Saturday, 27 December 2008

19: Manchester City 5 - 1 Hull City - 26/12/2008

"Welcome to the Premier League!" say all. Yada yada yada. We're halfway through the season and still seventh, y'know. Two consecutive batterings is not a pleasant experience, of course, but we were always aware that at some point, they would come.

Phil Brown took a mixture of brickbats and plaudits, not to mention a chunk of the media attention which should have been snaffled by the victorious home side, by holding some of his half-time team talk - team lecture, to be more exact - on the pitch in front of the dejected Hull City supporters. It was his way of making them appreciate the pride those in the seats held in the shirt, something which the annoyed City boss felt, for once, his charges hadn't shown at all on the field of play.

Brown, however, was at pains post-match to say that staff had erred too. Presumably this was his way of saying he cocked up the team selection, as there was no doubt he did. Dean Windass played when he has patently proved he is too old, slow, petulant and set in his ways to be relied upon as a Premier League performer. The left back problem remained so in the first half, as Paul McShane was asked to fill in for the banned Sam Ricketts and the injured Andy Dawson. He couldn't. Nathan Doyle was still not to be risked, as if risking a natural young defender of comfort on either flank was greater than putting a very right-sided player on the left against an England winger smelling blood. McShane's redeployment meant Bernard Mendy was again in a wasteful and perilous right back role, stifling his creativity and exacerbating his headlessness. And the almighty only knows why Nick Barmby wasn't playing.

Anyway, despite 4,000 eyebrows raising, a good away record and a knowledge that we were facing players and a manager under pressure meant that the match kicked off in good cheer. Mendy briefly lost his bearings in front of Boaz Myhill and gave the ball away, but two quick pases toward Robinho did not end the way the home side expected, with the Brazilian firing way over.

Marlon King ran on to a Geovanni through ball which Windass had feigned interest in, but Joe Hart did a good job in palming the ball aside. The game seemed to level itself out, but then Manchester City took a look at their visitors' dodgy defensive shape and cut right through it. Robinho was allowed to progress, with City's defence backing off and backing off, before clipping a glorious ball beyond McShane for Stephen Ireland to reach. His low ball did for everyone in black and amber and Felipe Caicedo will rarely have to score a goal so effortlessly.

Knife through butter. The home side were intelligent enough to realise that they were going to be able to do this again and again, and with City choosing to make no alterations instantly, did just that. It was carnage for the rest of the half.

Myhill swiped one Robinho curler over after Mendy had been outstripped, before Ireland galloped away from McShane again and delivered another impeccable centre for Caicedo to photocopy his first effort. It's 2-0, it's a cakewalk. Still there's no sign of McShane or Mendy being put out of their miseries or Doyle being given his chance. He cant do any worse, and there are plenty who know he will do a hell of a lot better.

George Boateng lost the ball rom the restart and the home side accepted the gift. It is the right time of year for such generosity too, but you can go too far. Ireland does the work again, heading bylinewards with barely a bye or leave, and Robinho this time gobbles up the close range tap-in.

At last, Doyle is summoned. Boateng goes, Mendy shifts forward into the midfield position where he can cause much damage to the opposition and far less to his own side. Doyle, mysteriously, goes straight to the right, with McShane staying put. McShane is dying a slow death in this position, but only when a fourth goal comes after Shaun Wright-Phillips beats the offside trap and delivers another pressie to Robinho does it look like, finlly, the formation change will come. Sadly, it's come on the half-time whistle, 4-0 down and with an on-pitch dressing-down to boot. Not a good afternoon's work so far.

Second half. Windass is absent, withdrawn for being a disgrace in spurning the chance he has spent the season bleating about, and a hearty welcome is offered to Craig Fagan, fit again after busting his leg in the win at Newcastle back in September. Doyle and McShane, mercifully, complete their swap of sides.

The home side now, frankly, aren't bothered. It's water treading for them, with the game won and another to ponder and save legs for within 48 hours. They're doing enough to keep their opponents at bay, though Fagan and Mendy are causing flank trouble and Daniel Cousin, when brought on for the luckless Geovanni, also makes an impact, as if he had seen his passageway back to a starting place unlocked by Windass' ineptitude.

But it wasn't eventful. City created next to nothing, the home side chose to maintain possession and the margin of yawning one-sidedness. Geovanni tested Hart with an awkward free kick prior to his departure and Michael Turner headed a Dean Marney corner over the bar. Elano hits the post with a deflected free kick at the other end after Ian Ashbee had committed the foul.

Then suddenly, an opening. Mendy sets Cousin free on the left with a delicious pass and the Gabonese striker puts an awkward one across goal which Nedum Onuoha can't do anything with other than get stuck. Fagan stabs the loose ball in.

We've scored in every away game, a record it's at least nice to continue in the face of such adversity. But even this mild consolation is soiled when from the restart, Robinho and Elano combine with ludicrous ease to give Ireland, who was fantastic throughout, a deserved goal courtesy of a left-footed lash into Myhill's roof.

Despite Mendy's late efforts to complete a stunning comeback on his own - cross after cross came in which nobody could reach or predict - the game was clearly a carcass now and everybody just wanted to go home. The selections were wrong, and Brown clearly can't afford to try to make cats bark again when putting players into their roles. One hopes that by the time Aston Villa pitch up at the KC for 2008's last game, he has realised that McShane belongs at right back, Mendy in midfield, Windass on the transfer list and Doyle somewhere away from the half-time teapot.

Meanwhile, let's just forget about this one, please.

Manchester City: Hart, Zabaleta, Dunne, Richards (Onuoha 46), Ball, Wright-Phillips, Ireland (Fernandes 85), Kompany, Elano, Robinho, Caicedo (Jo 46). Subs not used: Schmeichel, Vassell, Garrido, Sturridge.

Hull City: Myhill, Mendy, Zayatte, Turner, McShane, Boateng (Doyle 34), Geovanni (Cousin 70), Ashbee, Marney, Windass (Fagan 46), King. Subs not used: Duke, Barmby, Hughes, Halmosi.