April  2015 - Reports
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Manchester City 3  Aston Villa 2       Villa frighten the blues
Saturday 25th April 2015 : Dave Moore for GYKO at the Etihad

David Cameron, if you are still a Villain, that is, after your frankly ludicrous dalliance with the Irons, your boys took a hell of a beating.

Actually they didn’t. That was just a topical reference. Aston Villa were quite good for much of this game and a little unlucky not to take something from it, though, in common with the Prime Minister, they suffered a brainfade that people are going to be tittering about for years. Villa might be going to Wembley, but fans singing that happy tune had the smiles wiped off their faces when Sergio Agüero stepped up to put City in front with virtually his first touch of the ball.

Tim Sherwood’s side are not yet in the sort of league position to give away comedy goals less than three minutes in, yet that is exactly what happened here. Agüero will probably never score an easier goal, or a more unexpected one, after being handed the opportunity on a plate by a miskick by Brad Guzan. The Villa goalkeeper fielded a back pass from Ron Vlaar on one side of his area and was attempting to feed it out to Jores Okore on the other, already a risky strategy as he had no real need to be playing a ball across the face of goal. His miskick simply invited Agüero to find an empty net from near the penalty spot, which he duly did as the Villa defenders involved stared at each other open-mouthed.

“Brad will get over it, but it’s hard enough coming here without offering gimmes,” Sherwood said. “It was a poor start, but we performed well afterwards; if we play like that in our remaining games we’ll be OK. We were a bit unlucky right at the end when Christian Benteke was wrongly flagged for offside – that should have been a penalty and a sending off – but wherever we play, we go into games expecting to win now.”

A bad start could easily have got worse for the visitors had Jesús Navas been able to demonstrate speed of thought as well as foot when he was played in behind the Villa cover minutes later. The Spaniard was bearing down on goal before Villa were fully awake to the danger, but as happens quite often he was unable to be decisive about whether to pass or shoot, and Kieran Richardson came back to block him while he was still making up his mind.

Guzan, jeered every time he had to deal with the ball on the floor, was also showing signs of nervousness in his decision-making, coming out to claim an Aleksandar Kolarov free-kick and missing it by a mile to let Fernando get in a header.

Villa somehow managed to reach the interval without further mishap, even creating a couple of chances of their own around the half-hour mark.

Joe Hart saved with his legs when Benteke shot from what looked like an offside position, and when Richardson sent over a cross from the left, Tom Cleverley reached it first, but could not keep his attempt low enough. Jack Grealish showed up well as Villa came back into the game, at one point putting in a change of direction so swift that it left Martin Demichelis on his backside, but mostly demanding the ball in the centre of the pitch then transferring it neatly and efficiently to players in space on the flanks.

By the time the break arrived, Villa had recovered from their inauspicious opening to the extent of looking the side most likely to score next. They were not exactly peppering Hart’s goal, but they were doing more than the home side, who were inviting the sort of ennui with which the Etihad has become familiar this season by stroking the ball around midfield without any urgency or threat of penetration. It was dull, unimaginative stuff, and Sherwood probably spent the interval telling his players that City were there for the taking.

That impression would have been reinforced when Yaya Touré failed to come out for the second half, though, in truth, his contribution before a hamstring injury had been minimal. With the game in the balance, Fabian Delph stroked a volley narrowly wide at one end, while Leandro Bacuna got away with tugging over Agüero in the penalty area at the other. Frank Lampard made way for James Milner after an hour, just in time for him to play a part in City’s second goal. Presented with a free-kick when Carlos Sanchez fouled Fernandinho, 20 yards out, Milner dummied to shoot to one side of the goal then left Kolarov to find the other with a left-foot shot around the edge of the wall. Whether Guzan was fooled by the routine is debatable, but he left fractionally too much space to his right and was late to get down to a low and accurate short.
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That ought to have made the game safe, but the contest was thrown wide open again two minutes later, when Cleverley beat Hart with a thumping drive from the edge of the area as City scrambled to clear a free-kick.

Hart had come out to claim the ball and was left in no-man’s land when Fernandinho headed it out instead, straight to Cleverley, who returned it emphatically.

City withdrew Agüero for Wilfried Bony and promptly saw Villa draw level. An mix-up at a corner, five minutes from the end, resulted in Hart colliding with several of his own defenders as he attempted to punch clear, succeeding only in finding Carlos Sanchez, who came up with a volley right on target.

