Gruel Before The Feast

Posted by Simon Curtis

If this was our bread and butter, somebody served it stale with only minimum lubrication at the Britannia this afternoon. Just as old dry bread was beginning to feel like poor rations, however, came the news that Real had served their pan with no jamon whatsoever in losing clumsily in Seville. Three straight away losses for Real, a new club record. Bring it on.

A visit to Stoke is always a tribal affair, with Tracksuit Tony pumped on the sidelines, a crowd baying for long throws and a team built to stretch the rules of association football. Seldom pretty, never easy and both were words to describe this lively encounter.

Mancini opted for four at the back today and two holding midfielders, although it seemed a strange place to offer three sky blue debuts. Kompany and Lescott are automatic picks in the middle, despite a lethargic start to the season by both men, but Mancini returned to old times by re-initiating his Fullback Foxtrot, Maicon and Clichy in for Zabaleta and Kolarov. Javi Garcia accompanied Yaya in the spit and sawdust area.

City finished both halves stronger, whilst Stoke threw long balls and high balls whenever the opportunity arose. There was evidence here that the Manchester Chicken Tikka Taka was beginning to come together again with periods of sustained fast interplay and it was so nearly rewarded when the powerful and neat Garcia, having marked his debut with a trademark thumping header, produced another on 90 minutes which Begovic managed to turn onto a post. The Spaniard was the most impressive of City debutants, slotting in effortlessly, proving a handful upfront and well prepared to jut out a foot, knee or elbow to halt Stoke progress. One delicious yellow card lunge on Kightly brought recollections of De Jong flooding back, although the goal certainly didn't. With his obvious penchant for getting up high to meet corners, Garcia is already adding a dimension to City's play that de Jong failed to manage.

Maicon wore the wide eyed look of a man thrown into a tumble drier and told to dance the waltz. Credit to him that he ended the second half resembling the marauding right back we all fondly remember from his Brazil and Inter days. With City practically operating a three man defence as time went on, the big Brazilian was playing high up the right wing for much of the last 30 minutes. Only once did a Stoke barge appear to unsettle him as he flung his arms up and stopped for Clattenburg's whistle. It being Clattenburg, no whistle was forthcoming. On the left, but for one exceptional turn and run, Sinclair was relatively quiet on his big day.

For the 4th consecutive season we exit Stoke with a point from a 1-1 draw. But for the two excellent chances to snatch it in injury time, we would all probably be sitting here thinking that was about right. However, when the very last kick of the game is the wild and desperate flick of a Shawcross boot as Dzeko's lob is millimetres from entering the net for a City winner, the feeling is very much of leaving with little more than a big bag of crumbs. Thankfully, within those fragments are various crumbs of comfort to take with us on our trip south to Spain, where an angry and injured Real Madrid await. Perhaps up-and-at-'em Stoke was apt preparation after all.

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