Christmas Number 1

By David Mooney, Sat 24 December 2011 08:15


Christmas Number 1

Cast your minds back 369 days to Monday 20 December 2010. It was cold, bitterly cold, and a  covering of snow had ground the country to a halt. MPs were heading home from Whitehall, claiming their Christmas presents on expenses and leaving behind them a scattering of laptops, memory sticks and private documents, containing the personal details of millions of people. And, most crucially, Premier League games had fallen foul of the weather left, right and centre – in fact, if my memory serves me correctly, it was only Manchester City vs. Everton of that round of fixtures that was played.

And there was one vital reason why it was played: City could be top of the Premier League on Christmas day, providing they took all three points from their Merseyside opponents.

Of course, plenty will tell you that the game went ahead because everybody agreed that the conditions for the players were fine and that travelling fans and those around the stadium would be safe. While true, it never seemed in any doubt – City had longer than every other team that weekend, being the Monday evening kick off, to make sure the conditions were good and they'd done their best to raid the gritting depots of the north west to ensure that the club had the chance of going top on Christmas day. It was like walking over a gravel driveway to get to your seat that night.

Having pulled out all the stops, City did as they do best and just didn't turn up. Everton strolled to a two goal lead in the first twenty minutes. Coleman found the head of Cahill, who planted it into the net, before Leighton Baines cut into the box and curled a shot into the bottom corner. The most exciting thing City had done in the game until that point was win a corner. It didn't look good and, even when the hosts pulled a goal back, some good saves from both Everton goalkeepers Tim Howard and Phil Neville stopped the blues getting an unlikely victory.

In temperatures that there should be laws against, the blues fans trudged home, facing Christmas off the top of the Premier League. Having gotten their hopes up, they should have known better – because that's what City do: they build you up and then let you down. Hypothermia Monday, as it's become known, though, was the last time City have done that to the fans and, in the turn of the new year, the Citizens changed their ways.

They won the FA Cup. They finished in third position, enough to qualify for the Champions League group stages. They won at Old Trafford by a five goal margin. Tottenham were humiliated at the Lane. The year finished with only two teams in all competitions leaving Eastlands with something other than nothing: Fulham and Napoli escaped with draws. Every other team that visited has lost: Blackpool, Wolves, Leicester, West Brom, Notts County, Aris Salonika, Aston Villa, Wigan, Reading, Dynamo Kyiv, Sunderland, West Ham, Tottenham, Stoke, Swansea, Wigan again, Birmingham, Everton, Aston Villa again, Villarreal, Wolves again, Newcastle, Norwich, Bayern Munich, Arsenal and Stoke again. Out of 28 matches at Eastlands in 2011, City won 26 and drew two, scoring 73 and conceding a mere 13.

Oh, and the club is top of the Premier League at Christmas.

This mightn't sound very significant; City were one win away from the same achievement last season. And, while it might be 82 years since City last sat top of the pile the night that Father Christmas does his rounds and the leaders on 25 December tend not to go on to win the league, there is something worth considering. Last season, City had played two games more and just missed out. This season, City are on equal games.

It's also worth pointing out that it's only three years ago that City spent Christmas in the relegation zone, after a defeat at West Brom. How the times have changed, indeed.

There were rumblings last season of a title challenge, whether it be from fans or sections of the media, especially around the turn of the new year. It was all because City flirted with top spot about that time, but it turned out to be the same relationship you have with the pretty girl in the office: Your eyes meet occasionally and your imagination takes over about how it could all happen, but it doesn't because she's seeing someone else – and it turns out to be the guy that you absolutely hate.

That challenge was always played down by Roberto Mancini and his players, and rightly so. City were up there by virtue of the fact they had played two more games than anybody else and I think a lot of people, myself included, kidded ourselves about how close we actually were. In the end, we were nine points off the title; sadly, a more realistic finale to the season when those games were caught up.

This campaign, however, City fans don't have anything to put to the back of their minds this festive season. On level games and in poll position, it's City's to lose, unlike the year before. And, if the 17 games so far are anything to go by, if anybody does finish above the blues they'll probably win the league. And they'll probably deserve to, as well, given City have demolished most of what's been put in front of them.

It goes without saying that City have performed better this season than they have previously, mainly because they've performed better than nearly every team in the top division ever – you'll have to excuse my vagueness in the opening to this paragraph, my 1890s history isn't too clever – and club and league records have been falling all over the place. And, to give you an idea of the improvement, at this stage last season, City had 32 points. United, the eventual champions, had 37. This year, City have 44.

And every team that's had 40 or more points after 16 games has gone on to win the Premier League. How's about that for an omen?

This season, so far, City have 53 Premier League goals, 15 more than United had at this stage last season. It took until the 2-1 victory over West Ham in May last time out for City to reach this milestone; that was the 34th game of the campaign. City have scored three or more in 12 league games so far; in the whole of the last season, City did that 10 times.

As City fans, we've never had it so good. T'is the season to be jolly, alright, and fingers crossed that carries on until May.

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