Wednesday 13 December 2017

City slackers firing blanks as 'squeaky bum time' beckons

Norwich City 0 Manchester City 0

Norwich City's Gary O'Neil and Manchester City's Sergio Aguero battle for the ball. Photo: Chris Radburn/PA Wire
Norwich City's Gary O'Neil and Manchester City's Sergio Aguero battle for the ball. Photo: Chris Radburn/PA Wire
Norwich City's Graham Dorrans in an aerial challenge with Manchester City's Bacary Sagna. Photo: Tony O'Brien/Action Images via Reuters
Norwich City's Jonny Howson and Manchester City's Jesus Navas battle for the ball. Photo: Chris Radburn/PA Wire

Gerry Cox

This is supposed to be 'squeaky bum time' in Leicester not Manchester, but in a topsy-turvy season of surprises, it looks like Manuel Pellegrini's men are losing their nerve in the final straight.

Nine games to go, everything to play for, this is the test of resolve that Alex Ferguson referred to with his memorable phrase.

Received wisdom has it that this is the stage of the season when experience counts, with the finishing line in sight and the realisation of what is at stake ready to unsettle the young pretenders.

Certainly Tottenham, one of the surprise contenders for the title, are wobbling slightly despite their victory over Aston Villa and Arsenal appear to be serial offenders, falling on the home straight after year.

So, it was assumed, would Leicester, falling like Devon Loch and allowing Pellegrini's experienced thoroughbreds to race past at a canter and take the prize.

Except that it is not working out that way. Leicester City look nerveless, while Manchester City appear to be the opposite, struggling to find any form, rhythm or consistency.


City certainly struggle against the top teams - Southampton are the only side in the top nine they have beaten this season - but they usually see off relegation fodder, with 41 out of 45 points against teams in the bottom half of the table before their Saturday lunchtime visit to Carrow Road.

But once Sergio Agüero failed to find a way past John Ruddy with two good shots in the opening half-hour, there was precious little threat of a goal from the visitors. Wilfried Bony gave Agüero no support, and his replacement, Raheem Sterling, gave the Argentinian no service.

Such was Norwich's tenacity in defence, combined with City's lack of a cutting edge, that Ruddy could have sat out the rest of the game in a deckchair - as his opposite number Joe Hart admitted.

"John and I could have had the afternoon off," said Hart, whose only scare came when Patrick Bamford's long-range shot hit the bar in the first half.

While City are now nine points off Leicester with nine games to play, Hart echoed his manager Pellegrini's unconvincing assessment that they will not give up while it is mathematically possible to catch Claudio Ranieri's men.

"We'll always keep going - we've had that spirit since I have been here, but sometimes it is not good enough. We need a little bit more brilliance, more invention."

(© Daily Telegraph, London)

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