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Manchester City 5 Watford 1 (23/04/2022) 24/04/2022

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
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1- 

“Hello? 

Is there anybody in there?

Just nod if you can hear me

Is there anyone home?”

Comfortably Numb, Pink Floyd

Actually that’s not true.  Not numb, not yet.  Might be easier if we were.  But then again… do you want to not care?  Isn’t caring the whole point?  That’s not supposed to be a pious “loyal supporters” thing… no criticism intended of anyone who took what might be perceived as the more rational decision not to spunk a day and a load of money on this all but inevitable drubbing.  

But it does still hurt. Daughter 2 and I are here in part because stuff and things preclude the final two away trips of the season, including the traditional walk from Blackfriars to Stamford Bridge.  Plus, Daughter 2 had still to cross off this stadium, where a gubbing is surely a rite of passage for any Watford supporter.  That stat, the one about this 15 match competitive losing run against City being an English record, comes with the subtext that more than half of those games saw City score at least 4 goals.

Quite obviously this isn’t a fair fight.  It was ever thus, there have always been good teams and not good teams and you kinda expect the good to drub the not good.  That we’ve performed less well against City, to a record-breaking degree no less, than our contemporaries probably still constitutes failure but it’s hard to weigh that up – the run is due in part to our own inadequacies, to luck, to never having quite capitalised on catching them on a bad day, to the psychological scars from the drubbings that autocorrelate the sequence to a degree.  Foster, Kabs, Clevs, Sarr were in the squad that lost 8-0 here, don’t tell me that there were no ghosts floating around from that one, professionals or not.

But the sequence is also due to us, you know, having played City 15 times under their current incarnation. Tranmere Rovers, to pick a not entirely arbitrary example, haven’t played City at all in over 20 years.  We’ll get to that…

city

2- Anyway.  Here we are.  In contrast to older grounds the City of Manchester Stadium sprawls, spider like, over an enormous footprint – the concourses are huge, the Chicken Balti pie of a higher quality.  Daughter 2 approves of the latter but disapproves of the general “vibe” – “The Waitrose of the Premier League”, she announces sniffily, following up a discussion on the way up where she shamed me out of “paying a load of money for bits of meat wrapped in cheese” from said establishment.

We’re in the bottom tier of three, which will be well populated… it’s a Safe Standing thing, so as at Anfield there are lean bars which is tremendous.  Leaning backwards, it seems, is agreeable in the context of a heavy defeat – we might get the chance to lean forwards one day.

I’ve brought my coat this time, so naturally the sun breaks through and it’s short sleeves weather.  Daughter 2 is at the end of the row, sanguine about her proximity to the army of gurning Liam Gallagher barbie dolls in the adjoining paddock, resisting my offer to swap seats and sassily dissing their barrage of taunts under her breath.  On reflection, tiresome as the attention is, it does at least reflect an even-handedness to a degree.  Being taken seriously-ish.  “You’re just a shit Man United” is one of the lowest of a number of low blows from our right…  but rather this than the patronising, silent indifference of Old Trafford.

The barrage can start almost immediately of course.  Expectations are low, but you’d like a spell at 0-0 to cling to…  the edgy change in tone of the crowd would be a small achievement, even if it didn’t last long. Instead, scarcely has the deafening sound system piped down before City are ahead just four minutes in.  This City side is merciless of course, you don’t need to be off your game to be pulled apart but if you are off your game you’re pretty much screwed.  Here, City swing a ball from right to left where Zinchenko has wandered up to join the attack unattended.  He has time to line up a fierce low ball turned in by Jesus because Ismaïla Sarr hasn’t been paying attention.  Four minutes in.  Unforgivable.

3- It goes without saying that we need every ball to bounce for us, and it doesn’t.  Despite the comprehensively one-sided nature of the game and our low expectations, we do break out some neat and tidy football occasionally.  City are as flummoxed as anyone by the first such development as Cancelo dawdles on the ball on the halfway line and Louza capitalises to release Dennis through on goal.  

From a low angle at the far end all we see is the Nigerian dawdle on the ball and allow Zinchenko to catch him.  There is no suggestion of what is revealed by replays on social media – Dennis, a master of deceptive footwork whatever his other failings, turns away from Zinchenko as the challenge comes in, the full-back takes out the player but is nowhere near the ball.  If VAR looks at it it’s a free kick and a red card but… seemingly not.  Mystifyingly given the clarity of the incident on replay (and somewhat uncharacteristically), Dennis doesn’t even appeal.  Today is going to be hard enough without the bitterness of injustice too;  I could have done without that.  To console myself I choose to blame the otherwise inconspicuous Kevin Friend.  No, it doesn’t need to be fair.

