Firstly – a health warning. For the first time in my life, I am writing something fuelled by Veuve Clicquot – plenty has been hammered out with my brain under the jackboot of an appalling hangover – that may come tomorrow if I write some sort of considered piece about how Manchester City have now overtaken Manchester United are going to dominate the EPL for eons to come – and the whole of the internet will yawn. So while I hope it’s not boring, it’s – shall we say – written from a particular vantage point.
I have watched Mario Balotelli interviewed on Sky News wearing a City shirt, a Premier League Medal, an Italian flag and a Sky Blue Jester’s hat – and decided the following:
Cityitis wasn’t laid to rest today – the whole world, not just a bunch of benighted Mancunians saw that – but the great canard of Fergie Time was.
Fergie Time was always the lamest excuse of your average City fan. It had possible justification once, but that was in 1993, in a match against Sheffield Wednesday, which, important as it was at the time, ought to have been gotten over by now.
Since then, Sir Alex Ferguson, a man who flits from profound personal morality to the laughable opposite thereof within a split second, has driven his teams on to win games from the first kick to the last, and truth be told, some of his detractors have seen this as, well, a little ungentlemanly.
This reached a nadir for City fans in September 2009 when Michael Owen scored in the last legitimate minute of injury time to win a thrilling Manchester Derby 4-3.
The Blue complaints were long and hard – and frankly excruciating. The referee had calculated correctly, United had not settled for a draw and won fair and square. City said it wasn’t fair – about as convincingly as my kids.
But this year, it’s been different. Time and again City have had the fitness, the bravado, the force of personality to score late, sometimes deserved, other times undeserved, goals. Villareal, Chelsea Spurs and Sunderland at home (what a crucial point that was) all spring immediately to mind. Against Villareal and Sunderland we were rubbish. Against Spurs, a penalty was won and scored by a player who should not have been on the pitch. If Chelsea win the European Cup, Balotelli’s nerveless, ruthless despatch will surely be very significant for Spurs. City lost some friends that day, but frankly Tottenham thoroughly deserve it for Ricky Villa and all that. The 4-3 cup win with 10 men from 3-nil down was frankly insignificant payback for the torment of that day.
There were late goals against us too – we conceded away at Sunderland because we were trying to score - but the balance sheet was positive – as it always has been for Ferguson teams that have conceded their fair share of late goals, but scored so many more.
Time and again City have had the fitness, the bravado, the force of personality to score late, sometimes deserved, other times undeserved, goals.
And that’s before the two greatest examples of this in the season now completed.
Unbelievably only reaching number 2 (let’s call it the “Common People” Derby) is the 6-1 game, where 3 goals in 237 seconds shifted the goal difference equation in our favour – thereby restricting Manchester United’s options at Sunderland. In the end, this was more significant than any “message” that was sent.
But that extraordinary days pales into comparison with QPR. City had saved their worst home performance of the season for last, QPR defended mightily and nothing was happening.
But when Edin Dzeko , a scorer of goals of underappreciated importance for the Blues –just how significant does his winner at Wigan in January look now – finally broke through, the whole stadium switched on. Everyone knew City would get one more chance. Just like at Old Trafford, the question was not whether it would arrive, but would it be accepted. It fell to the player we all wanted it to, Aguero – almost comically supplied by a very clever piece of play by Balotelli – the world stood still, he repaid his transfer fee in one swing of his boot and the foundations of the Etihad could consider themselves to be thoroughly rocked.
It doesn’t change the fact that City were terribly poor by their standards – but who cares now. A bit like that night in Barcelona when every Manchester United fan who can read books with no pictures in them agrees that the best team lost – but also points out the staggering irrelevance of this irrefutable fact.
The achievement of this season -and one that should put fear into every Red’s heart is that while Cityitis will probably be with us forever, City have reclaimed the legitimate tactic of using all the time made available by the referee to win the game. Mancini Time here we come.
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