Robin Sainty: Pulling points, not popping corks
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Sometimes the end justifies the means.
City were rarely firing on all cylinders in this week’s matches, but the four points gained are just as valuable as if they had been obtained via 180 minutes of champagne football.
While the opening 10 minutes against Wycombe stoked the fires of complacency that had seen widely held expectations of an easy win, as if such a thing existed in the Championship, the remaining 80 showed why nothing can be taken for granted, even against a pointless team, as Watford were also to discover on Tuesday night.
City didn’t play badly overall, but the ridiculously sloppy goal conceded and the subsequent slump in confidence thereafter showed that the wounds of last season aren’t yet fully healed, while the consistently poor quality of their final ball was frustrating to watch.
That frustration continued at Brentford on Tuesday night as City’s apparent obsession with scoring the perfect goal meant that by the time the ball came into the box, if it ever actually did, there was no space to be found even for someone as adept at finding it as Teemu Pukki.
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Contrast that with Brentford who, although just as technically minded in possession as City, recognised the need to feed Ivan Toney before defenders were set, resulting in both a goal and a wonder save from Timm Krul as well as several anxious moments for the Canaries back line.
There were times when City appeared to be too clever for their own good, not least Todd Cantwell’s suicidal inside pass which led to Toney’s goal, or Emi Buendia’s late free-kick when he eschewed the chance to cross the ball in favour of a disguised pass meant for Max Aarons which went straight to a Brentford player and allowed a dangerous breakaway with both City centre backs in the opposing box. Buendia has shown flashes of his best, but, like Cantwell, he has yet to find a consistent level of performance to match that of Aarons, who has handled his enhanced reputation superbly and knuckled down to the reality of life in the Championship.
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One player who did come out of Tuesday night’s game with fully justified plaudits was Jacob Sorensen, brought in at the last possible moment when Xavi Quintilla pulled up in the warm-up and playing as a left back for the first time ever, but nevertheless looking solid in defence, strong in the air and composed in possession.
While the pessimists will inevitably see impending disaster on the horizon when City’s luck runs out, optimists will feel that the team really aren’t that far away from clicking.
For me, the key is getting the midfield working effectively. Currently the attacking build-up is sometimes too one-paced and there is a tendency to over-elaborate or try a flick or back heel when a simpler ball is on, which can cause big problems when City have a number of players forward, but more worrying is the fact that there is often a 20-yard gap between the back four and midfield that can be exploited by opponents with pace.
However, this is still a squad in development in the initial stages of a long and gruelling season. Clearly, Daniel Farke will need to rotate much more than he has previously, simply because there are so many games being crammed into a shorter period and without the benefit of a full pre-season.
While there are concerns about the lack of depth in some positions, with Quintilla’s injury highlighting one of them, City’s overall squad depth is likely to serve them well in what promises to be an even more attritional Championship than is usually the case.
Two seasons ago, 10 points out of 12 including a draw away to a promotion favourite would have been lauded by fans, but now the expectation levels are so much higher. However, points only come from results, not performances.