An opportunity Man City cannot afford to pass up

Being a Manchester City fan is never easy. Indeed, it’s quite a difficult thing to do… Smile while you watch your team do something that, had you seen it on a fictional television series about a football club, you’d have said, “that’d never happen!” I’m not talking your average throwing away of a two goal lead, or having a man sent off when cruising to victory. No, they’re the sorts of things that City can do in their sleep. I’m talking the really ridiculous stuff. The top of the class, A-game stuff.

So, leaving Eastlands after a convincing 3-0 victory in a cup competition where we knew City wouldn’t be facing their bogey team in the next round had they gotten through was quite an unnerving experience. Knowing that Everton, a team that City traditionally struggle to beat, had been knocked out the night before, and that the only remaining lower league team left in the draw would be City’s opponent should they have beaten Villa, it felt wrong for City not to have turned in a rubbish performance, had a man sent off and given away a penalty in a game where they threw away a two goal lead.

But no, it was a perfectly sensible evening. They turned up, did the job in a professional manner, got themselves into the next round and went home. I’m starting to like this new City, even if it’s slightly scary. As City fans, it’s starting to feel like we’re changing jobs to get a fresh start – we’re excited that we’re finally getting away from the creepy guy from accounts, but we’re excited and a little bit nervous about what the future will hold and what strange characters we’ll encounter.

And trust me, I cleaned that metaphor up a lot.

Or so we thought, anyway. That was until yesterday, when we found out that Kolo Touré had tested positive for a “specified substance” (a substance that is more likely to have been ingested accidentally via a meal or medicine than a substance that was ingested intentionally, but a banned substance nevertheless). It was all looking so easy, though we’ll have to wait and see what happens with this one.

Needless to say, though, City are still the story. Never a dull week, eh?

In fact, the easiness stretched back to Wednesday evening. Partly because of Gerard Houllier’s team selection, but mainly because it was a good team performance from the home side. I felt for the visiting fans when they saw their team selection. Houllier defended it by saying that “Nathan Delfouneso will go to the Under-21 Championships in the summer. Emile Heskey went to the World Cup and Gabriel Agbonlahor was in the squad for Denmark last month but couldn’t go for personal reasons.” But Delfouneso and Agbonlahor clearly aren’t up there with the internationals who have masses of experience and Heskey’s inclusion in England’s World Cup squad is somewhat devalued when you consider how poorly the nation played in South Africa.

That’s not to take anything away from City’s performance, though. City still needed to play well to win the game, especially after feeling a bit fragile taking just five points from the last five league games. Having David Silva back in the team was the biggest plus, while seeing Mario Balotelli act as peacemaker between Richard Dunne and Yaya Touré was like having slipped into some bizarre parallel universe. Krusty the Clown in the crowd didn’t particularly help that sensation, either.

And kudos to the Villa fans who were making their own fun in the away end. I’ve been there with City in the past and it’s not a pleasant experience, so seeing them keep the ball and playing head tennis was a specific favourite of mine.

Aside from that, though, there’s not really much to be said about the game. City did what they had to do and, with that victory over Aston Villa, it looks like this will be City’s best shot of silverware since… well, last season actually. But last season’s Carling Cup run was a bit of a one-off in City’s recent history. In fact, to match this current FA Cup run, you have to go back to when Stuart Pearce was in charge and City were knocked out at the sixth round stage by Blackburn.

Though, back then, that draw with Blackburn was a tough one. City’s team wasn’t as strong as it is now and Blackburn had a habit of upsetting the blue apple cart. Contrasting that with the current season, and the draw has been pretty kind in more than one way. First, the more obvious, is that we play Reading: it will be a tough game, but it’s a home draw and against the only side from outside the Premier League. Second because it’s thrown Manchester United and Arsenal together, so one of them will definitely go out.

It’s just a shame they both can’t go out… I’m not sure my nerves could take a Manchester derby at Wembley and I don’t fancy Arsenal, either. In years to come, nobody will remember who the winners of this competition had to play to get to the final, so give me the easiest route possible, says I.

All that considered, City will be bloody fools to underestimate Reading now. And that goes for the fans as well; we’ve been guilty of underestimating Premier League teams coming to Eastlands and we’ve dropped points when we shouldn’t have. With a shot of a Wembley semi-final (whether the semi-finals should be held there is another matter) and a good chance to win the more respected cup competition in this country (and I’m still not convinced why the League Cup is shunned like an illegitimate lovechild, but it is), it would be far too typical City to think “it’s only Reading.”

Ok, so they’re not Premier League and City will be going into the game as favourites. But they did knock out Everton at Goodison Park. It’s not exactly like City have a great record there (or even at home against the Toffees), is it? If both the fans and the players turn up to the quarter final tie believing that they’ve already won, then there’s a good chance of an upset. So it’s important that they don’t.

Plus, I need City to get all the way to the final because I’m on holiday during the weekend when the semis are played, so I’ll miss out on that trip to the new Wembley. And I know I always say “there’s always next season” or “I’ve waited twenty three years, I can wait another”, but sod it, this is a fantastic opportunity.

So they’d bloody well better not underestimate Reading.

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