Date: 6th November 2012 at 10:00pm
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It was all or nothing for Roberto Mancini at the Etihad tonight. Having announced to the world that it could take City 10 years to get into a position to win the Champions League, he would not have endeared himself to those in the sand dunes.

Indeed he won’t have endeared himself to those in the houses of east Manchester who in their hearts can find no reason for the succession of disappointing results the Blues have endured in Europe. There is a firm belief that City has the footballers capable of winning this trophy and that the need for experience is all in the mind. Especially after last season when all the experience in the world that is supposedly harnessed in Stretford was not enough to prevent City making their final seconds collection of the Premier League trophy.

And it was of course won with City’s own brand of football against everyone who appeared in front of them in the last six matches. So quite why Mancini can’t put that brand of football into the Champions League matches remains a mystery to those of us that populate the seating decks, week-in, week-out.

The line-up tonight at last included the returning from injury Zabaleta, for me City’s most consistent performer this season. We were also to get another opportunity to see Garcia. Would he play his own game or simply be Yaya’s protégée again? His duty was clearly to sit alongside Barry and protect the back four.

David Silva remains on the sick list so Nasri got another chance to be Silva for a day and maybe at last Mancini found the wisdom of selecting Tevez to play alongside Aguero, the famous Argentino Ground Attack. Along with Yaya this was to be the interchangeable diamond that should attack from all angles.

City needed to impose their game on Ajax this time and not sit back conceding possession whilst their opponents built up their confidence. At first it looked as though that is precisely what City were setting out to do, but once again in Ajax’s first real attack, Nastasic gave away a nasty unnecessary corner. The zone defending didn’t work and nobody picked up de Jong lurking by the post as he slid in and cleverly lifted an unlikely shot over Hart and into the net. There were enough giant sized people there but nobody attacked the ball and City were down 0-1.

Cue Ajax, playing with their neat patterns, trying to starve City of the ball and then just a few minutes later another corner for Ajax saw de Jong let go by Yaya, his run not tracked by anyone and a free header on the near post for 0-2.

Mancini couldn’t believe it, we couldn’t believe it. City had gone from not getting a clear penalty to two down in a matter of minutes.

Ajax were now starting to get in full flight with their neat triangles but an excellent move between Tevez and Nasri saw Yaya at the far post neatly chesting the ball and then rifling it into the net to give the Blues hope.

Chances did start to fall but mainly to City’s new attacking threat – Zabaleta. His runs which are becoming trade mark need a more accomplished finish, but it didn’t happen in the first half tonight. Ajax looked a fit, quick, neat passing team who could give City issues every time they got the ball. City tried hard to live with their counterparts as the half drew to a close but there was no addition to the scoreline as City needed their early season default score of 3-2 to make any headway in this competition especially as Dortmund were ahead at the Bernabeu.

Garcia looked as though he had lead boots on and I wonder what he brings to City. Nothing about him has impressed me yet this season and he could easily have been another nail through Brian Marwood’s heart.

Half time saw Balotelli warming up in a way that usually sees him introduced. Indeed Garcia got the red lights and on came Super Mario. Would there be a miracle or would we end up with 10-men?

First off Nasri got a whacking by the Blind man and the Danish ref went to his pockets. The free kick came to nothing. Then Aguero having carved out the opening and with Tevez free on one side and Balotelli likewise on the other, slipped to the floor and Ajax survived again.

It took City no time to get themselves going and at last we were seeing the City we know and love. Still the goal wouldn’t come as once again having it all out Aguero slipped to the floor. No doubt Chappie will face an inquest post-match.

An hour had passed and Ajax really hadn’t got their game going but every time they did venture forward they looked so dangerous. De Jong was perpetrator in chief. Having already found the net twice he wanted the ball and brought a super save out of Hart to keep it at 1-2.

On came Dzeko for Tevez as ground changed to air. Balotelli had already signalled he was up for it and City were definitely “at it” now. The equaliser came from an unusual source but with a predictable finisher. A long clearance by Hart was headed on by Balotelli who found Aguero in his no-miss position. Sergio didn’t give the keeper a sniff and levelled the scores with a beauty.

Now it was all-on and City went for it. Aguero got on the end of something and fired City in front until the far side linesman was seen waving his flag. Replays show he was not offside.

Kolarov came on towards the end to frighten the Ajax defence and he surely did as once again he slid in Aguero who once again scored. Once again the same liner waved his flag giving Kolarov offside. Replays again showed that to be debatable.

And we get to the final kick of the match when Hart’s free kick found Balotelli in the box clearly man-handled to the ground, his shirt almost off his back and rather than give the penalty, the ref chickened out by blowing the final whistle. Three officials were in that quarter and nobody could see the clear foul.

Maybe the officials were smarting that City eliminated all their teams from the Europa League in 2009 but this was refereeing for the bookies if you ask me. No wonder Mancini went mental at the end.

It took City too long to get going. Putting in Garcia was not a good decision as with Yaya around at times it looked as though we had three holding midfielders. It looked more fluid in last season’s mould when it was Barry and Yaya, one stick, one twist. The second half was as good football as City have played this season but as is their want in Europe they try every time to leave it to the last minute to try for the summit after giving themselves a mountain to climb.

I’m so pleased to see Zaba back. He does add something to the team and I’m sure that VK is happier with his right hand terrier by his side. Aguero is such a clever footballer and if he was as clever in selecting his footwear tonight the scoreboard would have read in City’s favour.

But at the risk of sounding bitter City were slaughtered by some of the poorest officiating I’ve seen for a while. I would have had Clattenburg in there. Or even Maurice Fussey (who remembers him?)

Two clear pens and a non-offside goal disallowed. These Scandinavians have not been exempted in the past from having organised outcomes. That is what this looked like tonight. Yes City were 2-0 down and had only themselves to blame, but their comeback was fair and square. What wasn’t fair and square was what went on with the officials.

As they said on TV City need snookers now, but it is still possible. At least we are not concentrating on the league by the day after bonfire night. But the Blues do need a miracle now, even to qualify for the Europa League.

all times East Manchester

Su 11 Nov 13h30 Spurs, The Etihad, PL
Sa 17 Nov 15h00 Aston Villa, The Etihad, PL
We 21 Nov 19h45 Real Madrid, The Etihad, CL
Su 25 Nov 16h00 Chelsea, Stamford Bridge, PL
We 28 Nov 20h00 Wigan, DW Stadium, PL


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