayor who now wants to play for Juventus was welcomed by the fans but really only huffed and puffed, looking far from the player that joined City last season.
City were still guitly of too many stray passes and Barry, a contributor, was replaced by Johnson who was roared into action by the crowd and immediately began to torment the left side of Newcastle’s defence.
It was inevitable that within a few minutes of Johnsom being introduced that something would happen and it duly did. Receiving the ball around 25 yards out on the right, Johnson turned to face Enrique, Barton immediately fell in ‘double bank’ him having clearly watched the Juventus DVD. What happened next was sheer class. Johnson set off to take on Enrique down the right, Enrique followed him leaving a gap between himself and Barton. Johnson weaved into the gap in a flash, left Barton flat-footed and scorched a curling left foot shot into the bottom corner, leaving Krul for once helpless.
Eastlands erupted, Johnson once again the hero. I hate to say ‘I told you so’ but I did in my narratives last week, say Johnson would come on and make an impact.
There were still chances at both ends and a couple of minutes later it looked as though Lescott had removed Ameobi’s standing foot and somehow City survived a good penalty shout. They also survived a headed attempt from Williamson.
Despite a spirited finish by Newcastle, City closed the match out propelling themselves into second place in the table.
There is no doubt that Mancini is single-minded in his approach and will take decisions whether popular or not to make it work for City. This is still a work in progress a team that is in mid-gel. It is also a team that is second in the toughest league in world football.
My thoughts are with Hatem Ben Arfa tonight. I hope his injury isn’t as bad as feared and I would love to seem him back in action sooner rather than later. He is an exciting footballer to watch and is key to Newcastle’s attempt to stay in the Premier League this season.
My thought are also with City. Could it really happen? Did not Ferguson say when he saw the League Table,pre-season in alphabetical order that it would be the only time City would be in front of United? Look up, Sir Taggart!!