March 2007
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Manchester City 0 Wigan Athletic 1       City in freefall
Saturday March 3rd 2007 : Get Your Kits Out at the COMSTAD

Bargain-buy Caleb Folan condemned struggling Manchester City to a fourth consecutive Premiership defeat and put Wigan tantalisingly close to survival. The £500,000 transfer-window arrival from Chesterfield nodded home Latics' first-half winner to continue a revival which seems certain to preserve their top-flight status.
With Charlton drawing their relegation clash at Watford, Wigan are now eight points above the drop zone, having leapt above City, who have slumped to fourth bottom and whose league season is in freefall.

Stuart Pearce's men may have two games in hand of all their relegation rivals, but they have the entire top four still to play. And, though an FA Cup quarter-final with Blackburn awaits next weekend, it is probably going to be the failings of others that keeps afloat a club who, more than most, can ill afford a financially catastrophic drop into the Championship, having posted a £7.1million six-month loss earlier this week.

Getting booed off is sadly becoming a regular occurrence for Pearce and his team.
On their showing over the opening half-hour, the negative reaction which accompanied the half-time whistle was totally justified. Quite frankly, the Blues were abysmal. Devoid of shape, they lacked ideas and inspiration and totally failed to find any method of combating Folan and Emile Heskey, who scored twice in the Latics' four-goal hammering of City earlier in the campaign and recovered from a groin injury to terrorise them once more.

Like Leroy Lita, who scored for Reading on this ground a month ago, Folan is another striker Pearce has run the rule over without actually buying. The former Leeds trainee proved what he could do with a goals scoring appearance for Chesterfield in the League One side's Carling Cup triumph over City earlier this season.

Where Pearce hesitated, Paul Jewell did not and already the relatively meagre sum paid for the 24-year-old is looking a wise investment. His pace alone makes Folan a difficult player to subdue and the home defence had their hands full keeping him quiet long before he nodded Wigan in front.

When Richard Dunne sent Leighton Baines' long free-kick looping into the air, someone surely should have picked Folan up. Instead, he was allowed the freedom of the six-yard box to nod over Nicky Weaver. That Wigan did not wrap up victory during that dominant start was partly due to their own bad finishing, but also the failure of referee Howard Webb to spot Michael Ball clattering Antonio Valencia just inside, rather than outside, the City area. Still, Webb was blameless when Lee McCulloch miserably failed to convert Folan's astute cut-back, instead bouncing a 10-yard shot into the ground, then over the bar.

City's fortunes changed markedly after Hatem Trabelsi had been replaced by Sun Jihai. The China international may have expressed his dislike of life in England earlier this week but he remains a favourite of the City support and his energy alone brought a greater sense of urgency to home ranks.

Three Joey Barton corners in succession threatened danger before the interval. Emmerson Boyce turned one marginally wide of his own goal but was then on hand to boot off the line when Micah Richards nodded the second past Latics keeper John Filan, who snuffed out the danger on the third with a timely intervention.

Having left new arrival Emile Mpenza on the bench, another ineffective display from Georgios Samaras persuaded Pearce to introduce the Belgium international at the break. Mpenza almost enjoyed the perfect start to his City career too as he came within inches of turning home a DaMarcus Beasley cross which looped towards the far post off Denny Landzaat.

Beasley may appear a bit lightweight for the Premiership but his speed offer City a useful attacking weapon and, after Mpenza had won a penalty-box tussle with Boyce, the USA international was onto the loose ball in a flash, only for Filan to save with his legs. Try as they might, and in fairness they did, City could find no way through Wigan's stubborn defences and in the end were reduced to seeing Dunne trying to handle the ball in during an injury-time scramble.

Even that move failed and, as the final whistle blew, Pearce and his men were once again rightly forced to endure the taunts of their own supporters.

Get Your Kits Out View : The general feeling of the fans as they trooped away from the COMSTAD was that this performance was the worst they had ever seen. Me, I don't think it was that good!!! I am gutted, this surely is not my City....

Man City: Weaver, Richards, Dunne, Distin, Ball (Sturridge 86), Trabelsi (Jihai 33), Barton, Ireland, Beasley, Samaras (Mpenza 46), Corradi.
Subs Not Used: Isaksson, Hamann.

Booked: Ball, Trabelsi, Dunne.

Wigan: Filan, Taylor, Jackson, Boyce (Unsworth 77), Baines, Valencia (Aghahowa 75), Landzaat, Skoko, McCulloch, Heskey (Kilbane 55), Folan.
Subs Not Used: Nash, Cotterill.

Booked: Taylor, Baines.

Goals: Folan 18.

