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We’ll take it. (City 2, Newcastle 1)

03 October 2010

Adam Johnson seemed as surprised as everyone else by his classy eventual game-winner.

I’m so accustomed to my inconsistent club following up a great win like the one last weekend against Chelsea with poor performances and points unexpectedly dropped against clubs in the bottom half of the league, I was fully expecting to be disappointed today. Maybe that letdown already happened Thursday against Juventus, or maybe the performance was worthy of a disappointing result, but for once, City caught a break.

When Joleon Lescott clumsily swept Shola Ameobi’s leg just inside the penalty area, I braced myself for the whistle and point to the spot. With City having just re-taken the lead thanks to a great individual goal by Adam Johnson, it seemed about right that they would quickly squander their advantage. But referee Martin Atkinson waved play on, and Lescott was spared the ire of the home fans.

Prior to the match, those of us gathered at The Banshee discussed how these seem to be the sorts of matches that City win by a narrow 1-0 margin under Mancini, and that today we wanted to see a 2-0 or 3-0 win. Early on, it looked it we would be getting our wish, after Carlos Tévez was fouled outside and inside the box by Mike Williamson. Atkinson pointed to the spot and Tévez converted a penalty that would have been very savable if not for the force behind it. It looked like City were set to romp.

But a few minutes later, Kolo Touré was caught ballwatching after Vincent Kompany’s semi-clearance of a cross into the box. Jonás Gutiérrez beat him to the ball and blasted the equalizer past Joe Hart into the goal. This put Newcastle into the ascendancy, and they controlled possession for the 10 minutes that followed. It was incredibly frustrating to watch, with the frustration of squandering a lead in sloppy fashion compounded by the inability to get the ball back.

As a scrappy second half wore on, I got the same strong feeling that it was going to end 1-1 that I had on Thursday. The idea of dropping points at home against Newcastle had me in a foul mood, coming so close on the heels of the home draw against Blackburn. I found every wayward pass and unsuccessful tackle completely exasperating, and I was incredulous when City failed to score twice on the break when it was deadlocked. I’m sure I wasn’t fun to watch the match with.

I’d been calling for Adam Johnson to be brought on to see what he could do, and Mancini finally did exactly that in the 72nd minute. Three minutes later, the player from the Northeast who grew up supporting Newcastle dribbled niftily into the box and unleashed a shot with his favored left foot that split a defender’s legs, beat keeper Tim Krul, and tucked inside the far post to restore City’s lead.

Lescott’s flirtation with disaster was the only real heart-in-mouth moment the rest of the way, as we celebrated three points that moved City up to second in the Premier League table, ahead of United. In the match that followed, it was strange watching Arsenal play and not rooting for them, but that’s the new reality for City fans, as they’re the competition now.

It says a great deal about the City performance that a substitute was the only player in sky blue who enjoyed anything close to a memorable outing. Beyond the goal, he caused problems down the left side after coming on. Kompany was solid once again in defense. Some may complain that his clearance of the cross that led to the Newcastle goal could have been better, but he did reasonably well just to get to the cross, and I fault his partner in central defense for the goal conceded.

The other Touré did not have one of this better days in a City shirt, as he was largely invisible for huge portions of the game and didn’t contribute much to either attack or defense. Jérôme Boateng also looked poor, as he struggled mightily in the first half against the less-than-world class Gutiérrez. David Silva struggled to break down the visitors’ defense and didn’t really make an impact until the end of the match.

There’s a lot of postmatch talk about the broken leg suffered by Hatem Ben Arfa on a tackle by Nigel de Jong, in which the Dutchman came in, took the ball cleanly with his left leg, and then made contact with Ben Arfa’s left leg with his right leg. Newcastle boss Chris Hughton called the challenge one “that did not need to be made,” though de Jong did get the ball without going through the man and Atkinson agreed it wasn’t a foul. I’m sure this won’t stop Glockner from reconvening his one-man organization tasked with a crusade to brand de Jong a dirty player.

Both City and my patience with them are in much better shape going into this international break than they were at the last one. Luckily I’ll have FIFA 11 to tide me over during the next two weeks. Oh, and the sizable City contingent in Fabio Capello’s England squad. Still, right now the October 17 date at upstarts Blackpool seems far, far away.

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