Date: 16th September 2012 at 8:57am
Written by:

The Britannia Stadium was once again an unhappy hunting ground for City as Mancini paraded all of his new toys against Tony Pulis awkward opponents today.

He set his team up in sort of 4-4-2 fashion clearly believing that he had enough to get the job done but the reality was that City looked more disjointed than ever in the early season.

The stats looked good. For the first quarter hour the Blues rode the cock-horse with double the possession afforded to Stoke, but it didn`t yield and then out of the red-and-white came the perennial goal against from the hitherto uninvolved Peter Crouch. Just quite how he continues to be a thorn in City`s side remains one of life`s great mysteries, but once again he popped up assisted by his hand and unseen by Henshaws favourite referee, Mr Mark Clattenburg to stick Stoke in front.

How on earth does this work? Yes City were almost 70/30 on possession but with only a great effort by Tevez and a poor effort by Balotelli to show for it, more or less the first time that Stoke show, a bit of cheating in tow, City ends up chasing the game.

And chase the game they did. Tevez looked hungry and the new members of staff looked up for it, clearly gutted at having been subjected to a goal against under very dodgy circumstances. From a corner on the right Crouch went up for the ball, clearly using his hand probably twice as he Jordaned his way around the defenders too intent to raise their hand and look for the linesman rather than deal with the danger, the ball ending up past a star-shaped Hart and in the net.

Another uphill battle from behind was on the cards as City immediately set about their search for an equaliser. Time and again Balotelli was muscled around by Stoke`s giant defenders and time and again the referee looked the other way.

Finally however, ten minutes ahead of half time, Clattenburg gave City a free kick around thirty yards out. Up stepped Tevez, this time turning provider as his cross found new-man Javi Garcia who had somehow sneaked into the penalty are under the radar and his neat clean header arrowed into the back of the net. No use of the hands, no pushing, an excellent opening goal for the former Benfica man.

Cue the onslaught as City racked up possession stats without any success further forward. Tevez was outstanding with his hunger for work and desire for a goal. But this looks like a different Tevez than the one that first rolled up at the Etihad. More of a team player, forcing openings and playing in colleagues rather than going along with a one-man show.

With the scores level at half time, City came out for the second half meaning business. Stoke dropped deep in numbers to provide the shut-out. Early on Garcia let N`Zonzi know who was the gaffer. He got away with this one but his next effort saw him find his way into the ref`s notebook with most of the second half left to play.

Balotelli continued to be subjected to rough treatment and was clearly getting fed up with Clattenberg giving him nothing, but he continued to lead the line despite his frustrations. The Potters clearly wanted him rattled.

On the hour Barry made his long-awaited comeback and almost immediately Yaya was let off the leash with Begovic making a good save from his effort.

It was another ten minutes before new-boy Sinclair was replaced by Silva as Mancini kept his favourite son on the bench, no doubt with the trip to Real Madrid in mind.

Mario got another clock in the face by, I think Wilkinson, who once again got away with it, leaving the beleaguered Italian wondering if he had to be shot to get anything today.

As the final stages emerged there was only going to be one team who would score. There were two reasonable shouts for a penalty as first Barry and then Nasri tested the Britannia turf in the penalty area, but Clattenberg had set his stall out for City – score from open play or not at all.

In this period Stoke barely got moving at all and it was backs-to-the-wall stuff as defended heroically for a draw. Their hearts were however in their mouths as stoppage time was coming to a halt when an intelligent run and neatly clipped shot by Dzeko was lobbed over the keeper and heading for an empty net when from nowhere, Shawcross got back to heave the ball to safety. If that had gone in justice would have been done, but in a week where we have experienced the final commencement of justice in other areas of football there was none for City today.

The team selection was at best “interesting” as Mancini paraded his new boys and played Clichy out of position on the right and Maicon on the left. In fairness this was another of those 4-4-2 line-ups that could change to 3-5-2 at the drop of a hat of even 4-5-1 when City doesn`t have the ball.

Apart from the ridiculous goal against, I don`t think City looked too troubled at the back especially when there were four in tow, but how do they keep letting Crouch score gainst them. Maybe there`s a mental health issue there.

In midfield Nasri and Sinclair, who made a good debut worked wider out with Yaya and Garcia the workhorses, the former seeking to storm through at every opportunity, the latter playing in the Gareth Barry role but with more forward vision..oh and a goal and nearly two.

Up top Tevez simply worked his socks off. Replace by Barry on the hour to I suppose keep him fresh for Tuesday. Mario had one of those days where he was pilloried by the opposition defenders clearly trying to upset him and set him up for admonishment.

We know that not many team get anything at Stoke and City continue to struggle there, but aslast year we have to treat this as a point gained and move on to a week that sees Real Madrid and Arsenal lying in wait. A week that in the dark days of the second division seemed a lifetime away.

all times East Manchester

Tu 18 Sep 19h45 Real Madrid, The Bernabeu, CL
Su 23 Sep 16h00 Arsenal, The Etihad, PL
Tu 25 Sep 19h45 Aston Villa, The Etihad, LC3
Sa 29 Sep 15h00 Fulham, Craven Cottage, PL
We 03 Oct 19h45 Borussia Dortmund, The Etihad, PL
Sa 06 Oct 12h45 Sunderland, The Etihad, PL
Sa 20 Oct 15h00 West Brom, The Hawthorns, PL
We 24 Oct 19h45 Ajax, Amsterdam Arena, CL
Sa 27 Oct 17h30 Swansea City, The Etihad, PL