Robin Sainty: It's hard to see what City have got for their money

The traveling Norwich fans pretend they've scored a goal at Crystal Palace

Gallows humour among the travelling Norwich fans at Selhurst Park as they 'pretend City have scored - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

I was one of the lucky ones on Boxing Day. Family commitments meant that it was made very clear to me that if I disappeared to the football my next rendition of On the Ball City would be delivered in falsetto. 

I did, however, make the trip to Selhurst Park, an exercise in masochism at the best of times given the appalling facilities, but almost unbearable when your team capitulates as easily as City did. 

Of course, the effects of Covid, injuries and the Premier League’s pathological need to pretend that there is anything even vaguely normal about the way football is being played at the moment meant that City had to field a thrown-together side, yet they still had six full internationals in their starting line-up while Palace were equally hit by the absence of key players. 

Nevertheless, and long before the appearance of young Jonathan Rowe as a late substitute, it was men against boys as Palace cut through City’s powder-puff midfield tackling time after time with the game dead as a contest well before half time. 

With the players roundly booed at half-time there was genuine cause for concern that a repeat of the first-half performance could see things become very ugly in the away end, but in fact some wonderful gallows humour, and the fact that opponents largely playing in second gear didn’t add to their total, saw that risk defused, although the singling out of Billy Gilmour was unacceptable. 

I’ve said before that I don’t think that he is the player that City need in their current state, and the delusional belief of Chelsea fans that he is man of the match game after game when he isn’t really standing out in a sub-standard midfield is beyond irritating, but to make a 20-year-old lad, who has always come across as humble in interviews and never hides in games, the main scapegoat for much wider problems is unfair, as is the tagging of both him and members of his family into abusive social media posts. 

Sadly, both that and news of the online racist abuse of Adam Idah soured the mood further as fans trekked home both financially poorer and deeply depressed by the thought that things may well get worse before they get better. 

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Worse was to follow the following day with news that a City fan had been ejected for racist abuse of Palace players, something that, quite rightly, the club condemned in the strongest terms. 

However, the vast majority of City fans were absolutely magnificent at Selhurst Park on Tuesday, particularly given the dross served up to them in the first half and the actions of a handful of morons shouldn’t be allowed to detract from that.  

A fan from the away section invades the pitch but is caught and led away by stewards during the Prem

Extreme measures - a fan from the away section at Selhurst Park is led away after invading the pitch - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

However, it’s clear that frustration is growing as another season in the Premier League heads towards a humiliating relegation and inevitably individual players, the owners and the recruitment system are coming in for criticism, with the self-funding model increasingly looking incompatible with Premier League status, however much many of us want to see it work. 

The fact that so many senior players are missing does provide some mitigation, but realistically even when everyone has been fit, City have looked ill-equipped at this level, and there is still much work ahead to improve upon the points total of two seasons ago. 

In football, as in life, if you don’t progress you stagnate, and despite a significant spend it’s hard to see any real improvement on the 2019/20 squad. City are still routinely outmuscled, overly-reliant on one player to score and lacking any real creative spark. 

Yes, injuries have played a part, but with fans feeling increasingly disconnected from this group of players there is a growing belief among the City faithful that lessons haven’t been learned creating a very real danger that stagnation could easily tip into regression.