Yaya Toure stole the show as Manchester City’s home programme drew to a close at the Etihad Stadium last night. Included in the starting line-up and handed the captain’s armband for the night, the gigantic Ivorian was in every sense, King of the Hill as City strolled to a 3-1 victory to secure another set of records against the wily Brighton and Hove Albion, who secured their Premier League status by beating the Stretfords in their own backyard.
It wasn’t to be a Manchester one-two for the South coast team if indeed it can be considered that Stretford is in Manchester.
Guardiola put out an unusual line-up that was charged with scoring the goals to overtake the Chelsea record, gather the points to overtake the Chelsea record, deliver the win to overtake the Chelsea record and the did the lot.
Bravo was given his swansong in nets, while the back line consisted of Danilo, Kompany, Laporte and Zinchenko. The ever-ready Fernandinho was the guardian while Yaya and Gundogan replaced De Bruyne and David Silva. Bernardo, de Jesus and Sane were to provide the firepower.
Brighton fielded probably their best side, but couldn’t really cope with City who were only playing in second gear, but still providing a plethora of exciting football to sign of a successful season at Planet Etihad.
It didn’t take City long to lay siege to the Brighton goal and Ryan tried in vain to slow the game down taking an age with goal kicks and once again went unpunished by an average referee, Paul Tierney.
Equally, it didn’t take City too long to get the scoreboard flashing. With only 16 minutes on the clock, Sane received the ball deep in his own half and scythed through the retreating Brighton cover. City set off like a 100 metres sprint final with Danilo getting ahead of Bernardo and de Jesus. Sane slid the ball invitingly in front of him and he accepted with gratitude as he hammered the ball past Ryan to put the Blues in front.
City probably expected an end-of-season avalanche, but almost immediately fell asleep. Ryan’s clearance went in the direction of Ulloa, just inside City’s half. He bumped Laporte, a foul really right in front of the assistant referee, and sent the ball in the direction of City’s goal. Bravo was drawn out to the ball, got a hand to it but only set up Propper whose cross was nodded in by Ulloa.
It was a bit of a shock to the system, as Brighton hadn’t really shown any ambition, but 1-1 it was. City immediately got themselves out of their end-of-season slumber and Yaya went on one of his signature rampaging runs. Finding himself too wide to score he picked out de Jesus who drilled the ball into the side-netting.
After 35 minutes, though, it was Sane once again who found space on the left and fired the ball across the penalty area. De Jesus couldn’t get on the end of it, but Bernardo calmly killed the ball and then diligently found the near post bottom corner to fire his team ahead.
This time there was to be no early or even late charity as Laporte and Kompany closed the doors and Danilo and Zinchenko controlled things wider out. Fernandinho popped up like a jack-in-the-box almost everywhere and Yaya was simply Yaya albeit at a slower pace. The team tried so hard to get him into free-kick range or set him up on the edge of the box, but maybe Brighton had expected all of those and were reluctant to deliver the fouls in the key areas. They delivered enough of them elsewhere, though.
The South coast threat had more or less gone. Ulloa persistently humped and bumped City’s defenders unpunished before getting replaced, but in fairness, Chris Hughton’s men never looked like spoiling the Yaya Toure au revoir party.
The second half was pretty much a second-gear stroll for City. Brighton’s one chance was a comic-cuts bit of defending from City as Bravo spilled yet another weak shot, Laporte’s attempted clearance cannoned off a Kompany to Knockaert who inexplicably hammered it into level two.
This seemed to spark City into life again and once again the raid came down Sane’s channel and resulted in a corner. Gundogan spotted Sane unmarked and played a quick one to him. As the others in the box drew the cover, Sane located Fernandinho on the edge of the box and his low shot found the bottom corner.
With the scoring and, shortly thereafter, the match concluded it was time for Yaya, nominated man-of-the-match in the stadium, to bid his farewell to his adoring fans. The surprise guest invited to deliver the key gifts of a framed shirt bearing the number 316, marking his performances for City, a lifetime seasoncard and a mosaic of Yaya himself, was none other than his older brother Kolo, who was also much-loved during his spell with City.
Captain Kompany reminded us of some of what Yaya brought to the party, such as the key goals against United and Stoke in the 2011 FA Cup, among others setting off the usual “Yaya and Kolo” song from fans and players alike.
Sane was probably closer to being man-of-the-match effectively setting up all of the goals and Danilo was excellent at right back and looked a bit more effective than Walker has been over the last month. Laporte looked very much in control at the back, despite the attentions of Ulloa, and all around the field City looked more or less unbeatable. And with something like eight team changes.
The records tumbled. City have scored 105 goals and collected 97 points and won 31 matches. The final record could arrive on the final day of the season. In 2012 City needed to beat Mark Hughes’s QPR team to win the league and left it to the last second. This time they need to beat the same manager and Southampton to reach 100 points. In 2012 QPR were under the threat of relegation, this time Southampton could find themselves in a similar position, although it will take a 10-goal swing for Swansea to survive and send the Saints down. I hope City deliver. 100 points will be a record that will last forever unless City themselves break it in a future season.