A draw would have been fair after what had become an enjoyable and evenly contested game, but after Benteke was, possibly wrongly, pulled up for offside before Hart brought him down, City were stirred sufficiently to go upfield and claim a late winner. Villa left Fernandinho unmarked at a corner, and though his first touch was inconclusive, the substitute turned his second into an acrobatic shot that left Guzan with no chance.

“We didn’t play well, but we showed our spirit,” Manuel Pellegrini said. “It is not easy to hit back when you only have a couple of minutes after an equaliser, but we did it.”

Manchester City:
Hart, Zabaleta, Demichelis, Mangala, Kolarov, Fernando, Lampard (Milner 57), Navas, Yaya Toure (Fernandinho 46), Silva, Aguero (Bony 83)   Unused subs:Caballero, Sagna, Boyata, Dzeko     Bookings: Silva

Aston Villa:
Guzan, Bacuna (Lowton 87), Richardson, Vlaar, Okore, Cleverley, Delph, Grealish, Westwood (N'Zogbia 68), Sanchez, Benteke
Unused subs:Given, Weimann, Cole, Senderos, Cissokho     Bookings:Sanchez, Westwood

Referee: Mike Dean        Att:45,036

Manchester City 2 West Ham United 0     City do just enough
Sunday 26th April 2015 : Dylan Hough for GYKO at the Etihad

This was the easy and controlled performance that has been missing in action recently for Manchester City. True, West Ham United were the perfect patsies due to a quality deficit but, notwithstanding, the champions ended the game having convinced in all departments.

Eliaquim Mangala’s commanding display allowed his season-long struggles to be forgotten. Yaya Touré ran the show from midfield and was pivotal in City’s second goal. And the under-pressure Manuel Pellegrini could enjoy an afternoon when calm was restored and the awful run of six defeats from the last eight outings was arrested. Even when the Hammers rallied towards the close this merely allowed Joe Hart to illustrate again how he has raised his game as the goalkeeper repelled any threat.

“It was important to win because we came here from two defeats,” Pellegrini said. “We must continue working together and it is very important to finish as near to the top of the table as possible.”

City’s opener featured the sort of luck any team suffering a harrowing slump will gratefully embrace. Jesús Navas took possession near halfway and raced forward along the right. When he glanced up Sergio Agüero had peeled into space in the far corner of West Ham’s area. Navas pinged over a cross towards the striker but the winger’s radar was awry. The ball was at a height where James Collins felt he had to put a boot through it but in doing so the central defender could only lob Adrián and see the ball ricochet in off the frame.

It was fortuitous but deserved on the balance of play. West Ham were offering only rare moments of menace in an error-strewn display that showed why they arrived here having won only once in the last 11 matches. “You can’t make the mistakes we made and expect to get anything out of the game,” said Sam Allardyce, the West Ham manager.

The Collins own-goal came in the 18th minute. By the 36th Agüero had City’s second and his 20th in the league this season. The maligned (in some quarters) Touré was crucial. Without the Ivorian sticking out a leg to make a sliding interception inside his half, West Ham would have kept possession. Instead Agüero was able to race forward and swap passes with Navas before he pulled the trigger to beat Adrián and ensure the score line reflected how City had coasted through the opening half.

Pellegrini had a point beforehand when he suggested City played well in the opening minutes of last Sunday’s 4-2 derby defeat at Manchester United before the team tailed off. The manager was also honest enough to state: “We’ve been doing some things badly.” The chief fault might be a lack of sharpness, a vital edge missing from City’s in-game imagination and execution.

The opposite was the case on Sunday. When Fernando, playing alongside Touré in central midfield, raced back to catch Cheikhou Kouyaté and snap cleanly into a tackle that killed the threat, he showed what is needed.

City should have gone further ahead in the second half. Aleksandar Kolarov had a fierce shot blocked by Carl Jenkinson and the latter did the same when Agüero bore down on Adrián at close range after 49 minutes. There was also a long range shot from David Silva that flew over the bar, and a chance for Agüero from a Navas delivery that came to nothing, the Argentinian allowing the ball to slip under his boot.

As the hour passed and City continued to stroll in the Manchester sun, the sense that they were toying with Allardyce’s men continued. Silva saw a shot cannon off the West Ham defence and a few moments later, when Jenkinson found himself in City’s half, it felt like a collector’s item.

After 66 minutes Allardyce had seen enough. Yet to replace Carlton Cole, the lone striker, with Kevin Nolan hardly seemed the answer to West Ham’s ills. The manager also brought on Matt Jarvis for Alex Song, though as the latter had been among Hammer’s better players this may have been injury driven.

