Saturday 18 July, 2.00pm (BST)
Goals: Thwala 35, Thwala 55.
And so the 2009/10 pre-season began.Ã‚Â Sunshine and unparallelled optimism giving way to defeat and a dispiriting display.Ã‚Â Then who should pop up at Eastlands but another Ã‚Â£25m striker to lift our spirits.Ã‚Â Welcome to Manchester indeed.
I took advantage of the club’s offer to watch our heroes show off their tans and tattoos on the big screen at Eastlands.Ã‚Â City took a chance on the weather with the open air seating outside the stadium.Ã‚Â They got lucky there as the sun blazed down, but not with the satellite feed as we missed most of the first half due to technical difficulties which we were assured came from the South African end.Ã‚Â Whilst the technical faults were being worked on, we were treated to an unbearable compere and last seasons highlights dvd.Ã‚Â The compere seemed blissfully unaware of just how loud the speakers already were as he screamed at us to have a good time.Ã‚Â We were up for a enjoyable afternoon, but nowhere near his overexcited state.
After his ranting it was actually a relief to see a re-run of us being blitzed at Villa on last season’s opening day.Ã‚Â It’s frightening to see just how much the personnel has changed since then, and as the goals were flying in (particularly against Portsmouth) it made me wonder whether Jo really was as bad as many people like to think.Ã‚Â With the experience of last year, and a full pre-season without having to go to the Olympics, I think it will be interesting to see how well he does in David Moyes‘ settled team.Ã‚Â I still have the feeling that in a couple of years he could be a very useful player.
After missing the first thirty five minutes South Africa finally flickered into view, and we were greeted with one of Hughes most bizarre team selections featuring several players who looked like they should be wearing ‘For Sale’ notices on the back of their shirts rather than squad numbers.Ã‚Â In the centre of defence were Mee and Ben Haim, the former unlikely to be seeing competitive first team action for a while yet, and the latter unlikely to see it again.Ã‚Â Garrido was at left back and taking a hammering from a pacy winger.Ã‚Â In front of him and offering scant support was Petrov.
An even bigger surprise was the sight of Michael Johnson in the middle of the park, and bigger is a description that fitted him in every sense – he’s clearly not being going hungry on the treatment table.Ã‚Â Someone who did look considerably fitter than when we last saw him was Bojinov and the Bulgarian provided our biggest goal threat, despite not showing much of an understanding with strike partner Bellamy.
Ireland was rewarded for last season with the captaincy for the day and looked by far the fittest player in blue.Ã‚Â Our other most likely source of inspiration was young Weiss, who was on the receiving end of some heavy treatment, but was both commendably unflinching and uncomplaining.
It was notable to see Hughes playing a rare 4-4-2 formation with wingers and a pair of strikers throughout the game.Ã‚Â Sadly we never looked comfortable and the Pirates were marauding through us with ease.Ã‚Â A central midfield pairing of Ireland and the recuperating Johnson is never going to have sufficient muscle for a Premier League game, especially with lightweight wingers in Petrov and Weiss.
Not long into our satellite experience Mee
conceded a penalty with a poor piece of unnecessary shirt pulling.Ã‚Â Thwala
gave debutant Stuart Taylor no chance with the spot kick.Ã‚Â Entertainment was in short supply but Bellamy provided a little light relief, picking up a booking for berating a linesman who dared to flag for a dubious offside.Ã‚Â The Welshman clearly doesn’t do ‘friendlies’.
Bojinov, playing just behind Bellamy, came closest to scoring with a powerful shot from distance and a header from the six yard box.Ã‚Â One couldn’t help feeling this was a chance that the taller Santa Cruz or Adebayor would have taken, and looking at Bojinov’s reaction gave the impression he knew that too.
Half-time in the Eastlands car park saw us treated to what appeared to be an art students video work, with imagery featuring Maine Road, inflatable bananas, City subbuteo players and the like.Ã‚Â I doubt it was to everyones taste, but I found it infinitely preferable to the compere, who delighted in announcing there were 2,800 of us present.Ã‚Â The figure was later upped to 3,000 on the the official web site.
The second half saw the introduction of Vidal at right-back, with Zabaleta replacing Johnson in midfield.Ã‚Â Was this Vidal’s first team debut?Ã‚Â I don’t recall seeing him before.
First Caicedo and later Benjani replaced Bellamy and Bojinov during the second 45 minutes.Ã‚Â With no improvement in understanding between the strikers, it was a reminder that with so many new players arriving, getting them to gel into a coherent unit will clearly be the main challenge of the pre-season fixtures.Ã‚Â This one appeared a wasted opportunity with so few likely to feature in the opening Premier League fixtures.Ã‚Â It was remarkable to note that with Tevez, Santa Cruz and Adebayor signed, we started this match with what could be our fourth and fifth choice strikers, and finished it with the sixth and seventh choices.Ã‚Â The future is surely elsewhere for Benjani and probably Caceido.Ã‚Â Bellamy is our only out and out striker to offer real pace, and this along with his feisty competitiveness will probably be enough to give him a future.Ã‚Â I think it’s fair to say most fans would like to see more of Bojinov, especially as he’s finally looking fit and ready to fire, but will he get the opportunities?
At the back worse was to come in the second half for Taylor.Ã‚Â A freakish cross-cum-shot from the left flank flew over Nicky Weaver’s former England U-21 rival and into the net via the far post.Ã‚Â On reflection there wasn’t a lot Taylor could do about it, but conceding from such a distance couldn’t have felt good in front of the watching Hughes.Ã‚Â Thereafter we struggled as the Pirates appeared further down the road in their fitness levels.Ã‚Â It should be noted they did provide decent opposition, being strong and competitive throughout.
Post match, Hughes naturally sought to find some positives in what was in reality a disappointing showing:
“I thought it was a good exercise for us, a lot of players had good periods, but a big positive was Michael Johnson getting through 45 minutes. We are absolutely delighted with that. I was really pleased with what he was able to produce in that time. If we can get him back at anywhere near the level that we know he is capable of then it’s like an extra player for us this year.”
The best thing for me?Ã‚Â Well, the new home kit looks a good one.