Date: Saturday 7th February
Venue: City of Manchester Stadium
Betting Odds: Manchester City 8/13, Middlesbrough 5/1, Draw 13/5
As the clock chimed for 5 o’clock on Monday 2nd February, a collective sigh was heard across Manchester as fans were faced with the realisation that the days of taking a sly peep for message board exclusives were over until July. For Manchester City, it was a month of failing to fulfil their given status as the ‘anti-christ’ of modern-day football as they could not tempt Milan’s Special One (hint: not Jose) to join the names of Craig Bellamy, Nigel de Jong, Wayne Bridge and Shay Given. As we drop back down to reality, Mark Hughes will hold no apologies to the neutrals for not embarking on a last-minute shopping spree and the window as a whole was the clearest indication yet of where the club is heading over the coming months and years.
The roads outside of the City of Manchester Stadium have tormented and punctured the domestic hopes of finishing close to the league’s summit, now it is a salvage job of placing extra comfort between us and the bottom half of the table. The prospect of facing a sinking stone embedded in the league’s very own trap door will surely raise a smile or two for Mark Hughes and his band of merry men – especially after the Britannia fiasco only seven days before. The welcome visitors are Middlesbrough, who have savoured the sweet taste of victory only once since we last met back in October, make the eastwards trip with counterpart Gareth Southgate celebrating his golden centurion at the helm. However, the time for champagne and party hats is on hold until Middlesbrough can transform their Championship-bound form around. As the economic hardship strangles the nation more and more, Gareth Southgate could soon be visiting a Job Centre near you if the patience of the league’s most patient chairmen is put to the acid test.
Gareth is making a good job of clinging on to his job also
City’s Transfer window
Any earth-shattering moves in the transfer windows were strictly confined to the imaginations of the fans and the media alike and while the Kaka saga drew in criticism and fascination from all corners of the globe, the four signings who headed to Manchester represented the hard-working and ‘steel’ ethic which Hughes has been striving for. “What we were able to do was address a number of the key areas that we felt needed to be strengthened.” No last-ditch bid to pull off a world-class coup, just the right ingredients that needed to be blended into the current bunch. The incoming batch provide an extremely strong and reliable base which has previously been absent, the likes of Bridge, Bellamy, De Jong and Given undoubtedly enhance the squad depth and should allow those with the vivacity and energy to attack and to craft out the cutting-edge opportunities.
Boro’s Transfer window
Transfer windows are traditionally famed as opportunities for struggling managers to boost their ailing squads with panic buys, but not so for Gareth Southgate. The biggest boost on Teeside over the 33 day-stretch was the ability to keep their midfield dynamo Stuart Downing away from the pestering hands of Tottenham. The sole signing of Marlon King, with all due respect a very solid Premiership striker, will have done little to rally the spirits as those struggling at the bottom have arguably added more ably. Short-term loan deals would have appeared the most logical approach to the market, especially given Southgate’s claim that “it’s hard anyway to bring players to the club, particularly at this time of year, and mainly because of the finances of other clubs.” North-east rivals Sunderland complimented their squad healthily by securing Tal Ben-Haim and Calum Davenport until May and while there is no guarantee their Premiership status is secured, turning to experience can never be frowned upon. Ignoring such a glorious opportunity of adding to a squad over-reliant on its flourishing but inexperienced youth academy could quite literally prove costly with their Premiership status becoming endangered.
More concerning was the onslaught of Blackburn chances which they spurned at every occasion thanks to the heroics of Brad Jones last weekend. The use of five centre-backs in that line-up and relegating Afonso Alves to the bench just after he was re-finding his touch created the impression of a tactical meltdown in Southgate’s mind.
As Manchester City currently have the lush resources of their Abu Dhabi-backed billionaires, Saturday’s travelling fans could well suffer flashbacks from their moment in the financial spotlight as Middlesbrough once upon a time embarked on a rigorous spending spree after their promotion to the Premiership for the 1995-96 season. Payments of £4.75m for Brazilian supremo Juninho and £5.25m for Nick Barmby led to soaring expectations but after a season of false hope and unrealised ambition, the following year Middlesbrough were docked three points after calling off their match at Blackburn, effectively sealing their destiny of relegation. If relegation was not enough to wrestle with, they became the first English club to lose both major cup finals and be relegated from the top division in the same season.
Regardless of the lucky eleven who will be strolling onto the pitch at Saturday lunchtime, they will be comforted by the motto of ‘Home, Sweet Home’. Heck, we’ve amazingly picked up as many points at home as Aston Villa and with the sixth best home record of the season to date, we must be striding towards some kind of improvement! On a slightly downcast note, Stoke – second favourites to finish bottom – have also managed 21 points so we’re left with a sour, deeply frustrating feeling that we’ve all had to tolerate this season!
So what can we realistically expect from the city that gave birth to the colourful lives of Brian Clough and Roy Chubby Brown? Middlesbrough have collected eight points from twelve matches away from home, contributing immensely to their damaging goal difference of -17. Credibly one of their away victories was against Villa but victory is fundamental for Man City if they are to salvage an ounce of respectability from a season that has been harrowed by mistakes and defensive frailties. If the mortification on display last weekend set the tone for future Premiership ties then home matches are all the more intense and valuable.
– Middlesbrough have won more Premier League matches against Manchester City than any other club.
– Manchester City have scored more goals at home than any of their English top-tier counterparts.
– Middlesbrough haven’t hit the net in 315 minutes of Premiership football and have failed to score in six of their last seven matches.
– Alves, Mido and Sanli share the status as Middlesbrough’s top goalscorer in the league this season with four goals each, Robinho tops the same chart for Manchester City with 11.
The tables may have turned financially as Manchester City aim to reach aspiring heights and Middlesbrough suffer an endless plummet down the Premier League charts, but Middlesbrough remain the only English team outside of the ‘Big Four’ to reach a major European final in the past 20 years.
- Manchester City
will welcome the news that Shaun Wright-Phillips is available to play after he appealed for more time to answer an FA charge of violent conduct and Micah Richards has also been included following his off-the-field difficulties. Shay Given will be awarded his debut after his transfer from Newcastle but Hughes could otherwise remain faithful with the same outfield ten.
Shaun tells Gareth how many we are winning by
are boosted by the return of midfield duo Didier Digard and Gary O’Neil from suspension and Alves is expected to force his way into the starting eleven after being shunned instead of Tuncay and King last weekend.
Prediction: Manchester City 2-0 Middlesbrough
Why? Simply because we wouldn’t want to offend the Bayern Munich manager, Uli Hoeness, any further. “I saw the Premier League game between Stoke City and Manchester City. I saw that they can do absolutely nothing, even though they were very expensive.”
My weekly horoscopes warned me that ‘Negative thinking could prevent you from reaching the top of your game’, so here I am predicting a daring win. A fourth home victory in succession will help us all sleep well on Saturday night knowing that three points have been wrapped up and Uli goes away a happy happy man.
MH Agrees with the score prediction
A massive thanks to AlanD from www.mancityfans.net for this weeks match preview. You can discuss this and many more City topics on our forum.