Stoke City 1 Manchester City 0
Saturday January 31, 2009, 12.45pm
Britannia Stadium, Stoke - Att: 27,236
Mark Hughes lamented the lack of a presence up front (which probably added an extra million or so to Roque Santa Cruz's price tag), but the introduction of Caicedo altered little and the better option against a Stoke side who were defending for their lives. With the quality we have in our line-up, we should have been more than capable of out playing our opponents.
Not for the first time though we seemed completely unable to break down a side who defended resolutely, and the disappointing aspect is that despite the creativity we possessed yesterday (which increased with the introduction of Elano) at no stage did we get in behind the Stoke defence, and too often we were forced to go cross field. Far too often we resorted to long range shots on Thomas Sorensen, most of which were poor efforts it has to be said.
We had started the game in positive fashion, with some excellent passing and neat movement over the first quarterof an hour but this dissipated thereafter and inexplicably we began to launch direct balls which meant the likes of Ireland and particularly Wright-Phillips were reduced to being merely spectators.
Wright-Phillips, it has to be said, was fortunate to avoid seeing red in the incident that saw Rory Delap sent off. It was a nasty kick out by Delap, and what saved Wright-Phillips was his kick out was missed when most eyes were focusing on the shoving match that ensued.
As for the goal, it was ironic that it came from a throw after Delap's dismissal which forced a short throw rather than a 'Delap special'. It was a good cross in from Etherington, but poor judgement from Wayne Bridge saw him mistime his jump which allowed James Beattie to head smartly home past Joe Hart. It is arguably the second goal Bridge has been culpable for, and whilst his play going forward is excellent, are his defensive qualities good enough to warrant his fee?
A quick word on Hart. Whether he was trying to impress ahead of the impending signing of Shay Given or not, but I thought he was very good yesterday. He had no chance with the goal, and handled everything competently, particularly the long balls and throws aimed into the box. He was confident and commanding, traits that have sometimes been missing. It appears as though the Given deal will go through, but my doubts about the necessity of the deal remain.
What could have been a good return from January (a win would have seen us just two points of seventh spot) therefore ends with the same frustrations and questions that have been asked all season. The transfer window - a more pertinently the incessant speculation - has taken some of the focus of Hughes's position.
Whilst I have no doubt that our home form will be good enough to see us win the majority of our games, our away record of one win from eleven is frankly appalling. Hughes may be talking of three or four transfer windows, but realistically he knows that with fifteen games remaining he can't afford too many more days like yesterday if he is to be around for the next one.