Date: 1st April 2012 at 10:57am
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May I begin by apologising for my absences for the Chelsea and Stoke matches, I was doing some work in Andalusia and it wasn’t until I got back that I even saw the goals and/or lack of them.

Anyway normal business is now resumed.

And so to the Etihad for yesterday’s vital next chapter in the chase for the title, against a resurgent Sunderland side well-drilled under the leadership of the bouncing leprechaun.

A team that has not seen results away at City favour them, were surely a three-points deposit at a stadium that has yielded nothing for visiting teams in the Premier League this season?

Not so this time. Homework done. Collective Team work ethic. Stop Silva. Mission accomplished.

It looked that way for most of this unforeseen match. The Black Cats, set up to stifle and counter, kept their shape and systematically scythed down the Canarian Magician, who for the moment at least has lost his wand.

With Bardlsey, Colback and Gardner snapping at his shins like demented Jack Russell’s, Silva got nothing going all day, as City laboured in midfield, at least for 80 minutes.

This was a laboured City who now cannot see themselves winning the title and want to get the season over, or that’s the way it looked for the 47000 fans who loaded the Etihad yesterday.

Once again team selection was….interesting. With the Mighty Atom confined to barracks allegedly over an incident with a can of freeze-spray, the ground attack turned aerial with Balotelli and Dzeko up top. The deemed unfit Tevez adorned the bench.

Kolarov and Milner were to provide the width, with Kolo, Kompany and Richards taking care of business at the back. De Jong was holding and Yaya and Silva designed to be the drivers.

All well and good and theoretically a recipe for success. Well this recipe turned very close to disaster, as Seesegnon produced the best display at the Etihad by a visiting footballer this season and essentially created discomfort for City all over the field.

He popped up like a jack-in-a box, leaving City nervy and frightened at every turn.

As much as City lacked the energy and pace to which we have become accustomed, Sessegnon had it in abundance as he made City’s defence look like a Sunday Carvery at a local hostelry.

And on the half hour he did precisely that. As the City defenders backed-off and gave him space, he waltzed past three and found the unattended Larsson on the edge of the box. Needing only one invitation he curled a beauty into the bottom corner with Hart nowhere.

Still City couldn’t get going. Sunderland did well to break the game up, happy to concede freekicks and surround the weak referee that is Phil I.F.P.Dowd (remember..In Fergie’s Pocket).

Indeed Dowd refused City a penalty shout when Mignolet came out for a deep cross, got nowhere near it and flattened Balotelli. That couldn’t have been a dive, or a feign of any description. The goal tender simply jumped on the player inside the box. Should have been end of story. And as Colback, Bardsley and Gardner systematically went about the business of gunning down City players every time an attack threatened one has to wonder why Dowd insisted he was not to become a croupier. Only Gardner (finally) and de Jong found their way into the yellow abyss.

So with half time approaching the obdurate Dzeko beat off a challenge on the left and cut inside the Sunderland box, Gardner offered him a challenge like a high-hurdle that would have needed a Fosberry Flop to get over. Dzeko took it and at last we got something from Dowd in the shape of a much unexpected penalty kick.

Mario despatched it in inimitable fashion and at least City would get to half time level. No they wouldn’t. It began with a clash of heads deep in Sunderland territory and with the clock having played out 45 minutes. Bardsley was still on to Dzeko believing that he had dived to win the penalty a few moments earlier. Right in front of the referee he clearly pushed Dzeko, which is violent conduct and a red card ..for anyone except Dowd. As Richards and Colback went off and city ambled back, Sunderland took a quick free kick and were on the edge of City’s box in a flash, thanks to the outstanding Sessegnon who delivered a pinpoint cross to the Gooner Donkey who was unmarked at the far post and sent his free header across Hart and inside the opposite post. Kolo was nowhere to be seen and Richards was wrong side of Kolo’s man.

It got worse in what I call ‘City time’. Yaya allowed himself to be robbed by Cattermole, of all people, who quickly introduced Sessegnon who had already spotted Bendtner alone on the right. With the two centre backs both initialy drawn to the ball, one was too slow to address the threst and the second too slow to mark-up Larsson at the far post. Bendtner’s cross was right on the money and City were unbelievably 1-3 in arrears. Hart had let in 3 goals and not had anything else to do.

If the title challenge hit the rocks at the Stadium of Light, for me it collapsed here. Arguments broke out all over the field, disputes about freekicks, Balotelli thumping the turf and almost Kolarov, Tevez wanting a go and all the things that the Alan Hansen’s of this world love when they pontificate on MoTD.

City had been shown the value of moving the ball quickly for 80 minutes in a fashion that had become their own for the same percentage of the season. Bringing on Johnson hadn’t worked, Tevez was starting to have some impact, but finally Mancini remembered why he had brought Pizarro to the Club and his introduction after 80 minuted brought with it the guile and urgency that had been missing all afternoon. Immediately his passes found their targets and at last Sunderland’s roubstness started to be undermined, as an attack initiated by Pizarro eventually found Balotelli who cut inside a defender and hammered home through a ruck of opponents. 2-3.

Within seconds City were up there again as Kolarov lined up a customary cross to nowhere. As everyone retreated to the Sunderland far post, Kolarov rifled the ball into the net leaving just about everyone flat-footed.

But with only four minuted left on the clock and four to be added City couldn’t find an unlikely win and had to settle for their first lost points at home this season to an industrious side who have unearthed a gem in Sessegnon.

The air about the stadium is turning from one of elation to one of acceptance that it is not going to be City’s season this time around and only those on the field can really change that. Mancini has seen the tide come in around his sand-castle and may find the sands of time against him when the post-season discussions in the sand dunes begin.

So if City win all their games before 30 April and Stretford win all their’s they will be five points ahead of City with nine to play for. You guessed it, they can win the title at the Etihad.

If at the time that Obama became President, Steve Earle wrote ‘The Revolution Starts Now’ I fear that it probably ended yesterday.

On a lighter note why is it that when you are overseas you always encounter the usual sanctimonious Stretford who thinks that you are from Manchester you want to befriend him for the week? There was the Pedmachine minding his own business amongst his business associates when up he comes, this time a genuine one from Stretford itself. An educationally challenged individual clearly who elated that it had taken City 35 years to win the FA Cup and taken Stretford only ninety minutes to take it off them ‘When we beat them at the Council House’. Upon reminding him that they actually hung on by the skin of their teeth against ten men he continued to pontificate that they had won the league title n.n.n.n.nineteen time and it would be twenty this year. I asked him how many time they had won it and he said nineteen. I quietly told him that that was how many seconds it would take me to snap his neck and invited him to go henceforth and irritate somebody else. He left pretty sharpish, never to be seen again.


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