When you see grown men and women frothing at the mouths and seething with pure, unadulterated anger, it’s usually because something terrible has happened: Their son has crashed the car. Their daughter has come home with a boyfriend and she’s still far too young. The wife has found the husband’s porn collection. But the level of anger amongst City fans on Sunday, on a scale of one to Malcolm Tucker, was high off the top end of the charts.
To be honest, the draw with Fulham has a few similarities with that day you didn’t clear the internet history and your wife found your porn collection. It should never have happened, you should have been a hell of a lot more careful about what you did that Sunday afternoon and when it’s all over there’s an overwhelming sense of shame and disappointment.
And believe me, I cleaned that metaphor up. A lot.
The problem is, after the first four matches of the season, we have all been getting carried away. Though, in my opinion, of course, with good reason: Four goals against Swansea, three at Bolton, a demolition of Tottenham and overturning Wigan (without really getting out of second gear) go some way to build confidence. And, of course, being two goals in front and throwing that away is inexcusable; every team should be able to hold on to a lead, especially when they have been comfortable in the game.
Expectations were (rightly) high. Pre-match predictions, asked for on Twitter at @BlueMoonPodcast, regularly included threes, fours, fives (and even one seven) in the goals for column for the visitors, while it seemed blues fans believed the best the home side could hope for was one. Again, however, leading 2-0 after twelve seconds of the second half should mean that the away side would take the points.
Obviously, control of the game slipped from City’s grasp like a piece of soap in a bath full of washing up liquid and, once it had, they were unable to get it back again. Fulham had the initiative. And then they had two goals, too. While we can analyse the defending until the cows come home – poor marking going someway to explain them – I think it’s more interested to reflect on why this might have happened and what effect this could have on City in the future.
They say change is the enemy of complacency. And, looking back to before City’s first venture into the Champions League, I’m beginning to think that complacency was starting to infiltrate the fans’ ranks. I’m willing to hold my hands up and say that I completely underestimated Napoli. I knew they had a few quality players within their squad, but I didn’t think they would be a match for City: they were a pot four team and, as such, not as good as my beloved blues, right?
How wrong was I?
The weekend before taking a point away from the Etihad Stadium, they turned over Cesena on their own ground. The weekend after, AC Milan pitched up in Naples and left with a 3-1 deficit. Suddenly, this group that I was expecting to be a tough test, but one that City would overcome in a manner akin to their league form, is a lot tougher than I thought.
I can’t speak for all fans, of course, but judging by the reactions in the stadium on that Wednesday evening, I think a lot of people felt as I did. I was looking forward to a good game, but one that I expected City to win by two or three goals. Perhaps if City had scored in their major dominant spell in the first half that would have been the case, but, again, hindsight is an easy thing to use.
And that, perhaps, is the key to the ill feeling following the draw with Fulham. Expectations are that City will go into most games this season and come away with maximum points; certainly that was the case at Craven Cottage. I mean, after we had steam-rollered Tottenham, I went on record to say that I could honestly see City winning every league game leading up to the first Manchester derby – on Sunday 23 October. That would have been eight league victories on the bounce.
But here’s the thing: I’d fallen into the trap of thinking how I’m now warning against. Any team that expects to turn up and that be enough to win a Premier League game is in for a big shock (maybe with the exception of when playing Sunderland, circa 2005). City have enough quality to beat every team in this league; so it shouldn’t be difficult. What a big trap that is.
Obviously, I don’t think Roberto Mancini will let his players think like that. No matter who the opposition are, he will always understand the threats they pose and the dangers of complacency – that winning routine. When a team is struggling, they say losing is a habit and breaking a losing spell is difficult. Equally, when a team is winning, it’s easy to get carried away and think the job is done long before it is.
A game isn’t won when the second goal goes in. However, I felt like Sunday’s match was, despite there being 44 minutes to play. Judging by the way the players switched off, it would seem a few of them believed that too and they’ve been taught the harsh lesson of what happens when you switch off.
And that could be what makes dropping our first points of the season at Craven Cottage a blessing in disguise. There are 33 more games to play and we find ourselves sitting two points off the top of the league. There are a potential 99 more points for every team in the league to add to their total and I guarantee that not one of the 20 will do it. Manchester United will drop points. Chelsea will drop points. City will drop points. Everyone will.
If you’re going to drop points, it’s much better to do it when there’s plenty of time to recover the situation. Imagine if this situation had occurred in May and we were toe-to-toe with United for the Premier League title with two games left. And we drew that penultimate match when United won. One fixture is no time at all to make up the two point deficit.
That means it’s up to City to take advantage of other teams’ failings more often than it happens the other way around. It’s not often that United lose, but then, these days, City don’t drop points too often, either. Any involvement in the title isn’t over until, mathematically, City are unable to catch the team in the lead.
Perhaps this very minor setback will put our feet back on the ground. This season could well be one of the best ever in City’s history, but it’s not going to be easy. Every game will be tough. If we have scored three, we should go for goal number four. If we’re leading by one goal in the final stages, we should be keeping the ball and seeing out the victory. We should be keeping clean sheets. And we, as fans, can’t be getting on edge and disgruntled if we haven’t scored within the first fifteen minutes.
The players will have had a telling off from the management for letting a two goal, comfortable lead slip. It shouldn’t have happened, but it did. And that’s that; water under the bridge. It’s been and gone. The time to put it right is over the next 33 games.
So let’s all just calm down a little, eh?
And, for the record, after being brought back down to earth last Sunday, I think City will still be able to go unbeaten until that first Manchester derby…
Roll on defeat against Everton, then.