Just a single win in the last six Premier League games for politician-turned business tycoon Thakshin Sinawatra’s Manchester City and already there are talks that Sven Goran Ericsson would be provided a look at the transfer market at the fag end of January to bring in extra recruits, possibly a high-profile striker, to restore an increasingly frustrating Champions League qualification march. City controversially earned a point against an energetic West Ham side to keep the unbeaten home run going at the City of Manchester Stadium which saw them go fifth in the Premiership table.
The point here is, can Sven Goran Ericsson keep up his promise to the Eastlands fans of qualifying for the UEFA Cup next season?
Well, the home form is impeccable and qualification for Europe’s second-tier competition is looking good still, yet a run of three draws out of three at the fortress is considered as unwanted valuable points dropped by fans of perceived European quality sides. Still one must admire Mr.Ericsson’s man management skills in putting up an exciting cosmopolitan modern day football side that for years has lived in the shadow of a devastatingly illustrious neighbour.
Coming back to last night’s match against Alan Curbishly’s youthful West Ham United side, a third meeting(two FA Cup ties) between the two sides in 15 days and second in four days, City had to dig deep and to be fair it was the young English goalie Joe Hart who prevented the Hammers from being the first side to taste victory at Eastlands with some high-class saves late in the game.
It was the side from Upton Park that showed all the initial intentions and got duly credited with a goal as early as the eighth minute courtesy of a delightful Carlton Cole overhead volley although the goal was due to an unusual mistake by the talismanic City skipper Richard Dunne. The towering Irish defender lost possession inside his box when he dreadfully passed the ball to impressive Hammer Mark Noble who in turn fed to Fredrick Ljungberg on the right hand side. The former Arsenal midfielder then produced a dangerous cross that found Cole who showed immense strength and skill to hold off Croat Vedran Corluka before unleashing a memorable finish.
City responded well though and were soon leveled, although television replays showed a hint of offside in the equalizer. Bulgarian Martin Petrov underlined his reputation as a quality crosser when on a second attempt found Darius Vassel inside the box and the former English marksman rifled home the equalizer although looked suspiciously offside when Petrov provided the ball.
The match then unusually turned a bit scrappy with some unnecessary fouls earning Lucas Neill and Richard Dunne cautions as the break approached although the London side could have gone ahead had Carlton Cole reacted to a teasing Lucas Neill low cross that young Hart dived full length to collect.
The second half, honestly, belonged to the visitors with England U-21 midfield star Mark Noble testing the City defense on a number of occasions. It was Hart who virtually stood between a West Ham win and City’s extension of unbeaten home run when he produced some classy saves in the course of the second-half with two of the best coming in the closing minutes of the match. With 13 minutes remaining on the clock Julian Faubert and Carlton Cole combined to setup Noble whose 12-yard shot was impressively saved by the big England prospect with his outstretched leg.
Before this Hart saved a curling Hayden Mullins shot which was equally impressive having been unsighted. West Ham looked to have scored the winner with seconds remaining till the end of the match but for the umpteenth time Joe Hart tipped Cole’s headed effort over the bar.
Hart’s heroics earned great praise from his manager who clearly hinted new England coach Fabio Capello to have a look at the great goalkeeping potential and with Paul Robinson uncertain to keep his place in the side, Ericsson has a valid point but it is too early to provide such a raw talent with a far tougher test when he is looking to make his club’s no.1 goalkeeping position permanent given the presence of experienced Swedish no.1 Andreas Isaksson in the side.
Isaksson’s exclusion has raised eyebrows among many Swedish media personnel and there was a heated post-match exchange between Sven Goran Ericsson and a Swedish journalist over the issue. The former England manager lost his cool when asked by the journalist why Isaksson is not being considered at the City goalkeeping helm.
The charismatic manager made it clear that the decision to make Hart the number one is done on the basis of his impressive performances, which he vindicated with a classic Sunday performance, and that the hard fact is accepted by the Swedish goalkeeper also. Mr.Ericsson even rubbished claims made by his country’s media that he had a fight with Isacsson regarding the issue. How ludicrous to think of a fight between two of the world’s most mild-mannered professionals.