Instead City go two up.  There’s a relentlessness about their aggressive pressing that feels irresistible… “hanging in there” isn’t a terribly inspiring objective but it takes absolute concentration,  This applies to Ben Foster too, who makes the first of a number of sharp saves to keep the score down but is helpless as de Bruyne’s brilliant cross from deep on City’s right is headed home by Jesus for two-nil on 25 minutes.  At this point everyone in the stadium is thinking back to the 8-0 and wondering.

4- Scant comfort to be taken from a 5-1 defeat but, as described, we’ve been here before with a better team and some semblance of confidence and still been stuffed.  So our goal, albeit it turns out to be a consolation, is a fine fine thing.  The more so because it comes from Hassane Kamara… he’ll blot his copybook a little in the second half but once again his performance here is full of character and a bullishness badly lacking elsewhere in the team.  And again, like an unexpected beam of sunshine through the clouds, it’s a beautiful thing… Kamara plays a fine ball to insert Dennis into a threatening position.  Dennis lays off to King, who is only doing the inconspicuous pivot thing but at least he’s doing that.  King returns to Dennis who dinks a beautiful pass into the path of the galloping Kamara, through on goal with a deft slight of hand.  He succeeds where our more conventional goalscorers have failed in recent weeks, keeping calm and hitting a firm low shot on target.  It’s not perfect, but it’s perfect enough… the first goal scored by a Watford defender this season and it deserves more than to be lost in a 5-1 defeat here.  The away end goes wild with astonishment.

Briefly, the mood changes.  The course of the afternoon no longer seems mapped out… this is a competitive encounter all of a sudden.  Only for six minutes as it turns out, but it’s a decent six minutes – we’ve taken some blows but thrown some punches ourselves, not rolled over, and one has landed.  If you’re looking for evidence of life, here it is right here. 

And then it’s gone again.  Concentration once more, the distraction of de Bruyne lying in a heap outside the box, intermittent appeals from City players to put the ball out and we’re switching off, or at least some of us are switching off.  Cleverley, inadequately gutsy throughout, is penned into the corner flag and gives possession away tamely.  The ball finds Rodri, whose greatest obstacle to drilling the ball ferociously out of the air for 3-1 is his prone team-mate.

5- Theoretically we’re still in touch, but any embers of hope are extinguished at the start of the second half.  Unhappily it’s Kamara, who as discussed does have a mistake in him and here it is. Hurried into ceding possession virtually from the kick-off his sloppy error allows Jesus to run in on Foster who is tempted into a challenge as the Brazilian goes around him.  Briefly we’re given a stay of execution by a review and I come as close as I’m going to to losing my shit with the gibbons to our right when they grumble about VAR.  I hate VAR too but, jesus, throw us a bone.  We’re reviewing your penalty appeal when you’re already 3-1 up at home.

A favourable outcome to that review might have prolonged our on-pitch aspirations a while longer but the penalty was confirmed, correctly, and dispatched by Jesus who would add his fourth and City’s fifth as our resistance began to crumble;  more horrible scorelines still felt possible with well over half an hour to go.  As City took their foot off the gas though we had a couple of chances ourselves – Dennis, still plugging away unlike our other crown jewel on the opposite flank (by now withdrawn), was released by Louza and shot tamely into Ederson, decision making and execution both weak albeit rendered irrelevant by an offside flag.  A Dennis free kick then found sub João Pedro complacently unattended at the far post in a busy box but he got it all wrong and headed wide, frustratingly if irrelevantly.

Off the pitch, if the mood wasn’t as boisterous and to-hell-with-it as I’d hoped there was a healthy, noisy defiance and the gallows humour was moderated, interspersed with more conventional, positive support.  Well done all.  On the pitch, the last crumb of solace was to be found in our token resilience and resistance as City, and sub Mahrez in particular, attempted to turn the gas back up and crown the scoreline with a sixth.  They didn’t get it.  A small victory.

I could have done without a gormless pocket of Tranmere Rovers fans at Norton Canes services taking active, noisy and repetitive pleasure in our plight, a rare stain on an otherwise enjoyable enough drive home.  Odd on a number of levels;  pointing out how long it’s been since Tranmere were in the second tier would have been accurate but rather smacking of the same sort of arrogance that aggravates us when we’re treated as merely extras in a show about the big six (oh, and they’re always sacking their manager, hur hur).  Odd, too, that we should have been greeted as such on a day when promotion-chasing Rovers had lost at relegation-threatened Stevenage.  In any case, I guess supporting your local club, however worthy, doesn’t preclude you from being a knobhead.

