Newcastle and Manchester City kicked off the match today as the only two remaining unbeaten sides in the league although it was odds on that it would be only City who held that honour come the final whistle.
And that proved to be that case as Alan Pardew’s men succumbed to a 3-1 defeat at the Etihad this afternoon.
The victory for Mancini’s men came courtesy of penalties from Mario Balotelli and Sergio Aguero sandwiched either side of a smart finish from Micah Richards before a late Dan Gosling consolation put some gloss on the scoreline for the visitors.
Personally I never expected us to get anything from the game today. Being blunt, far better teams will go to Manchester City and get beat far more convincingly this season so there is no shame in getting beat by a team that I envisage will be Champions come the end of the season. What impressed me the most however is that it could have been oh so different on another day.
With injuries mounting up for Alan Pardew there were some question marks over his team selection. Would we change formation? Would we play Ben Arfa? Who would fill in for Gabriel Obertan and Sylvain Marveaux? The answers were yes sort of, yes, and Sammy Ameobi who was afforded his full Premier League debut.
We lined up in kind of a 4-4-1-1 formation with Ben Arfa being the man ‘in the hole’ on the ground where his Newcastle career came to a shuddering halt just over a year ago. As it happens he showed signs of getting back to his best and worked diligently for the team.
Anyway, moving on to the match…
The hosts started off brightly and kept possession well although they were unable to do a lot with it. In my mind there was only a couple of scares, with one being from a header from Balotelli that was smartly saved by Tim Krul and another from a quick turn and shot which Sergio Aguero blazed over the bar.
Newcastle defended from the front and gradually felt their way into the game. They could have even took the lead against the general run of play courtesy of Demba Ba who saw his shot saved after fine work from Hatem Ben Arfa. Ba went close again a few minutes later glancing a free header wide from a Yohan Cabaye corner.
From then on it all went wrong for Newcastle, and Ryan Taylor in particular. First a penalty was awarded against him after Yaya Toure’s shot hit his flailing arm. Mario Balotelli stepped up and calmly slotted the ball past Krul. Then, just four minutes later, he lost his balance trying to take the ball from Micah Richards and tied himself in a knot (not literally) allowing Richards a free strike at goal which he stroked home.
The annoying thing for me was the timing of the goals. We’d just started getting a grip of the game and were dealt two blows in quick succession. At 0-0, or even 1-0, it was salvageable. At 2-0 it was a tall order.
One of the things that typifies this Newcastle team though is their ability to not give up no matter what odds are stacked against them. That proved to be the case in the second half as they came out and gave it a bit of a go looking neat with possession and looking to make something happen.
And something very early did happen when Hatem Ben Arfa jinked past three players before trying to find the left-hand of Joe Hart’s goal only to be denied by the post. It was one of a number of cracking little runs and flashes of skill that we saw throughout the match. He played well.
Danny Guthrie went close to cutting the deficit when he latched into a rare defensive mistake by City and surged into the box only to see his angled drive palmed away by Joe Hart. The resulting rebound fell inches behind a onrushing Steven Taylor to add to our catalogue of missed chances and misfortune.
Newcastle arguably had the better of the chances in the match but it was game over after 71 minutes when Hatem Ben Arfa fouled Micah Richards in the box. It was a clumsy challenge and Ben Arfa should have been there but he was covering for Ryan Taylor who was in turn covering for Steven Taylor who was off the pitch having treatment on a bloody nose. Sergio Aguero gave Krul no chance and gave the hosts a rather flattering 3-0 lead.
From then on the game just drifted towards full-time. City kept the ball well and looked to break on the counter-attack, something they would have done but for some kind offside decisions.
Ben Arfa, Sammy and Cabaye were replaced with Lovenkrands, Gosling and Perch, and it was the two subs who gave Newcastle the goal deserved on the stroke of 90 minutes. James Perch fed the ball through to Demba Ba who charged down on Joe Hart. The two players collided allowing Dan Gosling to tap in the loose ball from six yards out.
Full-time: Manchester City 3-1 Newcastle
I’m proud of the boys today. They gave it a go and that is all we can ask for really and despite the possession being tipped heavily in favour of the hosts the stats show that they only managed an extra two shots on goal for it. I can’t help thinking that on another day it could have been different had we not made some horrendous individual errors or if we’d have buried some of the clear chances we had. Alas it wasn’t to be.
Manchester United next. Go to Old Trafford armed with the same and we might just get something!
Howay the lads!
Manchester City: Joe Hart, Micah Richards, Joleon Lescott, Vincent Kompany, Gael Clichy, Nigel De Jong, James Milner, Yaya Toure, Samir Nasri, Sergio Aguero, Mario Balotelli
Subs: Costel Pantilimon, Kolo Toure, Aleksander Kolarov, Garteh Barry, Adam Johnson, David Silva, Edin Dzeko
Newcastle: Tim Krul, Danny Simpson, Steven Taylor, Fabricio Coloccini, Ryan Taylor’ Jonas Gutierrez, Danny Guthrie, Yohan Cabaye, Sammy Ameobi, Hatem Ben Arfa, Demba Ba.
Subs: Rob Elliot, James Perch, Davide Santon, Alan Smith, Dan Gosling, Peter Lovenkrands, Shola Ameobi
Attendance: A club record at the Etihad – 47,408
Referee: Chris Foy