Venue: Etihad, City of Manchester Stadium
Date: 30/08/2014 15:00 GMT
Photos: Richard Tucker
City slumped to a shock defeat to a competitive Stoke side who showed that application and endeavour can be victorious even in the most unlikely settings. It was our first home defeat to the Potters since the dark days of 1997/98, and our last in the top flight to them since October 1980 in the final weeks of Malcolm Allison’s abortive second spell at City.
Bacary Sagna made his debut at right back, with Kolarov returing on the other flank, and for the first time Sergio Aguero and Stevan Jovetic started a game together.
We never really got going for any length of time. Stoke’s pressing and harrying in midfield meant that we could not dominate for any significant length of time in the first half. The athletic Nzonzi in particular was often on hand to deny Yaya room in midfield and get his foot in where necessary.
It was a flat first half where we didn’t pass the ball quickly enough, and we were too static in the face of Stoke’s massed defence. Chances were at a premium. Silva found Sagna on the right in the 11th minute and Nasri forced a sharp save out of Begovic from the French full back’s clever cut back. Not that Stoke came just to defend and their wingers Moses and Biram Diouf gave Bacary Sagna and Aleks Kolarov plenty to think about. Indeed, Stoke might have had a penalty in the 18th minute when Biram Diouf went down in the box. TV replays later showed that Kolarov made contact but that Diouf went down rather too theatrically. As referees are tending to punish this sort of behaviour, we got away with that one, but if Mason thought Diouf had dived then surely he should have booked him?
A couple of minutes later Aguero fired over from an angle but it was only a half chance, with a densely packed centre of the Stoke box proving to be an obdurate barrier.
Our play was one-paced, laboured and pedestrian and this played into Stoke’s hands, and there were long periods of frustration as we got nowhere. In first half stoppage time Aguero went on one his trademark diagonal runs, back heeled to Kolarov on the left and from the Serbian number 11’s cut back, Yaya’s sharp shot was tipped onto the top of the bar and over by Begovic. The tip over was obvious from more than 100 yards away but not to Lee Mason and his linesman. How could they be do inobservant? How can a referee habitually make so many bad decisions?
The weather mirrored the match from a Blue point of view. We’d started off in bright sunshine before the greyer clouds and steady rain enveloped Manchester.
Nevertheless we hoped for better in the second half. After all, we normally get an improvement nowadays! Still, Stoke’s well organised mass rearguard had the answers. Nasri and Silva cleverly exchanged passes and the former’s shot was deflected behind by a Stoke body in the 50th minute. From a Nasri cut back, Yaya’s angled shot was tipped over by Begovic in the 56th minute.
Two minutes later Stoke took an unexpected lead, which prove to be decisive. A City short corner routine had seen the ball go into the box and it broke for Biram Diouf 25 yards from his own goal. The Stoke forward advanced at pace past Kolarov with ease and tricked his way past the already booked Fernandinho like he wasn’t there before slotting the ball through Hart’s legs. The small contingent of visiting Potters went potty. It was a catalogue of errors from City. The City keeper could and should have done better and was beaten far too easily. Kolarov and Fernandinho should have made a better fist of their challenges and Sagna might have got across to cover. They should have done better as our defence was badly exposed with Demichelis and Kompany still up in Stoke’s penalty box from the set piece. Fernandinho in particular got too square on as Diouf ran at him and was easily passed.
Stoke almost doubled their lead when Odemwingie skinned Kolarov and his cross just eluded Diouf by a hairsbreadth.
For the last half an hour City laid siege to the Stoke goal. Yaya had an effort deflected behind by a block on the hour. We were badly crying out for something different, particularly some pace and some low crosses, ie. particularly Jesus Navas. Pellegrini rang the changes just after the hour replacing Nasri with Navas and Jovetic wth Dzeko. In the 66th minute Dzeko had three attempts at goal: in the first move his effort was blocked and from the rebound his shot was deflected behind for a corner. Navas used his pace and got behind the Stoke defence to cross but Dzeko headed over. There was an appeal for a penalty handball after Aguero shot, but it was not given.
Stoke still carried a threat and Crouch headed past the post from a Bardsley cross.
Navas and Aguero worked space in the box but the latter’s effort was wide, as was Silva’s attempt. Still, City still struggled to penetrate a crowded Stoke box but our final ball lacked the quality to open the door the visitors got in block after block. When we tried an aerial route, Shawcross led the way in heading out corners, free kicks and high crosses.
It was very frustrating. Yaya Toure had a shot which got a deflection that could have gone anywhere, with Begovic wrong footed an beaten, the ball agonisingly spun wide if his left hand post. Navas had a shot deflected behind too.
Then with the clock ticking down Yaya knocked the ball past Stoke left back Pieters who caught him. Referee Mason again refused to award a penalty and booked Yaya for diving. Like Diouf in the first half, Yaya was a bit too much of a Thespian and went down rather easily. However it was arguably a stronger claim for a penalty as Pieters’ boot came down in a raking motion and made more prolonged contact with Yaya’s leg.
We got what we deserved: nothing. Stoke were quicker to the ball in midfield and were very, very well organised. They filled the gaps which Nasri and Silva normally slide balls into, and repeatedly got bodies in the way of shots. They defended in depth when they had to, which was most of the game, but did try to attack on the break. Credit is due to them.
Mark Hughes was clearly delighted with his players, making sure that he congratulated every one of them before they left the pitch. One couldn’t help thinking that he wanted to stay out there for his own gratification, given his past history here, though to his credit, he didn’t gloat. Vincent Kompany, ever the class act, and a Hughes signing, went out of his way to congratulate him as he left the pitch. Whatever people may think of Mark Hughes, he clearly has the respect of Sir Vinny.
We were laboured and pedestrian. There was not enough zip in our passing and we lacked the killer incisive ball. Stoke’s Biram Diouf took his goal well, but Kolarov, Fernando, Sagna and Hart should have done better. It was very disappointing.
Manuel Pellegrini picked the team that most people would have agreed with. Whilst it would have been better to have seen more of Navas, playmakers Nasri and Silva had been very impressive against Liverpool and were worthy of starting. Sagna needed game time. There is no need to panic. It was one collective off day and every team has those in a long season. Let’s hope there are no more of them. Come on City.
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