Att: 39,923

Referee: H Webb (S Yorkshire).

Blackburn Rovers 2 Manchester City 0      City drop the cup
Sunday 11th March 2007 : Stuart Leech for Get Your Kits Out at Ewood Park

Stuart Pearce and his players heard the Manchester City supporters turn on their team after they exited the FA Cup with a 2-0 quarter-final defeat by Blackburn at Ewood Park. Cries of 'you're not fit to wear the shirt' and much worse that cannot be printed here, were aimed at the players as they went to salute the fans at the end of the game. These are increasingly anxious times for City manager Pearce.

Blackburn clinched a place in the semi-finals thanks to goals from Aaron Mokoena - who was later sent off - and Matt Derbyshire. Derbyshire should have put Blackburn ahead in the 26th minute following a cross from David Bentley. The young striker peeled away from his marker only to send his header from a good position over the top. Blackburn, though, made the breakthrough two minutes later with Mokoena's first goal for the club after two years and two months at Ewood Park. The South African midfielder, who arrived in January 2005, clipped the ball home from close range, although it appeared to take a deflection.

City were guilty of poor defending with Stephen Warnock delivering the cross and McCarthy getting a vital touch before Mokoena supplied the finish. Blackburn manager Mark Hughes was then incensed by a challenge by Sylvain Distin on Bentley which took the England Under-21 winger into the advertising hoardings.

City hit back and Darius Vassell scampered away down the right but his cross was weak and the move broke down. This was a test of their mettle now after four successive defeats and Pearce looked animated on the edge of his technical area.

Hughes brought off Ryan Nelsen at the start of the second as he had been struggling with a hamstring problem and replaced him with Zurab Khizanishvili. Bentley released Derbyshire in the 50th minute and he squared the ball across the face of the goal but there was no-one there to take advantage.

A mistake by Distin almost cost City dear a minute later when he directed his clearance straight to Bentley. He immediately chipped the ball over goalkeeper Nicky Weaver's head but his instinctive effort came back off the bar. Blackburn kept up the pressure and Derbyshire got in a good header in the 54th minute but Distin made the block.

City launched a quick counter attack two minutes later and Corradi found himself clear after a neat exchange between Michael Ball and Stephen Ireland. However, the Italian striker failed to test Brad Friedel and steered his shot wide of the post. City were anxious to grab the equaliser and Barton delivered a free kick on to the head of Richard Dunne but Friedel was able to make a comfortable save in the 62nd minute.

Play switched back down the other end and Weaver did well to claw away an inswinging free kick from Bentley after Dunne had brought down McCarthy. The game took a dramatic twist in the 69th minute when Mokoena picked up his second yellow card for a challenge on Bernardo Corradi and was sent off.

Vassell took up a good position in the 78th minute but again the finish was poor as City supporters began to voice their displeasure.

Blackburn secured their passage into the semi-finals when Derbyshire scored from close range on the stroke of full time following a cross from substitute Sergio Peter. Hughes' side became the first team to reach the semi-finals and are again in sight of a place in Europe.

For City there is the prospect of difficult games to come against Chelsea and Middlesbrough this week.

Get Your Kits Out View : I hate to say it but unless Stuart Pearce does something drastically different with this bunch of misfits then City could be headed for a slump of the magnitude Leeds United currently find themselves going through. Loyalty will be thin on the ground if relegation rears it's ugly head again and we will simply become the team with the best half full stadium in the Championship. Chelsea on Wednesday looks a nightmare followed by a trip to 'Boro  and then another away day to Newcastle. I am deeply depressed. I'm sorry Stuart but you must dump all your foreigners and give the kids a crack, after all they are the only ones you can rely on to sweat blue blood for us, the sad gits who have to suffer this crap!!!

Blackburn Friedel, Emerton, Samba, Nelsen (Khizanishvili 46),Warnock, Bentley, Mokoena, Kerimoglu (Peter 80), Pedersen,McCarthy (Roberts 85), Derbyshire.

Subs Not Used: Enckelman, Gallagher.

Sent Off: Mokoena (69).

Booked: Nelsen, Mokoena, Pedersen, Bentley.

Goals: Mokoena 28, Derbyshire 90.

Man City Weaver, Richards, Dunne, Distin, Jihai (Beasley 57),Barton, Hamann (Samaras 76), Ireland, Ball,Corradi (Mpenza 81), Vassell.

Subs Not Used: Isaksson, Trabelsi.

Booked: Barton, Hamann, Dunne, Richards.

Att: 27,743

Ref: M Dean (Wirral).

