Verdict: United Arab Emirates 1 Manchester City 0
Goal: Al Shehi (pen) 9 for UAE.
With Sheikh Mansour picking up the tab for a seven star hotel in a way that Darius Vassell could do with right now, City repaid this generous hospitality by allowing the host nation victory via a first-half penalty calamitously conceded by Stuart Taylor.
In many ways it was what we’ve come to expect under Mark Hughes’ tenure. Plenty of professionalism and organisation in the build-up to the game, followed by a disjointed performance once we go out on the pitch.
The lack of good football as we struggle for a result again raises questions about the management’s coaching and tactical abilities. These doubts just don’t go away.
The excuse of an understrength side carries little weight as the UAE were taking the opportunity to field several of their under-20 squad.
For City, Stuart Taylor lined up in goal while, surprisingly, there was no Sylvinho at left-back with the right-footed Vidal playing instead.
Ben Mee lined up alongside Nedum Onuoha in the centre of defence. With Keiron Trippier at right-back, Pablo Zabaleta was partnering Stephen Ireland in midfield.
On the flanks were Paul Marshall and Andrew Tutte, while Alex Nimely partnered Benjani upfront in a 4-4-2 formation.
On a separate note, it was a surprise to see City line up in their black away shirts. If this trip was partly intended as a brand building exercise, then surely it would have made more sense to let people associate us with playing in blue shirts.
With the heat still evident in the evening, City started sluggishly and forwards on both sides were regularly being caught off-side.
Then in the ninth minute Stuart Taylor took it upon himself to liven things up by making a hash of back-pass, gifting the ball to the opponent and then bringing him down. Even in your wildest dreams you couldn’t imagine Shay Given committing such an error.
The resulting penalty was coolly tucked away by 2008 Emirate footballer of the year, Al Shehi.
UAE were pressing high up the field when we were wanting to take our time at the back. The result was the increasingly familiar sight of the ball being hurriedly hoofed forward. This was no good for Nimely and an immobile Benjani wasn’t winning anything in the air.
After 25 minutes the linesman decided to give City a free-kick and our first opportunity to score was promptly skied by Paul Marshall.
For those of us watching online, there were some remarkable camera angles similar to those you might find on a computer game. Less impressive was the official site’s commentary that could have given the old Soviet Union’s Pravda a few lessons on unflinching positivity.
Stephen Ireland wore the captain’s armband and was at the heart of our play. He looked the player most likely to inspire a chance during a disappointing first half.
Numerous times when we got into promising positions, the ball was simply played backwards as our youngsters didn’t take on their opponents. Admittedly they weren’t helped by a lack of options and movement as the UAE were happy to defend in numbers.
On 44 minutes it was time for a return of our trademark comedy defending from a set piece. A shot eventually deflected off Onuoha for a corner.
In the second half, City finally started to push the opposition back, and in the 49th minute there was the first sign of life from Benjani. The Zimbabwean picked up the ball on the left flank, went past a couple of defenders and put in a decent cross which Tutte failed to get on the end of.
Marshall won a free-kick in the 51st minute, and Ireland tested the keeper for the first time. The save was a little more flamboyant than required.
Disappointingly, there was little else of note from Marshall and Tutte on the flanks. Their replacements, Poole and Redshaw made no impression either, and it was up to Ireland to inspire through the middle.
The captain was looking frustrated and got himself booked following a minor tussle when the referee failed to award him a free-kick. Only in the closing stages did Stevie break free and look to get into the penalty area.
Prior to this the formation looked to rigid with the UAE defence untroubled by attacking runs or fluidity in our formation. We needed to get Ireland breaking into the box as neither Benjani nor Nimely looked like scoring.
Trippier managed to put over a cross in the 70th minute that struck the arm of a defender, but no penalty was given. At the back Onuoha was having a steady game, but Taylor once again decided to add some drama by failing to hold a deep cross. Fortunately Zabaleta was on hand to clear up the mess.
In the 80th minute Nimely put over a dangerous cross that was nearly defelcted in for an own-goal. This turned out to be the closest we came to an equaliser.
Ireland passed on the chance to feed the unmarked Poole on the left in the 82nd minute and frustratingly the ball was cleared for a corner. By now we were ready to take another draw.
With the opposition defending deep, City weren’t able to utilise Nimley’s pace, which presumably would have been the plan prior to kick-off. Only as the match was drawing to a close did the UAE look to attack in numbers, and once again we looked uncertain.
In stoppage time Taylor reminded us he was a goalkeeper by tipping over a great shot from distance in what was arguably the best bit of football in the match.
“It was good experience for the younger players in our squad but I was disappointed in the way we lost and that we didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t create much in the game in terms of chances.”
Before the match Garry Cook commented that we had lost some of our momentum from earlier in the season, and this game couldn’t have illustrated the point better. Whereas a couple of months ago we were beating Barcelona in a friendly (even if we were outplayed), here we slipped to an insipid defeat.
One can only wonder what Sheikh Mansour made of it all.