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Disappointing for Man City…but it isn’t over until the fat lady sings

mark-hughesFootball FanCast columnist David Mooney is disappointed with City’s form, but at the same time doesn’t feel that Mark Hughes should be under any such pressure as a result.

I have been known in the past to email the editor of this very website, to ask for ideas on what I can write. And, just after Manchester City had beaten Arsenal, I sent an email and he suggested to me ‘the changing attitude towards Mark Hughes’.

Initially, I was reluctant to write it, since I hadn’t really noticed a change in attitude towards him. What I had noticed was a lot of City fans weren’t chastising him for decisions or teams selections while the team was winning.

But now, after seven draws in seven games, the comments have returned. He’s spent £200m on a team that can’t win a game! He’s making daft substations and will only ever change like for like! He’s proved in 18 months that he’s not a clue how to manage a team of City’s calibre! He’s had the full support of the fans and the board and not produced the goods!

Risking the wrath of many of my fellow blues, I’d like to say one word in response: Crap.

The problem is, people, en masse, are idiots. That a national poster campaign to get people to vote for some talentless noise-polluter on the X Factor generates more votes from young people than it does when applied to political parties in a general election is just one example. Christ, a vote in a general election is important… Making sure something called a Jedward gets into the next round of a reality TV show isn’t, but try explaining that to the youth of Britain.

Let’s just say I’m thankful that the decision to sack Premier League managers isn’t done on the same system; Hughes would have gone long ago, without having had a fair crack of the whip. Just my opinion, but I’d like to explain why.

Many City fans wanted him gone this time last year. And to be honest with you, I was beginning to have my doubts, but I didn’t quite reach the Hughes Out! movement because of one deciding factor. The players that were then underperforming weren’t players that he had brought in; he was stuck with the deadwood from the previous regime.

And the second half of the season picked up; the performances got better, the UEFA Cup run nearly saw us beat Hamburg and that was still with some players Hughes didn’t want. Some questioned his tactics and substitutions, but, more often than not, he was trying to put square pegs in round holes… And, when the players that were neither bought nor wanted by him were neither playing well nor for him, in the eyes of some that was his fault. He can’t motivate the players! No, he couldn’t… How do you motivate someone who doesn’t want to be motivated; someone who doesn’t care about the result? They were duly dispatched in the summer.

One summer spending spree later, and City were in the process of playing excellent football – beating Blackburn, Wolves, Portsmouth and Arsenal, before almost securing a draw at Old Trafford in what was their worst performance up to that point. Scoring three at Old Trafford in your worst performance isn’t exactly a bad day at the office and it should have been enough to secure a point, but for a faulty stopwatch.

Since then, a run of seven draws has masked some good results.

Draws at Villa Park and Anfield were excellent. Wigan was a good point, since Zabaleta got himself sent off and Chelsea, who have destroyed the league so far this season, lost there. But those three good results were overshadowed by poor results against Fulham, Burnley and Hull at home – all draws from winning positions.

It’s disappointing, but it’s not a reason to sack a manager. Teams dip in form – Aston Villa picked up 11 points from their final 13 games of last season and weren’t playing anything like good football, but that wasn’t an excuse to sack Martin O’Neill – and if City’s dip in form is drawing seven on the trot then it’s a pretty good bad run of form to have. It could have been worse.

True it could have been better, but it could have been a lot worse.

The main argument against his management of City is that he’s had one of the best squads in the Premier League and done nothing with them in 18 months. But that comment, in itself, is slightly misleading. In his first season, City’s squad wasn’t exactly one of the best… The take-over came too late in September to truly affect how the team could be built before January and there can be no doubt that, after January, there was a notable improvement in results and performances.

In fact, you could argue that City have only been playing with Hughes’s team in the Premier League for 13 games, since the end of last season still contained a lot of deadwood. And of those 13, in my opinion eight have been good results [Blackburn, Wolves, Portsmouth, Arsenal, West Ham, Aston Villa, Wigan, Liverpool], one has been a good performance with a (very) unlucky result [Manchester United] and four have been bad results and poor performances [Fulham, Birmingham, Burnley, Hull]. Taking that into consideration, I think it would be quite unfair to sack the manager for drawing three home games from winning positions… It’s not like his team haven’t scored at home in months, which happened to City in very recent history and is still fresh in many City fans’ memories.

When you look at tactics, you can see that Hughes has made some errors in his time at City. But, then again, which manager doesn’t underestimate their opposition from time to time or make a substitution that negatively affects the game for his team? His biggest mistake appears to have been not tightening up the defence in the final few minutes when leading, notably against Fulham, Burnley and Hull (I would have said Liverpool too, but they equalised so quickly even The Doctor with his time manipulation abilities and his flying telephone box wouldn’t have been able to get a sub on in time there) with a defensive midfielder.

But hell, there were enough chances in those games before the equaliser for City to have been out of sight; it should never have come down to that. That we are defending badly in certain situations is a cause for concern, but it’s been getting better since the horror show of Old Trafford, where four defensive errors led to four goals; there have been errors, but they’re getting fewer and fewer… That’s not to say that it doesn’t still need work, but it does mean that some work is clearly being done.

And even in those seven games, City lost three of the corresponding fixtures [Aston Villa, Wigan, Fulham]. Two were against promoted teams, but we didn’t especially excel against promoted teams last season on the road, getting a point at Hull and nothing from West Brom or Stoke. So you could argue a draw with Birmingham isn’t regression from last season, despite an awful performance at St. Andrews.

Incidentally, this article doesn’t mean to say I’m happy having broken a club record for consecutive draws, far from it. I’m as disappointed with the current form as anybody. It just means that I don’t buy that sacking Mark Hughes would improve the team and their performances; after all, the team has lost once this season. The team is sitting in sixth place in the league – and if we finish there, it will be our best ever Premier League finish. That would be a bad season?

I know it’s something of a cliché, but Rome wasn’t built in a day. The City of Atlantis was built in a day, however, and look what happened to that; it sank and the architect was left was a lot of egg on his face. It may be slow and it might have been a bad run recently, but there is certainly improvement on last season for City. And on the season before that. And before that.

We’ve been successless for year on year and it doesn’t just take investment to change that. Problems can’t just be solved by throwing a bundle of cash at them. It takes time, a revamp of everything from the players on the pitch to facilities to the type of tea the tea lady brings around… And after all this time, I’m perfectly willing to wait a little bit longer, it’s not like we haven’t got it; football isn’t going to end in three seasons’ time and, if what I’m hearing about the new owners of City is correct, then they are very patient people, so they’re not likely to sack a manager on a whim of seven draws.

The manager needs time and that is what he should have. I firmly believe that, soon enough, this run of draws will end – rather unfortunately, probably in defeat to Chelsea this coming weekend, given how they have been tearing up everything they play against this season. Nevertheless, this team can get back to winning ways and hopefully it will be sooner rather than later; there needs to be some work done on defending and defending leads, but our season’s certainly not staring down the barrel of a loaded gun, with a man with an itchy trigger finger on the other end… We’re sixth, a point behind fifth with a game in hand on them.

And there’s a hell of a lot more football to play before the fat lady sings.

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Article title: Disappointing for Man City…but it isn’t over until the fat lady sings

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