Manchester City 0  Chelsea 1      Glimmer of Light?
Wednesday 14th March 2007: Get Your Kits Out at the COMSTAD

Manchester City's season is beginning to resemble a plunge through football's lift shaft. Chelsea are merciless opponents and a night of significance at either end of the table concluded with Manchester United's lead at the top of the Premiership table reduced to six points and, simultaneously, fresh doubts about whether Stuart Pearce's position as City manager has been terminally poisoned.
In fairness to Pearce, he was not subjected to anything like the sustained abuse that has been evident in other recent defeats. There was even the semblance of an argument that his side matched Jose Mourinho's for long periods of a tense and ragged match. Ultimately, though, the only statistics that matter are of a fifth successive defeat, with no goal at home since New Year's Day.

The common theory is that Pearce will be relieved of his duties if his team have a bad result at Middlesbrough on Saturday and, even if he survives that ordeal, it is probable he will be directed towards the guillotine at the end of the season.
City's directors are understandably twitchy about their perilous league position, just one place above the relegation zone, although it would be unjust to claim that Pearce has altogether lost his powers of motivation. There are legitimate questions about whether his players are good enough, but it is not a question of a lack of effort, or of running up a white flag. For long spells they were strong in the tackle, quick to the ball and industrious enough to create the feeling the players were personally affronted by all the negativity surrounding the club. In turn, the supporters who had subjected them to brutally voluble dissent in their FA Cup quarter-final defeat at Blackburn on Sunday responded with a more positive noise.

There was something eerily predictable, however, about the manner in which Chelsea exposed the imbalance of talent. For the opening exchanges the champions had been unable to find any pattern, frequently undone by misplaced passes and lacking any sense of fluidity as they sought to play on the counter-attack.

It was puzzling that a team of Chelsea's capabilities had not done more to test City's brittle confidence earlier in the game but an air of familiarity returned when Salomon Kalou picked up the ball on the left-hand side of the penalty after 27 minutes and tried to evade Micah Richards. Kalou's speed seemed to take Richards by surprise and his challenge was carelessly mistimed, with the Chelsea attacker quick to go down. It sums up City's season that when Frank Lampard swept in the resultant penalty for his 20th goal of the season the Chelsea captain had equalled the amount Pearce's team had managed in the league all season.

Many observers might have expected that would be the cue for Chelsea to take command but it was to the home side's credit that they responded with verve and vigour for the remainder of the opening half. Their lack of penetration in attack was highlighted by the frequency with which shots sailed hopelessly over Petr Cech's goal, but at least they were showing a desire for the battle.

Less endearing was their attempts to pressure the referee Alan Wiley into levelling up the number of penalties, first when Joey Barton threw himself to the floor as he competed with Claude Makelele and then when Richard Dunne went down after the merest of collisions with Cech.

Pearce had expelled Bernardo Corradi, the non-scoring Italian goalscorer who is fast becoming one of the scapegoats for their slide down the table. More puzzling was the omission of the goalkeeper Nicky Weaver, who was purportedly being "rested" and not even on the bench.

His replacement, Andreas Isaksson, generally had a far more comfortable evening than he may have anticipated and it was not until the 57th minute that Chelsea showed another glimpse of why they still have aspirations of catching Manchester United. This time Arjen Robben picked out Lampard, their best player, only for his delicate chip over Isaksson to be cleared by the backtracking Richards.

City were running out of ideas and Georgios Samaras was booed on to the pitch when he arrived as a 73rd-minute substitute. In contrast, the home supporters emphatically welcomed Shaun Wright-Phillips when he replaced Robben five minutes later. Within a minute, Wright-Phillips had lashed a 30-yard shot against the crossbar.

Soon after the first City fans decided they had seen enough and began to form a steady queue for the exit gates. The question is: will they ever see Pearce inside this stadium again?

Get Your Kits Out View : Many will have been pleased by this showing but it left me with a feeling of resentment. Why? Well a couple of seasons back we panned Uni£ed at home and a red mate of mine said City were a bunch of cheats. I wasn't surprised at his weak excuse but his explanation had a ring of truth about it. He said that if they put that much effort into every game City would be up there challenging for a top four spot and I couldn't disagree with him at the time. Now after watching tonight's game I have to say that the same amount of commitment would have seen off more than enough teams to leave us quite comfortable and well out of the desperate situation we find ourselves in. So unless this new found dedication continues into the Middlesbrough game this was just another defeat.

Man City: Isaksson, Richards, Dunne, Distin, Ball, Jihai (Miller 63), Ireland, Barton, Hamann (Dabo 80), Mpenza, Vassell (Samaras 72).
Subs Not Used: Hart, Dickov.

