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Match Day Preview

A special match day preview today comes courtesy of Ben from the excellent Newcastle United blog Blackandwhiteandreadallover. Over to you then Ben...

City have made an impressive start to the season. The 0-0 draw at home to West Brom didn't augur well, but since then there have been excellent performances at Old Trafford, St Andrews and the Stadium Of Shite. Almost inevitably, though, things have tailed off a bit with the disappointing defeat to Bolton (albeit a game City bossed and on another day could have won handsomely) and the Carling Cup embarrassment at the hands of Doncaster.In many ways how to respond to Wednesday night's horrorshow will be Stuart Pearce's first real test as City manager. So far I've been impressed by what he's achieved. The sale of Shaun Wright-Phillips, inevitable though it was, could have destabilised the whole club - instead, it seems to have galvanised everyone.
Things seemed to have turned a little sour under Keegan, but Pearce has instilled a belief, togetherness and fighting spirit in the players (well, he didn't have to instil the latter in Joey Barton...), and spent wisely in the summer, bolstering a goal-shy attack with two quality forwards in Andy Cole and Darius Vassell at no great expense.Without SWP, the City squad looks on paper to have no real superstars. Robbie Fowler might fancy himself as top dog, but he's a shadow of his former self.

Much more impressive in the pale blue shirts have been the rock-solid defensive partnership of Sylvain Distin (who we've tried to resign) and Richard Dunne (the most improved player in the Premiership?). I also rate Antoine Sibierski as a real goal threat from midfield, and it has to be said (grudgingly) that, however badly he's cocked up for England, David James has rarely put a foot wrong between the sticks at Eastlands. Of the two new forwards, Vassell could well prove an excellent signing - having gone stale at Villa, he needed a new challenge and he seems to have set about translating some of the form he's shown in an England shirt into his Premiership performances.A UEFA Cup place might be out of City's reach, but they'll certainly be comfortably mid-table if they do miss out.

As for ourselves - well, it's been the same old farcical story. An abysmal start to the campaign - take out the inevitable defeats to Arsenal and the Buccaneers, and you're still left with utterly unacceptable displays against West Ham, Bolton and Fulham. We were awful for an hour against Blackburn, too, before Shearer's free-kick set us on the way to an improbable first league victory of the season.Souness has been perfectly justified in bemoaning our injury problems - Shearer and Owen are our only fit strikers, and against Blackburn we were without Parker, Luque, Emre, Dyer and Solano, the sort of midfield that would give any side in the league a good game. As a result, Faye's found himself a fixture in the side even though his performances wouldn't guarantee him a place on the bench at Torquay.What Souness can be blamed for, though, are the tactics. The Fulham game in particular springs to mind - we had Carr playing on the right side of midfield, while Taylor, our best central defender in the previous matches, was shunted out to Carr's normal position to make way for the return of Bramble. Five defenders on the pitch and yet our organisation and composure was an absolute joke. Fulham could have had a hatful.But enough of the dwelling on the negatives: we go into Saturday's game on the back of (what was on paper at least) a good win. City, on the other hand, will still be licking their wounds from the League Cup exit. A good time to play you? Well, possibly - if you're entering a sticky patch. You could be stung into showing what you're made of, and with our defence anything is possible. I'm going to go for a 2-1 home victory, though, and hope that we can carry on the momentum from last weekend and really get the season underway. It won't be easy, though.

PS City fans can expect plenty of ribbing from the home faithful about the crowd chants that were piped into Eastlands last Sunday - what a daft idea. That said, St James's Park isn't exactly the cauldron of noise it once was, either. I just hope we don't follow suit...