Robin Sainty: Blood, sweat and tears... survival necessities
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
It would be impossible to overstate the importance of last weekend’s game.
A loss against a struggling Everton would have been disastrous and could well have resulted in the sort of unrest in the Barclay that we saw in the away section, but City didn’t just produce a priceless three points, they also finally showed the sort of passionate display that will carry the fans with them.
From the first minute, City generated an intensity which clearly disconcerted their visitors, with the new midfield pairing of Jacob Sorensen and Pierre Lees-Melou providing the solid screen in front of the back four that has so often been lacking.
However, what might just prove to be the key to getting City’s season going is the nascent partnership between Teemu Pukki and Adam Idah.
City have struggled to be effective with a lone striker, while attempts to pair Pukki with Josh Sargent have also failed to produce the required results. However, with Sargent pushed wide and Idah given the freedom to drift without the responsibility of being a target man, City suddenly looked much more dynamic.
A confident Idah gives City an extra dimension because he is willing to run at defenders with genuine pace and it was clear on Saturday that Everton’s back four found it difficult to cope with that.
It is increasingly obvious that City’s game is becoming much more direct under Dean Smith and that seems to be benefiting Sargent, whose ability to regularly win headers put a suspect Everton defence under pressure. Like Idah, he has pace and power, and, crucially, both showed the football sense to drop back in to help the midfield pairing out when necessary.
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There is no doubt that the American needs a goal to build his confidence, but if he can add that to his exceptional work rate, he could be a real asset to the way that Smith clearly wants his side to play.
Of course, there will be games in which City will need to start with an extra midfielder which will mean sacrificing either Idah or Sargent, given that Milot Rashica is surely an automatic starter if fit, but Saturday’s line-up looked like one that Smith will be keen to use whenever possible.
City have missed Mathias Normann since his injury and a swift return for him would be a huge boost to their chances, but the discipline shown by Sorensen and Lees-Melou in sticking to the basics was an important factor in the win against Everton, given that there have been occasions this season when the midfield shape has become shambolic.
I’m not going to get too carried away over one result, particularly against a team fighting its own demons (and one hopes for the sake of Everton fans that some of their players start to fight harder than they did on Saturday), but there are two things that are absolutely essential if City are to avoid the drop.
The first of these is to find another source of goals to supplement those of Pukki, but the second is that they must play every game with the sort of intensity that they generated against Everton.
Nothing gets a crowd going like a hard but fair challenge and we saw plenty of those, the highlight being when Brandon Williams, having been the victim of two unpunished late challenges from Anthony Gordon, saw the chance to take man and ball and nearly launched the winger into the advertising boards.
Everywhere you looked on Saturday were City players showing total commitment, from Grant Hanley playing through pain to Dimitris Giannoulis throwing his body into the path of a goalbound shot, but that now has to be replicated game after game.
That performance must be the start of a trend rather than a one-off, because safety won’t come through finesse, it will have to be earnt through blood, sweat and tears.