Daughter 2 plugged herself happily into her phone, and I discovered, at high volume, that “The Wall” pretty much covers the journey from Norton Canes to home.  Not numb yet, comfortably or otherwise.  But amongst the consolations in relegation will be no more games quite like this one.

Yoooorns.

*Foster 3*, Ngakia 2, Kamara 3, Kabasele 2, Samir 3, Louza 3, Sissoko 2, Cleverley 2, Sarr 1, Dennis 3, King 2
Subs: Cathcart (for Samir, 68) 3, João Pedro (for Sarr, 69) 2, Kayembe (for Louza, 75) 2, Sema, Gosling, Troost-Ekong, N’Koulou, Masina, Bachmann

Comments»

1. Tadcaster Hornet - 24/04/2022

Thanks Matt for this, week after week. It’s appreciated by all of us. Our last game of the season and not the disaster feared. Plus Flora and I were lucky enough to have the higher-tier disabled (padded) seats and a very fine view. Small victories, plus the I was there when we scored at City’ thing…

Matt Rowson - 24/04/2022

😊

2. paullbaxter - 24/04/2022

I was on the opposite side of the lower tier next to the City fans. When Pedro missed the header, a teenage lad gave a load of abuse at him which really wound up the guy behind me and he quite rightly told him, ‘Come on you’re battering us 5-1 and you do that. We’re little old Watford not Liverpool.’ The steward in front of me nodded and agreed and the teenager looked a little sheepish. Apart from the goal, that was probably the high point of the day.

Thanks for the great reporting this season as per usual, Matt, and let’s hope for better times next season.

Matt Rowson - 24/04/2022

Cheers Paul

3. Mike Smith - 24/04/2022

Thanks again Matt for a well measured report. Alas the one thing you didn’t mention was that the main reason City always do well against us is MONEY!
An hour or so after the Cup Final I was on the tube with my wife in an empty carriage save for 3 older City fans. After a polite conversation I realised they hadn’t got a clue about the reason for the disparity!

Matt Rowson - 24/04/2022

That’s a given Mike. My question was not why do we always lose, more why do we lose more consistently than clubs our size.

jtbodbo - 24/04/2022

I also met some Citeh fans after the Cup final. They were fed up with always winning – removed the element of surprise. I ended up feeling sorry for them – almost.

4. Jeff Lloyd - 24/04/2022

Thanks as ever, Matt. That was my son and mine’s second away game of the season. We went for nothing more than to visit the Etihad for the first time and have a day out. No more expectation than that. We said before the game we’d be happy with a goal to celebrate which was duly delivered and I felt that we did moderately OK. Sarr was rated correctly in your assessment and the feeling this second half of the season is that we’d get far more out of JP10 starting, who did more in 20 mins than Sarr in 70. A new coach (and JP10 remaining of course) will hopefully stick him up front and we’ll have some fun.
I’m not sure I’d give King or Dennis much stick for yesterday. Both did what they could on less than scraps.
Other than the goal ‘How sh*t must you be it’s only 0-0’ was a highlight after 30 seconds play.

Matt Rowson - 24/04/2022

Cheers Jeff

5. iamthesunking - 24/04/2022

If it’s any consolation, we’ve all had to do this fixture and we’ve all been drubbed. 😢

Matt Rowson - 24/04/2022

Thanks. It’s no consolation.

iamthesunking - 24/04/2022

Awww. Sorry. 😢

6. Walthamstow Horn - 24/04/2022

Anfield and the Etihad, you’re a glutton for punishment. Apart from the London defeats (all only by 1 goal), my away trips have been Carrow Road, Goodison and St Marys. Would have been Villa Park too if Covid hadn’t intervened. Got to know how to pick them!

7. Harefield Hornet - 24/04/2022

Good report Matt. Looking forward to the carping Palace fans in a couple of weeks as we visit the Arthur Waite for hopefully the last time ! (not!) – Keep the faith!

8. Alan Ahern - 25/04/2022

“Come on now,
I hear you’re feeling down.”

Damn right – can’t wait for this awful season to finish!
Top to bottom rebuild required.

9. Edmund - 25/04/2022

Thanks Matt, your reports are always great, and sentences like “supporting your local club, however worthy, doesn’t preclude you from being a knobhead” are pure poetry!

Matt Rowson - 25/04/2022

🙂 Cheers Edmund

10. Peter - 25/04/2022

To console myself, I always choose to blame Kevin Friend. Two things I will not miss when we leave the Premier League are him and City away. Stats for our record against City are much publicised but our record under not-my-Friend in the Pozzo era is W1, D6, L9, goals for 14, against 37. That’s considerably worse than our premier league return this season!


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