A minute or so later and there was no doubt Silva was in discomfort after Kouyaté’s flailing arm downed the playmaker, who required several minutes of treatment. The replays suggested it was unfortunate and innocuous, though Silva was taken off on a stretcher and replaced by Samir Nasri.

It was the only sour note of a match that by its finish had brought some desperately needed succour to City and their manager before Saturday’s visit of Aston Villa.

Barclays Premier League

Anthony Taylor
Manchester City:

Hart, Zabaleta, Demichelis, Mangala, Kolarov, Fernando, Navas, Yaya Toure, Lampard Fernandinho 88), Silva (Nasri 75), Aguero (Dzeko 90+1)

Unused subs:
Caballero, Sagna, Boyata, Pozo

Silva, Navas
West Ham United:

Adrian, Reid, Collins, Jenkinson, Cresswell, Song (Jarvis 66), Downing, Noble, Kouyate, Cole (Nolan 66) , Valencia

Unused subs:
Jääskeläinen, O'Brien, Burke, Amalfitano, Nene


Man Utd 4 Manchester City 2    Disaster at OT
Sunday 15th April 2015 : Colin Crabtree for GYKO at OT

These are the moments when it seems as if English football is getting the old Manchester United back. They have taken their time and there are still imperfections but finally they are operating with the dynamism, the exhilaration and sense of adventure that is supposed to be mandatory for any set of players who pull on their colours.

They played in a way that had Louis van Gaal announcing it was time for supporters to “go on the streets and hold their heads up” and they won with so much to spare it was difficult not to think Manuel Pellegrini’s position at Manchester City might have strayed dangerously close to irretrievable. This was City’s sixth defeat in eight matches and their manager increasingly sounds lost about what has gone wrong.

Nobody said it would be easy getting to the top of a sport and staying there but it is coming up for seven years since the money started pouring in from Abu Dhabi and City’s owners are entitled to expect better than four wins in 15 games.

The potential ramifications for Pellegrini are obvious but the real story here was of the re-emergence of one of the great forces. United were ruthless once they had shaken off the jolt of Sergio Agüero’s early goal. The plodding football we saw earlier in the season has been replaced by the old, thrilling excitement and the volume was turned high. Old Trafford, for the first time in a long time, seemed like a contented place.

Ángel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao, the two players who were supposed to spearhead Van Gaal’s first season in charge, did not even set foot on the pitch until it was 4-1. Yet Van Gaal always did say the team’s structure was more important to him than selecting players based purely on their reputations and, slowly but surely, the evidence is being seen.

Who could have thought, for example, that one of the forgotten men, Ashley Young, would hold this kind of influence when the superstars started arriving? Or that the coach who once led a brilliant, slick Ajax side to the European Cup would ever laud Marouane Fellaini’s ability to “play the ball to the same colour [shirt] every time”? Young and Fellaini have taken turns as the two players United’s crowd disliked the most. Yet Fellaini is now being acclaimed in a way that was once implausible while Young is playing with enough distinction that the watching England manager, Roy Hodgson, must be considering a recall.

Young started United’s recovery with their equaliser and his confidence could be measured in the moment when he subjected Pablo Zabaleta to a back-heeled nutmeg, shortly before setting up Fellaini to score the second.

Elsewhere Juan Mata was wonderful again, particularly when it came to those triangular passing moves with Ander Herrera and Antonio Valencia. All of these players have suffered at times during some of the more difficult periods at Old Trafford, post-Ferguson. All have been coaxed out of it.

More than that, this victory was also a demonstration of competitive courage bearing in mind the way the game started. City set off like a team in a hurry and Jesús Navas really ought to have scored even before James Milner and David Silva took advantage of slack marking to set up Agüero for the opening goal.

The problem for City was that the final whistle was still 82 minutes away. Zabaleta was at fault for United’s first two goals. Later it was Martín Demichelis’s turn when Mata made it 3-1 and Chris Smalling headed in the fourth. Silva was a frequent menace and at least Agüero is scoring again, adding a second late on for his first goals since 24 February.

Yet City have inexplicably dropped away from that point on New Year’s Day when they were joint-top with Chelsea. Vincent Kompany did not last beyond half-time because of recurring injury problems and it was another occasion when it seemed as though Yaya Touré’s heart was not in it.

The game started turning away from City after 14 minutes when David de Gea aimed a long clearance to the left, where Fellaini and Herrera had doubled up on Zabaleta. City were vulnerable as soon as Zabaleta lost his balance and, though Gaël Clichy was first to Herrera’s cross, the ball spun off his body and fell for Young to hook an improvised shot into the exposed net.

