So, it's the morning after the evening after the morning after the night before. And we're not top of the table for the first time in five months. Defeat in Wales, combined with a United victory at Old Trafford ensured that City slipped a point behind their title rivals and their near neighbours, with just ten games to play. And the world looked on in horror, as thousands of children in blue shirts were jeered by their classmates and many of their parents phoned in sick. And Bono and Bob Geldof launched CityAid, because, with the title out of their grasp, the blues were condemned to yet another season of mediocrity.
Now, I say that not to be offensive and not to be flippant, but just to put into perspective the events of the last couple of days. Worse things have happened, are happening and are going to happen. Even in football, worse things will happen. Ok, so, now we're the chasers. And we, on paper, have the more difficult fixtures. But it's not like we're going to slip out of the league or like we're not going to be playing Champions League football next season or like we're on the verge of bankruptcy.
Don't get me wrong here – I'm not over the moon to be in second place with ten games to go, having been first for so long. In fact, I'm quite f*cked off with it, just like you are. However, the title is still very much in our own hands: The equation is quite simple; win every game and we will win the league by, at least, two points. Because both City and United can't win all their games, given we play each other in one of them.
Perhaps I'm over-simplifying the situation. Winning every game seems a very simple solution to a rather complex problem, but it's not too far from what United have been doing. To their credit (words I won't type very often, mind), through their difficult fixtures, United have clung on to City's shirt-tails like a bit of your morning poo that affixed itself to your best top when you didn't realise you'd trapped the back of your clothing under the toilet seat when sitting down on the throne first thing. And City didn't change their shirt, but instead they rather proudly walked into the meeting, blissfully unaware of the horrible ending that was heading their way that day.
But, just as there'll be more meetings to repair the damage, the job's going to be a tough one. It's now City's turn to play their run of difficult games during United's easier matches and it's our turn to make sure that we're still within those two points when it comes to derby day. Providing that's the case, the chance to go back to the top of the league (with two games to play afterwards) will be ours and if we don't take it, then we only have ourselves to blame.
Going behind at this stage of the season isn't ideal, but it's not a disaster and it's certainly rectifiable. It's just not very nice to slip up in the manner that we did: Conceding that goal to Swansea, knowing United were winning and we were dropping behind them in the league, was very much like giving a blowjob to a rent boy. There was a sense of foreboding before it happened, an overwhelming feeling of disappointment while it was happening and, when it's over, all that's left is a nasty taste in the mouth.
All we can do now is take care of our own business and we've got ten games to do it in. We might have to face Chelsea at home and Arsenal away, but that's the way it goes; and, who knows, we might well take maximum points from those fixtures. Who would have thought Blackburn would go to Old Trafford and win? Who would have backed Newcastle to spank United at St James's Park... Err... The Sports Direct Arena? Who would have thought Sunderland would have nicked our game at The Stadium of Light or West Brom would have taken a point at The Hawthorns?
Exactly. These next ten games are not as easy or hard as anybody thinks. Strange results happen, no more so than at the end of a season, as teams pick up unexpected points all over the place. Those challenging for titles throw them away and those fighting to stay up steal them. And those with no danger of doing anything meander towards the middle of May, liberally sprinkling points towards whoever is kind enough to take them (and there's another eye-opener because that used to be us, just a couple of years ago).
See, the defeat at Swansea prompted two very large reactions from City fans. The first was to throw the toys out of the pram and scream/shout/hysterically cry/hack own head off because the title race was over and there was no chance City were going to fight back (eurgh). And the second was to point out where City used to be ten to fifteen years ago in a bid to point out that we've come a long way and should be happy with our lot (eurgh, also).
Now, I admit, I have a reputation for sitting on the fence (yes, my posterior does contain a few splinters, thank you very much), but this is exactly the time to be perching ourselves neatly between the two arguments. From the first camp, the loss is a reality check: The Premier League is not won until it's mathematically impossible for any team to pass those sitting in first place. Yes, we'd been top for months, but that means the thin end of knob all when the final table is drawn up. Equally, being top of the league (or thereabouts, now), we can't just turn up and expect to win games and that we're now in second place should be a wake-up call to anybody who had developed an air of complacency.
However, from that second argument, it's also prevalent to note where City have come from in recent years. It's taken substantial investment to be able to compete for the Premier League title and, since Roberto Mancini has been in charge of the club, we've improved every year. And we have improved this year, whether we win the league or not. And we will improve again next year. And the year after that.
We do need to be thankful that our final local (league) derby this season should be against United and should play such a major part in who is going to finish as the best team in England, rather than being against Stockport or Macclesfield and deciding whether or not we will be going up/getting into the playoffs/staying in the division. It's important to realise the steps we have taken, but, equally, it's important not to lose that ambition to be the best. There's nothing wrong with being disappointed with what will be City's best ever Premier League finish if we're not champions, but we do need to realise that we are, year after year, getting better.
And so, we have ten games to decide what is going to happen. It's down to the players, the management team and, crucially, the fans. We need to back the team, home and away. We need not to be grumbling or groaning when a pass is misplaced inside the first ninety seconds. We need not to sigh or moan when we haven't scored a first half goal. We need not to be anxious when we're under pressure and tense when the other team are putting up a good fight.
We need to support the team and help them see this through. Perhaps we've been complacent and we've had our bottoms stung for it; it's almost as if we've expected to win, being the league leaders. If United fans act and their team plays like they have already won the league, then they will lose it. But if City fans act and our team plays like United have already won the league, then we have already lost.
This isn't over yet.
Come on City.
We can do this.