City rally round 'fantastic' Bridge
A gesture, when one was really needed, to restore belief that sentiment and loyalty do exist in the game of football.
Three Manchester City players wore 'Team Bridge' T-shirts beneath their jerseys yesterday, in solidarity with one of their number, who is not one of the most gregarious and assertive of Roberto Mancini's squad, but for whom the anxieties created by John Terry's relationship with his former girlfriend Vanessa Perroncel are all too real.
Wayne Bridge is understood to be anxious for more access to the three-year-old son he has with Perroncel and that sentiment is far more acute following the profile afforded revelations of her relationship with the England captain.
Bridge was in Manchester on Friday when he was informed by City staff that the story about to break, so his team-mates will know how it has affected him.
Nigel de Jong, who looks more of a future City captain with every game, may have been the player who decided the T-shirts were appropriate. Carlos Tevez and Stephen Ireland wore them too, though Gareth Barry's decision not to wear one may come as a relief to Terry.
The support certainly reflects Bridge's popularity. "Wayne is a fantastic player, a very, very good defender, the players are very, very close to him," Mancini said last night.
Bridge isn't the only one suffering, though. Portsmouth's plight gets worse by the day and after failing to appear at his press conference last night, Avram Grant was inconclusive about his future when providing his obligatory brief TV interview. "We were living day to day; now we are living hour to hour," he said. "As long as we are here, we will do our best."
Having already lost Younes Kaboul to Tottenham to help pay the players' wages for this month, Grant today faces the prospect of Asmir Begovic heading to Stoke, with his club now six points off safety.
"I don't want that," he said of a Begovic move. "I have said it before. When I came here, we said that we would keep with the same squad and maybe add players."
The contrasts with City were blinding; Mancini's side are heading into the close of the transfer window hopeful of concluding a £7m move today for Parma's Kenyan international midfielder, McDonald Mariga, in a deal which would see Valeri Bojinov's loan deal with Parma becoming permanent.
City are pessimistic about the prospects of bringing Middlebrough's England's U-21 winger Adam Johnson to the club, though they will work to the end on it.
The only member of the Portsmouth side in the pink was David James, and there was a small mercy in Grant being able to muster a full subs bench, which is more than he managed in their last game.
But it is a sign of how Grant has maintained the spirit Paul Hart engendered that they had not lost a game so far in January, and they certainly looked more capable than City during a first half in which Mancini's side should have conceded both a goal and a penalty inside the first seven minutes.
"We didn't play very well," Mancini reflected later. The exertions of Old Trafford last Wednesday "probably" took it out of his players, he added.
Grant's usual funereal black had rarely seemed more appropriate, though, and there was loser's luck about City's two goals in the last eight minutes of the first half.
Emmanuel Adebayor looked fractionally offside when he scored his seventh goal in 14 games, exquisite though the goal was.
The Togolese striker took down Ireland's lofted 30-yard ball with his right foot and lashed it out of the long shadows cast across the pitch by the winter sunshine into David James' net.
Vincent Kompany also seemed to have marginally impeded Tel Ben-Haim when he rose above him to head home Martin Petrov's corner in first-half injury-time.
The second half did not get much better. Webber missed another sitter after Basinas' shot was parried out to him by Man City 'keeper Shay Given, though Craig Bellamy finally injected some energy when he arrived 10 minutes from time, cutting in past Bassinas and crossing for Tevez whose sharp left foot shot struck James' right post.
Bridge, who was not at Eastlands yesterday, will resume training today and may have recovered from knee ligament trouble in time to face Bolton, tomorrow week. City travel to Chelsea on February 27, when an encounter with Terry will create theatre of an unwelcome kind.
Manchester City (4-1-3-2) Given; Zabaleta (Onuoha, 3) Toure, Kompany (Boyata, 59), Garrido; De Jong; Petrov (Bellamy, 73) Ireland, Barry; Tevez, Adebayor. Substitutes not used: Wright-Phillips, Taylor, Sylvinho, Bellamy, Ibrahim
Portsmouth (4-3-3) James; Vanden Boorre, Ben-Haim, Wilson, Hreidarsson (Finnan, 27); Mullins (Owusu-Abeye, 85), O'Hara, Basinas; Boateng, Utaka, Webber (Piquionne, 77).
Substitutes not used: Ashdown, Hughes, Ritchie, Sowah. Booked: Man City -- De Jong; Portsmouth -- Wilson, Basinas, Boateng
Referee: M Atkinson (W Yorkshire)
Man of the match: De Jong