City’s continued Premier League road troubles were put to the test at the Britannia today. Having done a good job of turning home fixtures into three points lately, the Blues having three additional key players on the lineup on the road should have made the difference.
But as usual it did not. City started the game poorly although a few counter attacking opportunities presented itself early. But the door was left squarely open when Rory Delap was controversially sent off late in the first half. Tis gave City a man advantage, but a spirited crowd at the Britannia ensured Stoke would stay in the match.
James Beattie who many years ago, I believed was one of the best strikers in English Football has struggled since leaving Southampton in 2005.Beattie was the Saints main target but at Everton he flopped and struggles continued for him in the second flight of English Football.
Matthew Etherington as he did when he was at West Ham gave City fits in the midfield and this helped open the game up for Stoke.
Wayne Bridge is in the England player pool under Fabio Capello while Beattie has been discarded by England and most Premier League managers for sometime. Yet with under a minute remaining in first half stoppage time, Bridge lost Beattie and the ball in the box and the result was the only goal of the game.
In the second half Bridge made some nice runs down the left side, while the insertion of Elano gave City more attacking bite. Nonetheless, Stoke were well organized and the Blues really didn’t have many good chances to score.
Craig Bellamy was tantalizingly close to a spectacular goal in the 81st minute. Bellamy’s work rate was excellent today though no doubt the punditry that makes money off of commenting on English Football will continue to question the large amount of money spent on a what is essentially a journeyman Welsh player.
However, City did not hit the target once in the second half until Wayne Bridge’s long range shot deep into stoppage time.
This loss once again brought forward the trouble with City: Players who seem to connect only in limited spurts, defenders losing their mark in the area, and worse a lack of chemistry and continuity. Nigel De Jong, the new signing from Hamburg did sure up the midfield today as he had on Wednesday against Newcastle.
Where do City go from here? Signing Shay Given as is possible before the transfer deadline is of little use for a dysfunctional attacking squad away from home. The concentration on unrealistic targets like Kaka and Didier Drogba during this window cost the club a chance to sign more potentially valuable rile players like Nigel DeJong.
A midtable finish is probably the best we can hope for from City. But should City’s remarkable home form continue, a UEFA Cup spot remains a target, albeit an allusive one.
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