City, and Silva in particular, continued to move the ball at a speed that troubled their opponents but they had a raw edge. After 27 minutes Young slipped the ball through Zabaleta’s legs, then took it back from Daley Blind. Fellaini had made his way to the far post and had several inches on the nearest defender, Clichy, to head United into the lead.

City had legitimate complaints that Fellaini was fractionally offside, even if it was by little more than a few tufts of hair, and similar grievances about Mata’s starting position when Wayne Rooney played him in midway through the second half. Yet Pellegrini was more concerned about his team’s defending. Demichelis lost the ball to Fellaini in the build-up to Mata’s goal, leaving himself badly out of position as the Spaniard ran clear to clip his shot past Joe Hart.

Six minutes later Demichelis did not follow Smalling’s run and the defender headed in Young’s free-kick to beat Hart again. United were rampant and Agüero’s late goal, from Zabaleta’s cutback, came almost in slow motion, with barely a flicker of celebration.

Manchester United:
De Gea, Valencia, Smalling, Jones (Rojo 75), Blind, Carrick, Fellaini (Falcao 83), Herrera, Mata (Di Maria 81), Young, Rooney     Unused subs:Valdes, Rafael, McNair, Januzaj
Manchester City:Hart, Zabaleta, Kompany (Mangala 46), Demichelis, Clichy, Fernandinho, Milner (Nasri 63), Yaya Toure, Navas (Lampard 74), Silva, Aguero       Unused subs:Caballero, Kolarov, Dzeko, Fernando        Bookings:Milner, Silva, Kompany

Referee:Mark Clatenburg          Att: 75,313

Crystal Palace 2 Manchester City 1     Lack of fight at the Palace
Monday 6th April 2015 : james Coe at Selhurst Park forGYKO

 City’s Premier League title defence suffered another damaging blow with defeat at in-form Crystal Palace.

Hopes of an Easter revival were dashed at Selhurst Park where goals from Glenn Murray and Jason Puncheon sank the champions, with Yaya Toure’s stunning late drive merely a consolation.

With City now nine points behind leaders Chelsea having played a game more a comeback in the title race would take a near-miraculous turn around.

Immediate focus must now turn to Sunday’s derby opponents United, who sit a point and a place above City in the table in third.

Manuel Pellegrini’s men had started the evening well in the capital, dominating the early possession and striking the woodwork through Sergio Aguero’s rasping shot.

David Silva was prompting and probing through the middle in characteristic style - the little Spaniard forced Eagles keeper Julian Speroni into two sharp saves - while Jesus Navas injected tempo with his raiding runs down the right.

It seemed only a matter of when not if City would take the lead. Then, seemingly from nowhere, Palace went ahead after 34 minutes.

Murray prodded in from close range after Scott Dann’s deflected shot, although there was a suspicion of offside against both players.

Despite the setback the early pattern of play was quickly re-established, with Martin Demichelis flashing one volley just over after Edin Dzeko's flick on.

City went in at half time behind and their arrears increased shortly after the restart.

Fernandinho felled Murray as he drove goalwards and from the resulting free-kick Puncheon curled the ball over City’s wall and beyond Joe Hart.

Now City had it all to do and the play became broken as Palace’s organised banks of defence dug in.

There was penalty woe for Pellegrini’s men when Murray appeared to handle the ball in the box with nothing given.

Yayas goal

Eventually City had hope.

Substitute Samir Nasri had a hand in the build up but the finish was all down to Toure, who lashed a curling left-footed effort in from distance with 77 minutes on the clock.

Only a brilliant one-handed save from Speroni denied Toure a second as time ticked away.

City couldn’t make the breakthrough and slipped to their third Premier League defeat in four games. The champions will need to show all their mettle now in the Old Trafford derby this weekend.

Crystal Palace:
Speroni, Ward, Dann, Delaney, Kelly, Zaha (Gayle, 88), Ledley, McArthur, Bolasie (Souare, 84), Puncheon, Murray (Sanogo, 83).    Unused subs:Hennessey, Hangeland, Boateng, Ameobi.   Bookings: Delaney, Puncheon

Manchester City:Hart, Sagna, Kompany (C), Demichelis, Clichy, Navas (Nasri, 75), Fernandinho (Milner, 88), Toure, Silva, Dzeko (Lampard, 65), Aguero       Unused subs:Caballero, Zabaleta, Mangala, Fernando      Bookings:Demichelis

Referee:Michael Oliver


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