It wasn’t supposed to be this way.
Even after the last-minute disappointment of Robbie Fowler’s saved penalty against Middlesborough denying City a place in this season’s UEFA Cup, there wasn’t really a sense of despair around Eastlands. After all, we hadn’t even expected to be in with a shout of Europe when
Stuart Pearce had taken over as manager from the dispirited Kevin Keegan. So the final, dramatic surge up the table inspired by Pearce’s vigorous management was a bonus. City fans were mainly just happy that the team was showing passion and had given them a final game with something to play for. Seeing the gigantic David James lolloping around upfront like an adult playing in a kids’ game in the final few minutes was the icing on the cake. A place in Europe would have been the cherry on top of the icing.
The close season, even taking into account the sorry Shaun Wright-Phillips farce, was pumped full of optimism. Pearce’s acquisition of Andy Cole and Darius Vassell – a whole new forward line – for just £2m was apparent evidence of a value-for-money approach to transfer dealings diametrically opposed to the profligacy of the Keegan era. Those of us who suspected that Pearce had been just a tad too cautious and who felt that the squad was still thin were pleasantly surprised by our great start to the season, although it must be said that City didn’t exactly have the most testing slew of opening fixtures.
Now, however, we’re approaching freefall. Following the 4-1 defeat of Birmingham City, easily the worst team to have visited Eastlands thus far, we’ve picked up just one point from 12. Looking back to the beginning of November the picture doesn’t look much healthier with only eight points garnered from 10 games. Pointswise we’re closer to the relegation places than we are to fourth-placed Tottenham who beat us so easily this week.
So, what’s gone wrong? Nobody seems to know. What’s really worrying is that Pearce admitted after the Spurs game that even he didn’t know what was wrong. Whilst his candour is to be admired it’s hardly the most reassuring of admissions is it? You’re paid to know what’s wrong, Stuart, that’s your job.
Pearce’s honeymoon period is certainly over and he’s most assuredly paying for being so cautious in the last transfer window. It’s understandable that he sought to distance himself from his predecessor’s slack regime but the thinness of the squad has not resulted in a hungry team fighting for their places. That lack of hunger and passion may have even spread to Pearce who was unusually subdued on the touchline during Wednesday’s defeat.
In these circumstances tomorrow’s FA Cup Third Round tie against Scunthorpe United takes on a huge amount of significance. Another morale-sapping, slapdash performance against the type of side that City regularly slip up against and our season could degenerate into a relegation struggle. A convincing win could provide a kickstart to the second half of the season. Regardless, it’s obvious that we need a major injection of new talent.
There are heartening rumours in the press that Pearce has launched bids for two players, Dean Ashton and Danny Murphy, who will undoubtedly provide options and depth to the squad. Ashton would provide a great foil to Vassell or Cole and Murphy would offer some zip and goalscoring threat to the midfield.
It’s important that Pearce brings in the right players over the next few weeks. His career at City and our season may depend on it.