If only we'd played well...
I`ve saw plenty of our fans saying they were happy with this performance - I have to be honest and say that the most pleasing thing for me is knowing we got a fairly comfortable draw against one of our main competitors with half the team not playing anywhere near their best.
It was a respectable performance. City play nice stuff and have a threatening (albeit slightly overrated) forward line that was always going to push us back at times. Of course, we did our best to help them out with that by dropping too deep far too often, which, as always happens when we play 4-4-2, left large gaps in the middle for our midfield to cover. John Carew, while largely ineffectual again, to his credit worked hard and tried to help out the middle men where he could.
Another problem with 4-4-2 is the tactic of 'Carew flicks it on to Agbonlahor` is all too predictable; there were many occasions where Toure went with Carew and essentially let him win the ball while City doubled up on Gabby. It`s not difficult to defend, and when our wingers aren`t playing well (Young especially was very disappointing) our attacking threat isn`t anywhere near as effective as it should be.
That`s not to say it was all bad. Friedel was solid and all of the back four did well with Dunne putting in an exceptional performance. Petrov was, in my opinion, the best of any of the central midfielders on show, and I thought Gabby played well, especially in the second half.
The first half started with us as the better side. From where I was sitting it looked like we wanted it more and with us defending well, it seemed like it was only a matter of time before we took the lead. That unsurprisingly came from a set-piece; City are one of the worst teams in the league for defending set-pieces. Another point of chagrin for me on the night; if our delivery had been better I believe we could have won the game on that alone.
But back to the goal and what a moment it was, as ex-City favourite Richard Dunne climbed well - beating ex-Villa favourite Gareth Barry in the process - and smashed a tremendous header past Shay Given.
The next ten/fifteen minutes we had the bit between our teeth and I was hoping we would score again because City were inevitably going to get their spell on top. The last third of the first-half saw us defending far too deep and inviting the pressure on us. While there were no real 'heart in mouth` moments, it was clear that something needed to change in the second half.
The second half was quite an end-to-end affair, but where as City had more of the controlled play, we were looking to play our counter attack game. There is nothing wrong with that plan of attack; if there was, neither Floyd Mayweather nor Lennox Lewis would have ever won world championships! Plus, as MON rightly pointed out, City`s neighbours won more than one trophy playing that way. The problem was, with three of our four forward men not at their best, and Sidwell doing that awol job he sometimes does in the middle of the park - although that, in my opinion, is down to the formation as much as it is my ginger brother from another mother! - it was not overly effective.
City did get the equalising goal, with some nice close passing and a good finish by Bellamy. Again, it was born out of us defending too deep but what can I say? We play 4-4-2, and that is what happens.
If anything summed the night up, it was as we had a little bit of pressure in the final seconds of added-on time and it all vanished with Milner and Heskey getting themselves in a muddle. It was just one of those nights. But that for me is the real positive - we can play a lot better than that (from an attacking point of view at least) and we still got a relatively comfortable draw against a side who, according to Vital Man City yesterday, apparently just needed to not play badly in order to beat us. Well they certainly didn`t play badly, and we were nowhere near our best.
Summary: Friedel and the back four were fine. James Collins does his job well as an individual but he drops deep too often which causes us problems as a defensive unit. Carlos Cuellar as always is not a full-back and it is not his fault that he is playing there, but we really could have done with someone there that offered us more going forward. Dunne in particular was superb, and Warnock had his best game so far for us.
Milner didn`t get on the ball much, and Young had as off a night as I have ever seen him for us. Sidwell doesn`t really want the ball, which is a problem in the middle of the park, but then neither does NRC when he`s in there. Neither, incidentally does De Jong, which meant Petrov and Barry were the two men doing the playmaking for either side until Ireland come on. Barry didn`t play well and I don`t think he revelled in the limelight as some players do. Personally I thought the booing was well out of order but hey, we all have our idiot fans. Petrov had a good game I felt, he was left with too much to do yet again but I don`t think he could have done much more. Carew isn`t playing well and Agbonlahor is!
Chelsea next, and if we play 4-4-2 I really fear for us. But for now, let`s just raise a glass to Richard Dunne…