The date is 27th September 1997. My 15 year old self is sat in her season ticket seat at Maine Road –Kippax Stand BB Lower. The opposition today? Swindon Town.
It was one of those rare days; we had six goals to celebrate. That never happened. Nobody could quite believe it – we actually battered a team for once! Driving home from Moss Side with a smile on your face because of what you’d witnessed on the pitch was a very rare occurance. We’d even found a new cult hero – there’s only one Barry Conlon.
Neither the football nor the ‘cult hero’ lasted very long - which couldn’t be further from what we are experiencing right now at City. I can’t believe I’m writing this, but it’s January and City are still unbeaten in the Premier League (this goes to print before the Watford game). No, I’m not still pissed from Christmas, it’s actually happening. We started the New Year with a 14 point lead at the top of the Premier League – all the best for 2018, Blues!
JUGGARNAUT 1-0 BUS
At the time of going to print last month, we were about to play United; which feels odd because so much has happened since then. Jose tried his predictable mind games pre-match, claiming we were nothing but a team of drivers. Change the record eh Jose.
When the team news came out and I saw how attacking their line-up was, my confidence did waver slightly. But within minutes of the game starting, it became clear that Jose was parking the bus.
‘Park the bus, park the bus, Man United,’ City fans mocked.
It was 90 minutes of deep defensive play from them, with the odd hoof it up towards Lukaku in the vain hope of creating something and their players surrounding the referee begging at any given opportunity. In fact, Lukaku assisted us – twice. United were never at the races and the confident 2-1 win was made all the more sweeter when Jose kicked off over our ‘disrespectful’ dressing room celebrations. Hello Jose: pot, kettle, hypocrite. This behaviour is of course Classic Jose – all a ploy to detract from what happened on the pitch. He’s the master of manipulation, of smoke and mirrors – but I think it’s about time he practiced what he preached and showed a little respect (don’t hold your breath!)
Swansea was next: a delightful 4-0 away win in first gear, with two goals from David Silva and another futile parking the bus attempt from the opposition.
It was then onto Spurs at home and a game that many viewed as our strongest test of the season. I didn’t – I felt strangely really confident. Spurs tend to play open, expansive football, which suits us just fine; ideal to play through. But even I was shocked at the extent of our dominance through the 90 minutes.
David Silva had been ruled out after returning to Spain due to personal reasons – something we all wish him the very best with and respect his privacy with too. Gundogan came in- and had his best game in a blue shirt yet. The German scored the first goal and had a part to play in almost every other goal to. David Silva is David Silva; nobody could ever emulate or replace him. But Gundogan proved to be a more than capable stand-in.
But it was once again Kevin De Bruyne who again stole the show in midfield: orchestrating City attacks with bewildering simplicity. His vision and passing has made him the best box-to-box midfielder in Europe – not bad for a Chelsea reject!
It’s worth nothing of course that Spurs, as well as being on the end of a 4-1 drubbing, should’ve been down to 9 men after what can only be described as potentially career-ending tackles by Harry Kane and Dele Alli. But they’ll be more on those later.
Leicester next in the Carabao Cup quarter final: Pep rang the changes and fielded a second string side made up of youth players and fringe first teamers. He managed to strike a perfect balance: just enough experience, coupled with gifting Foden, Zinchenko and Tosin with starts against a fellow Premier League team; a fantastic opportunity for the lads to grasp and learn from.
Leicester started with Mahrez and Vardy on the bench too, perhaps surprisingly given this would possibly be their best chance of silverware this season. City’s one goal lead was looking to be enough – until Demarei Gray managed to convince Bobby Madley that his dive was a penalty. Not only was it blatant cheating, the fact Madley had given seven minutes of injury time seemingly from nowhere meant the game should’ve been over before the decision was made.
We then had to play an entirely unnecessary 30 minutes of extra time before winning on penalties – and what a penalty that was from Nmecha! Good save from Bravo too and I’m happy that he got to enjoy that moment. Pep’s celebration though – orchestrating the fans to his own ‘we’ve got Guardiola’ chant – may have gone some way to silencing the minority who thought he didn’t care so much for the Carabao Cup.
A relatively routine (!) 4-0 home win against an initially stubborn Bournemouth side was swiftly followed y a 1-0 away win over Newcastle. They set up so defensively – any deeper and they would’ve been in the North Sea. It was another instance of how we have to be patient to break such teams down. We should be confident in our ability; press, push and stretch them and force them into errors to be able to take advantage.
They had a 10 minutes rallying spell in the second half, but the one goal was enough to make it 18 wins in a row – a new record and only one behind Pep’s own record that he set at Bayern Munich.