Booked: Hamann, Dunne, Richards.

Chelsea: Cech, Geremi, Carvalho, Terry, Ashley Cole, Robben (Wright-Phillips 77), Ballack, Lampard, Makelele (Diarra 90), Kalou, Drogba.
Subs Not Used: Cudicini, Shevchenko, Boulahrouz.

Booked: Drogba, Ballack.

Goals: Lampard 28 pen.

Att: 39,429

Ref: A Wiley (Staffordshire).

Middlesbrough 0  Manchester City 2    Glimmer turns to hope
Saturday 17th March 2007 : Damian Spellman for Get Your Kits Out at the Riverside

Beleaguered Manchester City boss Stuart Pearce was handed a lifeline as his players snatched a precious Barclays Premiership victory at Middlesbrough. The former England international, who headed for Teesside with his employment prospects far from encouraging, set off home with three points and the cheers of his club's travelling supporters ringing in his ears just days after facing a torrent of abuse at Blackburn.

Sylvain Distin's 61st-minute strike - only the club's second in seven league games - and Emile Mpenza's first for the club, 17 minutes from time, ended a run of five successive Premiership defeats and eased the pressure on chairman John Wardle to act. The only disappointment for Pearce was an injury which forced Micah Richards off before the break, causing concern too for England boss Steve McClaren.

Gareth Southgate's gamble in leaving Jonathan Woodgate and Mark Viduka out of his starting line-up ahead of Monday night's FA Cup quarter-final replay at Manchester United backfired spectacularly. A large proportion of the 26,427 spectators who were there for the start had long gone by the time the final whistle sounded, but those who were left made their feelings abundantly clear with an injury to Emanuel Pogatetz adding to their woes.

By the time Pearce headed for the dressing room at half-time, he could not have been unhappy with much of what he had seen in the opening 45 minutes, but would have been acutely aware of how costly missed chances could prove. In a half of few genuine opportunities, City enjoyed two of the best, midfielder Joey Barton dragging a fifth-minute shot wide of the far post and Mpenza missing with a header when the goal was at his mercy 24 minutes later. That they were not made to pay for their wastefulness was at least a consolation for Pearce and the travelling supporters, who got behind their side from the off as memories of last weekend's anger and disappointment at Blackburn were put to one side.

Indeed, as the teams left the pitch at the break, the boos came from the home fans and were directed at his players rather than Southgate. His decision to rest key men Woodgate and Viduka as Julio Arca missed out with a groin strain ahead of the trip to Old Trafford was perfectly understandable. That handed a first senior start to South Korea international Dong Gook Lee and a rare chance for Jason Euell.

However, Pogatetz's departure on a stretcher after just 10 minutes meant an early reshuffle, and although the Teessiders threatened briefly with Stewart Downing revelling in space down down the left, they struggled to trouble keeper Andreas Isaksson. Downing forced the keeper into a 24th-minute save and Abel Xavier headed wide from the resulting corner, but Boro were well below par. Southgate's response was to withdraw Lee at the break, although it was not Viduka who replaced him. Instead, substitute James Morrison was asked to play wide on the right as Lee Cattermole pushed inside and Euell was asked to support lone striker Ayegbeni Yakubu from a central position.

But it was City who started the second half the brighter, keeper Mark Schwarzer needing two attempts to collect substitute Georgios Samaras' header from a 49th-minute Darius Vassell cross. The visitors had taken control and Schwarzer was called up once again to keep out Barton's near-post strike five minutes later with his defence in some disarray.

Xavier handed City a chance to go for goal on 59 minutes after he upended midfielder Michael Johnson 30 yards out, although Viduka's emergence from the dug-out to warm up was greeted warmly by the home contingent in the stands at the Riverside Stadium. Skipper Richard Dunne drilled the free-kick into the defensive wall, but his side was ahead two minutes later. Boro failed to deal with Barton's corner and when Mpenza headed the ball back across goal, Distin had time to control before slamming a shot into the roof of the net.

Yakubu sent a 64th-minute header inches wide and Southgate immediately sent on Viduka in place of Euell in a bid to find a way back into the game.

However, the points had gone with 17 minutes remaining when the impressive Barton picked off Cattermole's loose pass and slid the ball in to Mpenza, whose instinctive finish sent the travelling fans into raptures. The Belgian was booked for over-celebrating, but Pearce could have been forgiven had he joined him after an intensely difficult week ended with a first win at Boro since 1977.

