COLUMNIST KEN BUCKLEY
In a game that produced a sparkling first half and a more mundane second, the Blues always looked more like a home team than away and that speaks volumes at this level. With Castillo in to give Arteta that bit more licence and Pienaar, Osman and Fellaini to bomb forward to help the lone Cahill, the manager seemed to have made a silk purse from a sou's ear given our injury problems in the striker department. From the off you just sensed we were up for it and determined to put the Villa game to bed.
In a first half that we looked the more dangerous didn't mean City didn't have their chances — in fact SWP had the first shot, a ferocious drive blocked by Lescott, this was followed by an Ossie effort that was screwed just wide. Then the Blues gained a free kick outside of the box and Arteta struck a beauty that beat Hart all ends up but came back off the bar, Fellaini was first to react but put his looping header past the keeper but it scraped the bar and landed on top of the net.
Then, at the other end, City put together a good flowing move that put Ireland clear in the box but thankfully he skied instead of scoring. We had just got over that when Robinho made his first apperance in the game and had a low shot from close in brilliantly saved by Howard.
On the 20-minute mark, Osman was hauled down by ex-Blue Ball that had players and faithful howling "Penalty!" but Ref Halsey would have none of it (looked nailed on to me). The next action involved a good move down the left that saw Arteta smash one with such ferocity that Hart although making a very good save was knocked off his feet.
City reminded us they were still a threat when a SWP piledriver beat Howard and clipped the bar; not to be outdone Cahill did well to win the ball and feed Osman who put in a wicked low pass that Fellaini turned goalward only to see Hart make a very good save and turn it around.
Half-Time and the feeling was we were looking good and giving better than what we were getting. The second half didn't live up to the first as both teams looked to give little away but were ever prepared to look for the break. From one of these Neville put in a great cross that looked destined for Cahill's head and a simple goal but it deflected off the last defender and the chance was gone.
The much heralded Robinho had hardly shown and it was left to SWP to provide the main threat to us and after one foray where he skipped past Lescott and put in a great cross that looked to fall to the unmarked Jo only for Neville to read it well and hack away.
From the 70-minute mark, City upped it and it took the game to us and Howard had to make a smart diving save to keep a shot from Ireland out. Then from a cross Howard pushed the ball up high on his goaline and the grabbed it as it came down with some City players claiming he had broght it back from over the line.
With three minutes being put up on the board would it be like last week after we had played so well? With a minute of it gone it looked like we would take a point that was well deserved but another ex-Blue, Dunne, gave away a needless corner that was taken in expert fashion by Ossie and would you believe it was Cahill highest and ball nesttling in the bottom corner, cue the street party of the year as all celebrated as if winning the League, Champions League and Grand National all in one go.
The ref added celebration time, City poured forward, the odd heart in mouth but even though they got in our box we cleared... the ref blew, we... well, did what you would expect. Man of the Match? Hard to call, all rose to the occasion. Arteta had his best game yet, Pienaar put in a top class job and Fellaini became more like 'Le Machine' (got booked again though).
If I was going to give it to anyone it would be David Moyes for picking up his players after Villa and devising the system to play with no recognised striker that looked like 4-6-0 but yet had more bodies and threat in the box than City with their multi-million pound strikeforce.
Castillo had a game where he was hardly noticed yet his work seemed to give others the confidence to get forward and I thought none profited more than Arteta who was able to get on with his job as playmaker.
The City fans were less than complimentary toward their team at the end but if the club's ambitions are as big as the programme they produce then they should have something to look forward to.
Chelsea next plus a home game... put the two together and the portents don't look good, but with spirit like this who knows we may be able to take a scalp and get our home form somewhere near to where it ought to be.
Ah the ups and downs of footy and its fans... but I eagerly await the outcome. See you there. UP THE BLUES!
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