Onto Crystal Palace on New Years’ Eve and fair play to them for giving it a bloody good go and actually taking a game of football to us. The winning streak may have ended, but it could’ve been worse: Ederson save a late penalty, another dive that tricked referee Jon Moss, and we looked below par, lacking intensity and our typical passing accuracy.
More disturbingly, both Gabriel Jesus and Kevin De Bruyne went off injured – the latter after a horror tackle from Puncheon that once again failed to result in a red card. Moss had a nightmare: he delayed our physio getting onto the pitch to treat Jesus’ injury, gave a penalty that was a dive and no red for another potentially leg-breaking challenge.
It wasn’t a disaster – in fact, it proved to be a decent point against a team that put up more of a fight than most have and I admire them for that at least. Most Blues going into the game were nervous and knew it would be a test. But Aguero missed a hatful – a worrying trend – and the passing in the final third was abnormally sloppy. We looked more of a threat when Sterling came on, but we never really looked like Sterling – I wanted Sanchez in the Summer and I would like him even more now please City.
It’s really difficult to single players out for praise when it’s such a team effort. Players who would’ve previously been seen as selfish as passing more, thinking more and the team spirit is infectious and exciting. I heap praise on Otamendi this month – rightly so – and my love for Ederson is ever-growing. For me, he’s the key signing this summer. He’s made a monumental difference to the team: his distribution is ridiculous and he instills positivity and confidence from the back. I keep praising Sterling too; his scored 18 goals in 95 apperances during his spell at Liverpool and he’s scored 17 for us in all competitions so far this season. Of course, he credits Pep with the praise for his remarkable progression – as do all the players involved.
Pep’s attitude and mentality runs through the players’ veins and they all credit that with the remarkable form of City this season. They’ve won games that a Pellegrini side for example would’ve definitely lost. It’s all down to the Pep effect – and to think people were worried about whether he could do it in the Premier League. He’s now reported bought an apartment in the city centre – hopefully it’s a sign of his commitment to City beyond his current contract. A girl can dream!
IF YOU CAN’T BEAT US, HACK US DOWN
I’ve just mentioned instances in recent games of opposition players subjecting our players to horror tackles. Referee Craig Pawson failed to send off both Kane and Alli for potentially career-ending tackles on Sterling and De Bruyne during the Spurs game. Similarly, Andre Marriner failed to even book Jacob Murphy for a despicable studs-up challenge on Gundogan (even if he couldn’t see it properly, the linesman had no excuse as it was right in front of him). During the Palace game, Jon Moss didn’t show a red card to Puncheon for his high, rugby-esque tackle on De Bruyne.
It’s become a worrying trend of late, where opposition players seem to think it’s okay to hack our players down to try to stop us playing. Even more worryingly perhaps, is Gary Neville’s recent quotes encouraging this kind of behaviour. Neville has become increasingly bitter towards City of late, with snide comments aplenty during coverage of our games. How is it okay that an ex-professional even thinks about coming out with such garbage?!
I don’t particularly enjoy finger pointing at referees – but when the quality of officiating is this poor and inconsistent – questions need to be asked. But where do we go from here, because this is now a proven problem. Up until the Palace game, our players/victims had thankfully emerged unscathed, but it was sickening to see De Bruyne hacked down so maliciously and stretchered off in agony. It had been coming unfortunately; and will continue unless the FA clamp down on it. I don’t expect special treatment in any way and it’s not asking for much – just a fair, level playing field where such tackles are greeted with the punishment they rightly deserve.
BLUE MOON PODCAST
Since I’ve had my two little boys, my career has well and truly taken a back seat. I was delighted to start writing for King of the Kippax again - I couldn’t believe Dave and Sue would want me back – it’s nothing but an absolute privilege.
I’ve always been close friends with Ian Cheeseman; since I was about 15 years old, looking to start a career in Sport Journalism, Ian has always been there for me offering opportunities, like the BBC Manchester radio show, Blue Tuesday. So not only could I not believe it when he phoned to invite me on his XS Manchester radio show Forever Blue, I was gobsmacked when he phoned to ask if I would like to be one of his panel members on a podcast he was launching with City Watch.
I’d followed City Watch on Twitter for years – they have over 115,000 followers and are seen as the number one unofficial source for all things City. So it was a pleasure and a privilege to be invited to be involved in such an exciting media project. We record the podcast at the XS Manchester studios in Spinningfields once a week: Ian is the host and I feature alongside two of the guys from the City Watch team. I rotate in with one of Ian’s other friends and it’s a fantastic experience to be involved in.
For the first show, we just sucked it to see if people would listen to us all rambling about City. But the figures have been brilliant – and by show three we had made it into the iTunes top 10 for sports and recreation podcasts – above established Sky and BBC podcasts. We were all amazed – and it’s justified recognition to the collective effort that we all put into it. Stuart, City Watch’s owner and founder, is over the moon with how it’s going. For me, it’s just nice to be able to talk about City for an hour a week and have people actually listen. It’s a lovely hobby to have and the lads involved are all so talented and knowledgeable. If you fancy listening, head to mcfcwatch.com, @City_Watch on Twitter, @mcfcwatch on Instagram and the City Watch page on Facebook.
