Barry rescues City's top-four ambitions
Stoke City 1
Manchester City 1
ROBINHO might be gone, safely back in Santos, but his apathetic approach to away fixtures has pervaded the men he left behind.
In this draw with 10-man Stoke, it hung over Manchester City in a sepulchral gloom. Aggression, intensity, authority -- call it what you want -- City lack it.
After seeing them lose at Everton and Hull, and now drawing at the Britannia, we are left with one immutable fact, one which brings to mind Lance-Corporal Jones of 'Dad's Army': Manchester City don't like it up 'em.
True, Roberto Mancini's side have moved into fourth place, a point ahead of Liverpool with a game in hand, but this was not a performance that suggested they will stay there long.
Manager Mancini had ordered full attack mode, but he was rewarded with a sluggish start and a lapse in concentration just when things finally started going their way, Glenn Whelan's shot from outside the area burying itself in the bottom corner after 71 minutes.
Gareth Barry's equaliser was as opportunistic as they come, Thomas Sorensen fumbling a shot against the post, the midfielder sliding in at the last.
And Stoke were desperately unlucky not to win, with Ryan Shawcross controversially having a late goal ruled out -- there was no obvious offence committed as the defender headed in Rory Delap's throw-in.
On the basis of the evidence so far, Mancini would not have been much good in the Middle Ages. He makes storming the fortress look like a forlorn hope.
After abysmal performances at Everton and Hull, what hope had they against Stoke, experts in making it uncomfortable for their guests?
Much negativity has been levelled at Stoke and their uncompromising approach, but what they do, they do well -- if only Manchester City had just a bit of their elbow grease and can-do attitude.
Relying on their trademark aerial offensive, the hosts pinned their opponents down in their own half.
Mancini had said his side would be ready for a fight, and he led by example, viciously stabbing the air with his finger at the slightest perceived injustice, with opposite number Tony Pulis, referee Alan Wiley and the fourth official all on the receiving end of his broken English.
Patrick Vieira was also in combative mood, booked for a grouchy challenge on Mamady Sidibe, and he can count himself lucky that Wiley -- unlike the rest of the stadium -- did not see him bury his boot in Whelan's groin in an early exchange. The denizens of the Britannia are a vociferous bunch and they rewarded the 33-year-old with whistles and jeers for the duration. Alas, this aggression was funnelled in the wrong causes.
Without Craig Bellamy and Carlos Tevez, the former absent with a knee injury and the latter in Argentina for family reasons, the visitors were devoid of energy and invention.
Emmanuel Adebayor might cut a dash in his red boots, but he does not do much in the way of carving out chances for himself when the service is slim.
Starved of possession, the result of being rushed into mistakes and poor communication, City stalled on each break, the only real opportunities of the first half falling to Barry, who sliced a volley in the area wide, and Roque Santa Cruz, whose shot was similarly errant.
City improved after the interval and the balance looked to have been tipped when Abdoulaye Faye pulled down Adebayor and was dismissed with 30 minutes remaining.
Yet Adam Johnson's lousy clearance bumbled to the edge of the area and Whelan smashed it low into the corner of the net.
Five minutes from time Barry let fly, Sorensen parried, and the midfielder scrambled it in to give Mancini a barely deserved crumb of comfort. (© Daily Telegraph, London)