Get Your Kits Out View : The commitment seems to be returning but with a trip to Newcastle on the horizon I will judge them after that game rather than after this one. Middlesbrough clearly were handicapped by the upcoming replay at Old Tra££ord next week but, to be fair you can only beat what is put in front of you and at least that was accomplished with reasonable ease. So 6 more points or two wins minimum to retain mega money Premier footy at the COMSTAD.

Middlesbrough: Schwarzer, Parnaby, Xavier, Pogatetz (Davies 9), Taylor, Cattermole, Boateng, Euell (Viduka 64), Downing, Lee (Morrison 46), Yakubu.
Subs Not Used: Jones, Rochemback.

Booked: Cattermole.

Man City: Isaksson, Richards (Samaras 22), Dunne, Distin, Jihai, Barton, Hamann, Johnson, Ball, Vassell (Beasley 84), Mpenza.
Subs Not Used: Weaver, Dabo, Corradi.

Booked: Barton, Mpenza.

Goals: Distin 61, Mpenza 74.

Att: 26,427.

Ref: K Stroud (Hampshire).


Newcastle United 0  Manchester City 1    Hope turns to relief
Saturday 31st March 2007 : Kenneth Blackmore for GYKO at St James Park

Manchester City enjoyed life in the North East during March. Emile Mpenza, in particular, has thrived, scoring the crucial goal yesterday after finding the target when they won their previous match, away to Middlesbrough. Manager Stuart Pearce remains reluctant to say that his team are safe, but his success should guarantee at least another season in the Premiership for City, who benefited immensely from Newcastle's approach.

'I said a few weeks ago that any three from eight can go down and I still think the same,' he said. 'It's a good win for us, but the pressure is still there for me - it's always there as a manager. That's the beauty of the job because it means everything to get a victory.

'Perhaps a draw would have been fair, but we put in a lot of hard work to grind out a result.'
Pearce maintains that Newcastle are among the eight clubs under threat, a verdict that displeased their manager, Glenn Roeder, who said: 'Stuart needs to talk for himself only.'

However, it seems that the end of the season cannot come too soon for Newcastle, whose exit from the Uefa Cup last month effectively left them without a target, other than respectability. Yet Roeder had given his players ample incentive to perform better than they did here, emphasising before the match that only a few are certain to figure in his plans next season.

He insisted that the final weeks of the season will influence who stays and who goes. More will go than stay if he bases his decision on this evidence.

This is also the start of a crucial spell for a club where a sizeable number of fans are debating whether to renew season tickets that were once so difficult to obtain. There was little on view to prompt those supporters to reserve their place for the so-called 'best league in the world'. There are occasions when the phrase looks ludicrous and the first half comes into that category.

The swirling wind was a factor, but it cannot excuse the countless misplaced passes, lack of passion and paucity of chances, particularly in a dreadful opening period. City goalkeeper Andreas Isaksson was beaten in the seventeenth minute by Scott Parker, who was marginally offside, but the only genuine moment of enterprise before the interval came on the half-hour, when Mpenza turned outside the area and powered an angled shot against the bar.

A crowd that was depressed and subdued until finding the energy to boo Newcastle off the pitch at the interval brightened during a second half that was better, but only marginally so. Parker shot over the bar during early Newcastle pressure, but their impetus soon faded and the sombre atmosphere returned before turning sour when City's only threat of the half produced a goal in the 80th minute as Michael Johnson's through-ball was fired past Given by Mpenza.

Newcastle almost equalised two minutes from time when Steven Taylor headed against the bar, but it would have been more than they deserved. The next few weeks are going to be difficult ones for Newcastle, whose supporters staged a minor protest after the game.

'It's most difficult and frustrating for the fans and that gets to the players,' said Roeder. 'There are high expectations here, but they don't understand how difficult it is to cope with teams who are set up so defensively.'

Get Your Kits Out View : Yet another dire match but thankfully with a satisfactory result. Survival is the key but for heavens sake SP if we do stay in the big bucks league this excuse for entertainment will have to change. If this is what we have to watch next season then the COMSTAD will only be half full, best league in the world, you're 'avin a laugh....

Newcastle: Given, Carr, Moore (Onyewu 73), Taylor, Babayaro, Solano (Milner 76), Butt, Parker, Duff, Dyer (Sibierski 77), Martins.
Subs Not Used: Harper, Emre.

Booked: Moore.

Man City: Isaksson, Onuoha (Trabelsi 85), Dunne, Distin, Ball, Jihai, Barton, Hamann (Samaras 46), Johnson, Vassell, Mpenza.
Subs Not Used: Weaver, Corradi, Miller.

Booked: Vassell, Jihai, Barton.

Goals: Mpenza 80.

Att: 52,004.

Ref: G Poll (Hertfordshire).

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