For the first time this season Manchester City had to dig for victory and show they had the resolve to go with the fantasty football. They passed the Loftus Road test. Just.
This was always going to be a severe test of Manchester City’s title mettle. Not to determine how good they are – that’s now been proven – but how much they want it.
A cramped ground, a QPR side that harry and hustle for every second ball not letting the opposition settle for an instant, and a manager in Neil Warnock who was guaranteed to rouse his troops pre-match like Patton on steroids.
In the event not only did City pass the test they did so whilst being below-par throughout which was another examination altogether. Both certificates should be hung with pride on Mancini’s office wall this Monday morning. The doubts and doubters meanwhile are diminishing with every passing week.
I have long thought of Loftus Road as resembling a Subbuteo ground and therefore think very fondly of it. It’s a cracking place that crackles with atmosphere. In the week of Halloween perhaps its best described as a cauldron. In fact QPR itself is a club that’s always been very close to my heart ever since I witnessed Currie and co unluckily lose out to Spurs in the ’82 Cup Final. I distinctly remember being a very young boy, gutted at the defeat, and asking for a hoops top that Christmas. Unfortunately due to it being May – and being a typically fickle seven year old – I’d forgotten all about my request once December arrived and instead was transfixed by an At-At Walker the size of a small dog. Who knows where that shirt might have led me if I had persisted? I could have ended up supporting a team who never won anything, spent time languishing in the third-tier, and endured all kinds of financial woes before being bought out by super-rich benefactors. In the event I supported Manchester City.
The similarities between both clubs is unavoidable and if the Ecclestone, Briatore and Mittal consortium had flexed their money muscles Saturday evening could well have resembled a Harlem Globetrotters training session for all the talent on show. As it is the West-London outfit now finally have a majority shareholder they can believe in and though their squad remains well-stocked with perceived honest journeymen their future is there for all to see in the midfield. Fortunately for City Shaun Derry was missing but there was still the quality of Faulin to contend with not to mention of course a certain Joseph Barton.
The second period was a belter; the kind of high-tempo edge-of-your-seat fare that chilly November evenings are made for.
Ah Joey, where do I begin with my love and hate for you? The sweet but not so tender hooligan got Rangers ahead on the half-hour mark with a perfectly flighted set-piece. Let’s ignore the fact that it wasn’t a free-kick to begin with – if tripping over your own feet is an offence then surely Titus Bramble is the most fouled player in Premier League’s short history – and concentrate on the delivery. Barton is as reliable a crosser as Beckham in his prime and receives all too little credit for it.
It was the first occasion this season – Champion’s League aside – that City had fallen behind and without their colossus and leader Kompany the back-line looked increasingly shaky against the sustained gung-ho nature of QPR’s possession. Whenever City had the ball a resounding chorus of catcalls and whistling from the terraces seemed to be equally as contemptuous of City’s usual patient passing play as the blood-and-thunder challenges on the pitch. I feared the worst.
Up front Dzeko was having one of his half-carthorse half-thoroughbred days and following a succession of heavy touches and poor movement duly scored his twelfth of the campaign so far. The burly Bosnian shares the same strange mix of erratic technique and devastating prolificacy of the Goat and because of that will surely become a cast-iron City legend. He’s halfway there already.
The second period was a belter; the kind of high-tempo edge-of-your-seat fare that chilly November evenings are made for. While Super Mario looked from the bench to the fireworks exploding behind the opposing stand, wondering why the idiots were letting them off outdoors, his colleagues finally began to impose their superior class. First came Silva’s sumptuous touch and hit followed later by yet another goal where, amidst the celebrations, you found yourself wondering just how many passes had led to it.
This is now the third best start to any top flight campaign – trailing only to Spurs in 1960 and Liverpool in 1978 – and for weeks now the naysayers have been moving the goalposts as regards to City being the real deal. ‘Wait until you’ve faced someone decent’. ‘Ahh but wait until you’re up against it’.
It seems that no matter where those goalposts are Edin and the boys will continue to find them.
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