Well then, that’s gone and made it interesting. After all, it wouldn’t be City if there wasn’t some foot shooting involved when things were looking good. In fact, City don’t just shoot themselves in the foot; before they do, they tend to bayonet it a few times first, ram a grenade up their backside and search out a landmine to stand on seconds after they’ve pulled the trigger.
I often look back over the foot shooting with fondness. Like the time we needed Kevin Horlock and Paul Dickov to rescue a situation that should never have needed rescuing at the rear end of 1999. Or when a penalty conversion in the last minute of the last game of 2004/05 would ensure European football the following season, only for it to be missed. Or when Ireland scored after 20-odd seconds at Hamburg last season, only for City to return to Eastlands with a 1-3 deficit.
City are often referred to as the rollercoaster club because of this tendency to have unbelievable highs followed by desperate lows. But, of course, if City were a rollercoaster, they’d have been shut down by health and safety long ago after numerous complaints of whiplash. I don’t recall many complaints of whiplash from the City of Manchester Stadium, though I have seen many a fan turn a strange purple colour because of the various horror shows on the pitch down the years.
As for me, I should probably shut up about who I think is going to finish where because, whenever I say what I think, the opposite tends to happen, usually starting a few hours after my opinion has been published. So, I’m going to try some reverse psychology to try and catch fate’s ass unawares: Manchester City will not win the Premier League next season.
That’ll show me when we do. Mooney 1, Pre-Determinism Theory 0.
City didn’t play too well against Everton. It wasn’t the worst performance of the season – congratulations to Tottenham away, that’s going to take some beating in this category for the end of season awards – and, in all fairness, City should probably have won the game. In fact, before the end of the season, City will play worse than that and win… And deserve to win.
Enough chances were created, but Howard wasn’t tested enough, and two sloppy, against-the-run-of-play goals were conceded – and, City fans, whether you think the referee was right to award the free kick for the first goal or not, it still had to be scored and, if you think it wasn’t a free kick, you still have to blame an unmarked Baines and a Cahill free header before Peter Walton’s decision. The referee’s decisions were inconsistent and occasionally a bit strange, but that wasn’t the reason for the defeat.
And because of those two goals, City went from two points behind fourth place with a game in hand to two points behind fourth place with no games in hand. And, judging by the general (over)reaction, you’d think the club was on the verge of being wound up or something.
Don’t get me wrong, it was a missed opportunity. But I’d be greatly surprised if one of Aston Villa, Liverpool, or the current fourth placers Tottenham finished the season without dropping another point. And if they did, you’d have to say they probably deserved to finish in the Champions League spots.
It’s not as if City have to cross their fingers and wait for those teams to slip up, either – the fact that there are games with Aston Villa and Tottenham coming up, at home, means that City’s fate is still in their own hands. Two victories in those two games and, providing there’s no other silly results, City could be in the Champions League next season.
It won’t be easy. Not because it never is; we’re talking about City, of course it never is – that’s as predictable as the plot of a Schwarzenegger film. But because the defeat to Everton has done two things – knock City’s confidence, because it’s the season-long unbeaten home record gone, and boost Tottenham’s, because they are now in the driving seat.
City have never been this close to the top of the top division in England at this stage of the season since I was born. It’s a new experience for a lot of our fans, so I can understand where the impatience comes from: we really want to finish fourth because that would be the biggest achievement for the club in our young lifetimes. But, all things considered, does it truly, honestly, matter if it happens this season or next season?
No, it doesn’t. It would be nice – very, very nice, if we can clinch it this season – but, not the end of the world if we missed out. I’d be surprised if there was no European football at all next season, looking at the current table. There’s been a marked improvement on this City team from that of last season, and the season before. Just imagine what next season’s team will be like if there’s another vast improvement during the summer.
There’s still a big difference between this City team and the best teams in the country – consistency being the key factor. City have followed up their two victories against Chelsea this season with a 3-3 draw against Bolton and a 1-1 draw against Sunderland. With the greatest respect, would Arsenal or Manchester United have drawn those two games having just beaten Chelsea?
That said, I still think City will finish fourth. Despite the consistency of City’s inconsistency, with the exception of Everton, City have often been unplayable at home. And even when they have been playable, they’ve usually got something from the game. That five of City’s last eight games are at Eastlands could be the narrow divide between fourth, fifth or sixth.
It’s now down to City to knuckle down and pull their socks up. This is potentially the most exciting end to a season I’ve ever seen – we’re in late March and I’m not content that we’ll be playing Premier League football next season after just having reached the 40 point mark. It’s great – it’s new and unusual territory.
The foundations are in place for a successful future. It just needs patience, time and discipline. City are far from being the finished package and look where they are: talking as if not finishing fourth would be a disastrous season. This is a club that has never finished above eighth in the Premier League.
I really can’t wait to see the final product.
Written by David Mooney