A third defeat of the season for Eddie Howe’s Mags as Man City came away – winners in today’s early kick-off at the Etihad.
We limited Man City to one shot on target in the first half and had opportunities of our own that Wilson, Longstaff and Joelinton failed to convert, but some awful defending for Phil Foden’s opener followed by a
This is always going to be a tough fixture, yet it felt like Howe missed an opportunity today in failing to start any of Alexander Isak; who could’ve hurt a City side Callum Wilson failed to lay a glove on. On this occasion, it felt like Howe was too loyal to a few out of form players who could’ve done with a rest.
The result leaves us five league games without a win, with just six goals in our last nine in all competitions. It also means we could slip to seventh if Liverpool and Fulham win over the coming days, making upcoming games against Wolves and Nottingham Forest all the more vital to get our European push back on track.
It’s been a tough month, featuring a few toothless draws and 2-0 defeats to Liverpool, Man Utd and Man City, but I back Howe to find solutions and for us to bounce back, starting against Wolves next Sunday.
There were a few surprises in the starting XI. A ‘slight concussion’ from Sunday’s final ruled Fabian Schar out, seeing Jamaal Lascelles make his first Premier League start since August against the formidable Erling Haaland.
Anthony Gordon came in for his full debut, replacing Allan Saint-Maximin down the left, while Callum Wilson somehow kept his place ahead of Alexander Isak; a call that surprised Toon fans on social media. As expected, Nick Pope returned to the side after completing his one-game ban at Wembley, while Joe Willock was on the bench again; another surprise given his ability to carry the ball at pace on the break.
Aside from one dangerous City counter that ended in a good early chance for Gundogan, we made a decent start, forcing an early corner that Lascelles headed into a really good area before the ball was hacked clear.
Five minutes later, Bruno played a lovely ball in behind for Gordon after regaining possession. It was a decent opening for our new £40m man but Walker tracked his run and the chance was soon gone after a miskick from the scouse winger.
On the 15 minute mark, City took the lead. Foden burst past Burn, nipped beyond Bruno and Gordon all too easily and fired an effort off Botman and into the net. Another deflected goal, but a really poor one to concede, featuring too many weak challenges as Foden waltzed between three or four black and white shirts. 1-0.
A big chance of our own arrived straight from the restart, only this one wasn’t converted. Gordon cut inside well, fed Wilson and the ball fell to Longstaff. It was a huge opening for the local lad, but Ake recovered brilliantly to block his shot.
Burn was really struggling against the brilliant Foden, struggling to deal with his low centre of gravity and quick feet. So much was coming down their right, while we weren’t getting any joy down ours at the other end, as Trippier and Almiron struggled to get anything going. Wilson was also losing his battles against Rodri, Akanji and Dias and struggling to hold up the ball, seeing City regain possession all too easily.
At times, Man City were smothering us, making it hard to play out – especially without Schar – but it felt like we really lacked an outball. Almiron was largely anonymous, Wilson spent most of the half wrestling his man and Gordon was often forced to protect an all at sea Burn, not make runs beyond Walker at the other end.
Things needed to change if we were to turn this around and they nearly did when Trippier’s headed across goal found Wilson. Sadly, our out-of-sorts No 9 got his effort all wrong, amplifying calls for Isak’s inclusion. It was the sort of chance he normally buries, but he got it all wrong in a half to forget for the forward.
We headed into the break 1-0 down. A disjointed display in the main featuring too many loose passes and a front three failing to offer enough, yet we did create a few big chances and limit City to one shot on target; making the nature of Foden’s opener all the more frustrating.
Howe made no changes at the break. Perhaps he was keeping faith in a side that did create a couple of big openings in the first 45, but we continued to give the ball away too cheaply in the opening five minutes of the second half, with Almiron, Trippier and Botman (more than once) guilty of slack passes that fortunately weren’t punished.
The good news was that City had also come out the traps slowly, but bad news then followed as Joelinton picked up his 10th yellow card of the season, meaning he’ll now be suspended for upcoming games against Wolves and Nottingham Forest.
A triple change then followed by Howe on the 60th minute, seeing Isak, Saint-Maximin and Willock replace Wilson, Gordon and Longstaff. Positive changes with 30 left to play and we almost saw an immediate equaliser, as Joelinton failed to connect with a superb Willock cross down the right. ANOTHER huge chance wasted.
There was hope we could get something out of this, as Isak’s quick feet and pace in behind immediately caused City problem, but the game was all but killed off moments later when a subbed-on Bernardo Silva fired past Pope after latching onto Haaland’s lay-off. 2-0 down and a feeling of real regret we didn’t start Isak, ASM and Willock from the off.
After a scuffle between Burn and Haaland – a heavyweight battle if I ever saw one – got both yellow cards, Jacob Murphy came on to replace a largely anonymous Almiron for the final 15 minutes. Before that, Bruno also went into the book for a blatant handball after slipping on the edge of the box.
The game had gone flat at this point. It felt like the second goal had knocked the stuffing out of us and City seemed happy to keep the ball and protect their clean sheet, although Foden very nearly made it 3-0 with five minutes to play, seeing his low shot stopped well by Pope.
Matt Targett then came on for his first appearance since November, replacing Burn at left-back. Perhaps some minutes for the former Villa man before he comes back into the side against Wolves next weekend?
A brilliant ball was then whipped in by Murphy with a few minutes remaining. It was a superb cross, but just evaded Isak at the back post. We had our chances today, but sloppy moments at both ends combined with poor team selection cost us against a clinical City side who won comfortably without being at their best.
Next up, a crucial home game with Wolves next Sunday. A huge game in our bid for European football after five games without a win.
4-3-3: Pope – Trippier, Lascelles, Botman, Burn – Longstaff, Bruno, Joelinton – Almiron, Wilson, Gordon.
SUBS: Dubravka, Saint-Maximin, Ritchie, Targett, Isak, Manquillo, Murphy, Willock, Anderson.