I hope you enjoy listening to it as much as we enjoy making it.
OTAMENDI IS SUPERMAN
It’s a testament to Pep as just how many players have improved under his leadership. But one of the most remarkable turnarounds has come from our Argentine centre back, Nicholas Otamendi.
I’m happy to admit that, the past couple of seasons, Otamendi and his sliding tackles have put the fear of God in me. He could be hot-headed, rash and inconsistent. But this season he is establishing himself as one of the best defenders not only in the Premier League, but in Europe.
His passing stats have been incredible: during the Newcastle game, Otamendi completed 122 passes – seven more than the entire Newcastle team including substitutes. He’s matured: his passing out from the back has become crucial to the transition from defence to attack. He’s also managed to get on the score-sheet a few times himself.
The change hasn’t gone unnoticed, with Pep likening the 29 year old to Superman. For me, it’s a fit John Stones and Otamendi in the heart of defence as our best pairing now moving forward. I do think we could do with another central defender during the January transfer window. Kompany (as much as it breaks my heart), is more liability than reliable, Tosin is too inexperienced to use consistently in the Premier League just yet and Mangala is, well, Mangala. We could do with a player who is happy to play his part, accept being a part of the squad rotation but who’s skilled enough to be able to play it out from the back and fit in with Pep’s system. We’ve been linked with Origi Martinez and, of course, Jonny Evans. I would love Bonucci, but I can’t see that happening anytime soon. An interesting month of rumours is ahead!
PARK THE BUS, PARK THE BUS
Well, what a month it’s been in Trafford. It seems like Jose is well on his way to cracking up: the post Derby Day dressing room feud, being knocked out of the Carabao Cup by Bristol City and poor results across the board have left United a laughing stock and let City fans have a lot of fun on social media mocking them.
Jose even moaned about the amount of money City have spent on full backs. We bought Aguero, David Silva and Jesus for what it cost them to buy Pogba back. Maybe he should try the money at his disposal a bit more wisely? We also bought Fabian Delph for £8million and Pep turned the fringe midfielder into a superb left-back – so, although I know he’s pointing the finger towards Mendy and Walker specifically, maybe he should educate himself on the craftsmanship and coaching skills of Pep instead of being bitter and resentful.
The ‘park the bus’ song and mind the gap comments from City fans are nothing but a bit of fun. We couldn’t be cocky or arrogant if we tried. In the 1990s, we had to endure that banner, along with a tidal wave of jibes and comments from their lot constantly. We did live in the shadow of their success: we got promoted from Division Two the same season they won the treble and they even mocked us celebrating that! At the time, celebrating anything City-wise was few and far between, so we took the positives where we could find them.
But there would always be United fans to knock us back down again. We should savour this moment and give it out both barrels: after all, we cannot forgive nor forget their behaviour. I’m not saying we are stooping to their level and it’s certainly not arrogant. It’s just poking fun while we are watching the best football of our lives. It’s harmless, and in most instances I just get ‘20 times’ (yawn) thrown back at me. I never thought I’d live to see the day where we are in this position – try wiping the smile off my face!
Christmas has now been and gone and what an exciting it was with my little boys. Vincent is three so it was his first Christmas knowing about Father Christmas, Rudolph and putting out the carrot and mince pie before bed time on Christmas Eve. Noel Sergio is only one, so he was oblivious, even when he crawled into a front room laden with presents on the big day. But it was so magical and, although exhausting as any parent will be able to relate, oh so worth it to see the look on V’s face on the morning opening his presents.
We spent most of the time celebrating with family of course. All our family are Blues, so Boxing Day we took great delight in watching the United-Burnley game with more than a few drinks. It did feel very weird not watching City on Boxing Day, it’s such a tradition, it’s all gone so daft now and it’s so unfair on the travelling fans. Adam and I then enjoyed a night away in the Lakes – precious time to relax amongst all the madness and mayhem!
So it’s now 2018, a World Cup year, and the only real plans we have involve City and a week away with the boys in Cornwall. We have gig tickets for Noel, Liam (why won’t they just get back together and have done with it – saves me spending money paying to watch them separately all the time!) and The Killers.
But with a Carabao Cup semi final on the horizon against Bristol City, that final weekend in February could potentially involve a trip to the capital. Factor in the return of the Champions League and City being in the form of their lives - something tells me this year is set to be an absolute corker.
All the best to you and yours fellow Blues.
What a time it is to be a City fan – oh what I’d give to have just one day back in the classroom at high school right now! #bothbarrels