Date: 7th May 2012 at 10:36am
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Speaking to a friend of mine from Newcastle this week he said “Surely you’re not afraid of Newcastle?” Well this season they have got a tasty side with some excellent players that have fallen under the radar of many of the so-called better clubs in the Premier League. Unbeaten at home this year and not very generous in the goals against column, especially at St James Park, then yes the Pedmachine has to admit there was a fear of trepidation as we trooped up the A1, destination, Newcastle.

With the tribute to Sir Bobby Robson suitably unveiled, the stage was set, maybe, for another classic match between these two great footballing sides who periodically turn out a trophy decider of some sort, generally in the favour of City.

The famous stadium was packed to the rafters with Mancini’s “ground attack” kept intact from the victory against Stretford’s finest on Monday and from the start you could see why. After four or five minutes of ping-pong City started to find their range and the Mags struggled to find the ball.

Alan Pardew’s side is much better equipped to offer challenges in the Premier League these days. Fitter than ever before they sprint to join Ba and Cisse in attack and when they lose the ball they are not shy of getting ten men and sometimes the entire team behind the ball. They even drop two to the goal line behind their keeper in the event a shot gets past him. At times they looked like my team when I played my dad at Waddington’s Table Soccer, when I used to cram 8 players into the net to prevent him scoring.

Moving from midfield Cabaye and Ben Arfa are dangerous foes and Tiote a tigerish battler. Coloccini has become a rock at the back. I fancied him for City ahead of the signing of Lescott. And Krul has displayed a reluctance to offer the back of his net to many teams this season. He hadn’t conceded on the last four occasions at home and has kept sixteen clean sheets this season.

So yes this was a challenge for the title-seeking Blues and battles had to be won all over the field.

City stepped up after the first five minutes and it was almost one-way traffic for half an hour after that as the up top quartet of Silva, Tevez, Nasri and Aguero produced their neat interplay, albeit without getting close to scoring. Tevez was buzzing around between the close-together lines, Aguero looking for his usual inside left space with Silva and Nasri raiding from wider positions. Toure and Barry held the fort in front of a back four that was in total dominance for more or less the entire match.

But it wasn’t going City’s way. Chances came and went with black and white striped bodies doing everything possible to divert the ball away from their goal and when Krul was beaten Coloccini and Williamson stood sentry.

Indeed, it was thirty three minutes before Newcastle got themselves into a scoring position. Ba’s effort was blocked and rebounded to Ben Arfa who brought an exceptional save out of the hitherto unemployed Joe Hart.

City got back into their stride but couldn’t break the deadlock.

The second half proved to be more of the same as City turned the screw without catching the thread. This gave Newcastle heart as they tried to threaten City on the break. But many of the breaks didn’t come as they were snuffed out in midfield by a vigilant and excellent Barry and his counterpart Yaya.

But where was a goal going to come from? True, Tevez and Aguero looked lively but Coloccini stood firm, denying the vital space that was needed to score.

So Mancini played this season’s master stroke. Withdrawing Nasri, he sent on de Jong and pushed Yaya forward. And with the ground attack starting to fire blanks, frustration being felt on an off the field, what was needed was a big man who in the bigger matches scores the biggest of goals. With Newcastle defending their line like magpies on a telephone line, Yaya let them have it with both barrels.

On seventy minutes he received the ball from de Jong, played a superb one-two with Aguero and curled a beauty around Coloccini and past Krul’s outstretched hand and into the net. On level twenty seven, three steps from heaven, the Blue Army went mad.

Newcastle tried to step on it to get back into the game. Richards had already blocked one effort, but the emphasis had moved to the other end. Aguero was sent through by an exquisite pass by Silva but inexplicably shot inches wide. Next up Toure, clean through fell over taking the ball around Krul, with Aguero’s follow-up shot was diverted over the bar. Was “typical City” about to click in? Answer? A resounding “No”.

A corner for Newcastle was cleared from the near post to de Jong who hared out of defence down the middle. Flanked by Toure and Clichy he selected the latter to stretch the covering Newcastle defenders. Clichy cleverly drew Williamson then squeezed the ball through his legs and once again into the path of Yaya who this time didn’t miss to make it 2-0 and put City into their best position in the title race since 1968.

There was still time for Hart to make another exceptional save, only the second time his gloves had been busy all afternoon, as City played out stoppage time for a memorable victory.

The last time that City won the league, it was at Newcastle where the title was clinched. Black and white television was the vogue. But yesterday City lit up the Premier League in glorious 3-D Technicolor. In 1968, City won the title by 2 points and had a lacklustre Stretford not waved the white flag to Sunderland at Old Trafford that day and won, then City would have won the title on goal difference or goal average, as it would have been in those days. Maybe at long last the omens might be looking good.

Hart had little to do, but was there truly focused when called upon. Cisse had scored 13 in 12 matches. Yesterday he didn’t get a sniff off Kompany and Lescott both of whom were awesome. On the corners, Zabaleta was a champion and Clichy was once again outstanding. With the forward four buzzing but at times misfiring, it was really Barry and Yaya who controlled this match and forced it City’s way.

Although devoid of goals, the men in front caused problems for the Newcastle defence keeping them pinned in place in the knowledge that one slight mistake would open the door to the hungry predators.

Do not mistake this performance. Those of us who have been watching City, in my case since 1962, find it difficult to believe it is going City’s way. We also do not count our chickens until around 5pm next Sunday. City will no doubt be professional. Mancini will not allow his team to take the foot off the gas with one match to go no matter that City have the best home record and QPR have the worst away record in the Premier League. It is a one-off final of epic proportions for Manchester City and if the right result comes around then it will be party time at the Etihad. The fans have their feet on the ground. I’m sure that the players will be the same.

 

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