Manchester City 2 (Gundogan 19, 27)
Leeds United 1 (Rodrigo 85)
6th May 2023, Premier League
A week is a long time in football they say and this week certainly proved it. Who would have thought that the mood could change so dramatically from that down-and-out total misery we experienced at Bournemouth last Sunday to the altogether more positive vibe we shared with the players at full-time today?
Let’s not get carried away though, there wasn’t too much on the pitch today to give us any real encouragement that we can get positive results from any of the next three games, but there was an altogether different “feel” about the way the players were going about their business and interacting together. I’m sure it was Big Sam who decided this was a time to heel some of the sores that had appeared last week as he pulled all the players and staff together first for a quick huddle and then to lead them all right over to us in the South Stand at the end for some well-earned applause; it was another characteristic of Allardyce that he will seize on any positive moment to help boost his players’ confidence. We’d lost the game and we were clearly miles behind City in the quality stakes but still it was apparent that everyone was playing for the shirt, giving their all, and finding a way to stem the ceaseless tide of goals we’d been conceding in recent weeks.
City are a brilliant team, streets ahead of us, but we stuck with the task and some fine goalkeeping from Joel Robles, some almost error-free defending, some unusually wayward shooting from Haaland, and the woodwork, meant that City could only register two goals from their 18 goal attempts. They dominated the possession of course and played some delightful stuff at times but we were in the game until the final whistle.
Big Sam was characteristically strong in naming his side without Illan Meslier and he was rewarded by Joel Robles playing a pretty decent game including a fine penalty save with the help of a post. He also has clearly been impressed with Rasmus Kristensen this week as he got the shout at centre-back while he was also brave enough to play Adam Forshaw from the start. The rest were all players we’ve seen regularly along the way under both Marsch and Gracia.
Let’s not pretend that Sam has been able to perform any miracles yet, the defending for both City goals looked remarkably similar to that we’ve experienced all season – Gundogan had far too much space on the edge of the area on both occasions – but at least he’s seen that flaw in the flesh now and has a solid week to work on doing something about it. I have no doubt that the players will need to buck their ideas up or they may end up sharing the bench with Illan next week.
As Sam has said, it is the play out of possession that is the continuing worry, in possession we can carry a threat, and we have goals in us as another fine Rodrigo finish showed today. There were still far too many occasions though when we gave the ball away too cheaply and we have to quickly find a way of giving the man with the ball some options to try to hang onto it better; everyone needs to work hard to find space, not just the man on the ball.
For me though it was that togetherness of the group, players, and staff, that offered the greatest hope for a miracle outcome from the next three-game “season”. I’d written us off after last week but I confess I’ve got at least a small piece of me now believing we can still get out of this mess. We will need some luck along the way, we’ll need other results to go in our favour and, above all we’ll need the players to improve under Big Sam’s expert eye this week. As he acknowledges, he won’t be able to sort every fault, but he certainly gives the impression he’s going to give it a damned good go! I’m sure his huge “staying up” bonus will help spur him on too! I genuinely believe he wants this little project to succeed and he’ll use every ounce of his experience to try to make sure it does. That’s all we can ask.
Man City Leeds U
Possession 81% 19%
Shots 18 4
On Target 6 2
Corners 10 1
Fouls 3 16