Verdict: Manchester City v Burnley
Goals: Wight-Phillips 43, Toure 55, Bellamy 58 for City. Alexander (pen) 19, Fletcher 32, McDonald 87 for Burnley.
Another draw that felt like a defeat, where ‘great game for the neutral’ was a description that Mark Hughes could have done without. After falling two goals behind, then storming back to take the lead, before conceding a late equaliser – all against supposedly weaker opposition – this game deserved another old cliche: ‘Typical City’.
Mark Hughes’ side lined up as widely anticipated with the destructive qualities of Nigel de Jong being sacrificed to make way for the more creative Stephen Ireland in a game we were looking to win handsomely. The main fitness doubt had been Wayne Bridge, and in retrospect this is a game we’d all rather he missed. One wonders what Sylvinho made of it all.
City had a chance in the opening seconds with Shaun Wright-Phillips making a perfectly timed run through to the right of the goal. His shot was lofted onto the roof of the net, and it looked like this might be another afternoon of endeavour with little end product from Shaun. Thankfully this wasn’t to be the case as the winger was back to his best, delivering numerous telling balls and getting himself on the scoresheet.
Maybe it was being up against former teammate, Stephen Jordan, that inspired Shaun to produce his devastating form of old.
Without going on to create any clear-cut openings, City were looking comfortable in the opening stages, even if there were a couple of warnings of Burnley intent from set-pieces. Next thing Tyrone Mears had made a run into our left-back spot, from which Bridge was absent, and banged a cross against Lescott. The linesman flagged and a penalty was given for handball.
Lescott did have his arm raised, but wasn’t looking at the ball, so it was the kind of decision that can go either way. More often the defender gets away with it, but not today, and we were one down.
It got worse. A free-kick from Burnley was flicked goalwards and required a reaction save from Given. We sought to break away as Barry carried the ball out of defence, but a heavy touch by the England international conceded possession.
Bridge was in midfield by this point, so Lescott had to come across to deal with the danger as Burnley surged down our left. With the defence all out of position, a simple cross was tapped home.
With our confidence now shot, we were looking very ragged and Burnley were knocking the ball about with better composure. City were belting fruitless long balls to Adebayor, who seemed in a permanent state of being offside.
While it’s good to have the option of the long-ball, there has often been a tendancy for Hughes’ sides to use it to readily. With a technically gifted midfield of Ireland, Barry, Wright-Phillips and Bellamy supporting Tevez and Adebayor who both prefer the ball on the ground, the emphasis with this team ought to be on a passing game.
It makes little sense to spend hundreds of millions on these players and then hoof the ball forward.
Thankfully the Burnley defence hadn’t looked wholly convincing, and after having a goal disallowed for offside, Wright-Phillips managed to score with a slightly deflected shot curling in just prior to half-time.
This was the lifeline City needed as it planted seeds of doubt in Burnley minds. Sure enough, ten minutes into the second-half, a free-kick from Barry was delicately knocked back by a stretching Lescott for Toure to rifle home.
I was pleased for Lescott after the earlier penalty decision, and his confidence came back as he went on to impose himself on the Burnley attack with a series of excellent challenges.
Three minutes later, City were ahead as Ireland released Wright-Phillips, whose cross was missed by Tevez, only for the better placed Bellamy to slam a shot into the corner of the net.
Burnley were floored and looked to be there for the taking. There was also a sense that City needed a fourth given the defensive frailties of late. Bellamy again did well on the left before firing in a cross which Tevez was unable to divert into the net.
Rather than shore the game up with de Jong, Hughes chose to bring on Martin Petrov for Tevez. At the time Carlos was looking dangerous, picking up the ball and attacking the spaces which were opening up. Adebayor was making less of an impression, but Hughes rarely likes to be without a big man up front.
Owen Coyle also made attacking substitutions as he sought to salvage something from the game.
Curiously, Petrov and Wright-Phillips quickly swapped flanks, giving the Bulgarian a chance to attack Jordan. He enjoyed similar success to Shaun but disappointingly sent shots high and wide as he inevitably chose to cut in on his left foot. One cross with his right was to quick, and to close to the goal, for Adebayor.
Maybe the decision for Petrov and Wright-Phillips to swap wings was to give Bridge the benefit of Shaun’s tracking back. In which case it was all to no avail as Burnley’s third once again came down City’s left flank.
Bridge was again at fault with an attempt at a clearing header being picked up by Nugent, whose cross was nodded back across the goal. The run by substitute McDonald wasn’t tracked by Ireland or Lescott and he levelled the scores.
City’s hearts sank and we weren’t able to lift ourselves again. The loss of confidence was typified by Lescott losing out to Nugent in the last minute for a ball which the centre-back should have cleared.
Afterwards, the management talk was once again about getting the team to gel, but the fact is that under Hughes the defence has gone backwards and looks no closer to gelling than the day he arrived. Defenders that look good under other managers don’t look good under our management.
“Defending is a collective duty. We have to stop things at source before they develop. Maybe we have to work exceptionally hard to stop balls coming in to their front men. That’s a part of our game we are not doing very well at. It’s about working hard and making sure we improve.”
“We know we dropped two points Ã¢â‚¬â€œ we have to improve our defending.
“We need time and work and thereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s still a long way to go. The manager has highlighted a few things. We have top-class players, and we have to take responsibility at the back.”
Once again the opposition seemed to have more coherence in their passing and movement. To often in the first half, players were looking to where they hoped teammates would be, rather than finding them already moving into position.
With City looking to win against supposedly inferior opponents, Bridge was clearly under instruction to get forward whenever he could. This proved disastrous, particularly in the first half, as Burnley targeted the space he was vacating on numerous occasions.
If this was apparent to spectators, it should be visible to the management. Bridge needed to be instructed to stay back, or Barry to provide cover, either directly or by dropping back and allowing Lescott to move over.
Individuals in the team seem to be taking the flak for recent results, but surely there comes a point when the coaching comes under scrutiny. Simply buying more defenders and saying we’re waiting for them to gel isn’t an adequate solution.