The exchanges between Pete Sixsmith, up in the East Stand, and Monsieur Salut, watching and listening in his French bunker (thanks Nick Barnes for the kind mention), were not encouraging. At half time, Sixer bemoaned being both the better side and behind. Long before the final whistle, after the killer second goal, he’d given up the ghost and did not update a seven-word instant verdict sent as City fans celebrated Sane’s cool finish. Where do we go from here? Sixer and I both fear the word is ‘down’. Pete does at least offer a smidgeon of hope with his very last words …
Oh for the days of last minute goals by Ji Dong-won and Darren Bent and little scufflers from Phil Bardsley.
Oh for the days when Manchester City were our rabbits at the Stadium of Light and their supporters looked on a trip to Wearside with as much anticipation as the Queen does for the state visit of The Donald.
Oh for the days when our support genuinely believed that we were a club on the rise and that we could challenge for a place at the top end of the middle section of the Premier League.
Those days are long behind us. Now, the limit of our ambition is to finish between 15th and 17th, something which we have managed for the last few years due to some astute management, some sound tactics and (most importantly) the inadequacies of other clubs.
We now find ourselves as one of those inadequates. We have failed to score in the last three Premier League games, have shipped eight goals (three of them in those crucial minutes just before the break) and look like a team with a one-way ticket to Palookaville aka the English Football League.
We didn’t play badly at Everton and we didn’t play badly here. The problem was that we just didn’t play well enough to compete at a serious level with two of the better sides in the Premier League. There was energy and effort, a smattering of misfortune and a desire from the support and the players to pull off a much needed victory. Alas, nothing came of it.
Once Aguero had got in front of Kone to steer home the opening goal, we might just as well have asked Martin Atkinson to stop the game so we could all go home and have our ham and pease pudding Sunday tea.
When the impressive Leroy Sane skinned the willing but oh so limited Billy Jones for the second on the hour, that was it. The game was over and the support started to trickle out from the 70th minute onwards, anticipating their toasted crumpets and safe in the knowledge that the chances of a fightback were as remote as Nigel Farage and Douglas Cresswell sharing a cabin on a Round Britain cruise.
City, with David Silva giving a master class in how to pass a ball in order to prise open a defence, were streets ahead as befits their spending power and their (generally) positive recruitment process. Sane looked very good, Fernandinho was excellent and Aguero is the consummate finisher.
Against these superstars, we had players who, for 60 minutes, almost competed with them despite age (O’Shea), inexperience at this level (Ndong) and lack of games (Gibson). The gulf between the two was as wide as I have ever seen it and certainly wider than it was in August where we came within the width of Paddy McNair’s knee of taking a point from them.
City may well finish 2nd and could conceivably catch Chelsea. We will desperately hope for another 17th place finish but I cannot see three teams who are as insipid as us. Middlesbrough are and they too will be back in the EFL and Hull may well have had their little spurt. We have to travel to both in the last 12 games and their fans will see us as a very good source of three points that might put them in a position to challenge a seemingly resurgent Swansea, Crystal Palace and Leicester City.
Apathy has set in and there was little sign that this group of players can do anything to raise the spirits of the support.
There is no anger, no demanding the head of the manager a la some Boro fans or campaigns against the owners as at Hull. Just a resignation that if you go into a Premier League season with (and I mean absolutely no disrespect to these two) John O’Shea and Billy Jones as two of your back four, with a midfield that Steve Doyle would improve and only one player who ever looks like scoring, you deserve to be relegated.
David Moyes has had a difficult time since he left Everton. He has created some of those for himself at Sunderland. His comments after Middlesbrough won at the SoL were not wise and neither was the spending of the summer transfer budget on Djilobodji and Ndong. The former is not good enough, the latter may make a decent player but not in the Championship.
In the past I have convinced myself on alternate weeks that we are staying up/going down. Not this year. I think our time is up and, in truth, we will not be missed by many. Ten years of struggle and the only marginal improvement was under Steve Bruce. That says everything.
Although if we can beat Burnley and the other results go our way …