Harry Drew experiences déjà vu at the last match of the season.
To say that this game embodied City’s season would not be far off the mark. While there was plenty of heart, moments of quality and signs that City could compete among the best – as they have shown on many occasions since their return to the Premier League – ultimately it just wasn’t good enough.
Pre-match, the optimists could point to two factors that might have worked in City’s favour on a tense final day. One was the situation Manchester United found themselves in. An under-par performance seemed a distinct possibility given that they were guaranteed 4th place, with some players perhaps not wanting to risk injuries ahead of the summer break. The other was the abysmal form of Newcastle United. A win for them would ensure safety, yet a glance at the form table would suggest this was unlikely, John Carver’s side having collected a meagre one point from their previous ten league games.
The opening exchanges at the KC reflected a genuine belief in City’s players that they could secure safety. Dame N’Doye saw his second minute header saved comfortably by Victor Valdes, while a superb Huddlestone pass (which have been disappointingly infrequent this season) found Elmohamady, who lifted the ball over the United keeper only to see it cleared at the far post. For Van Gaal’s side Wayne Rooney skimmed the crossbar with a long-range effort, duly reminding City of the quality of their opposition.
Nevertheless, the first half undoubtedly belonged to the hosts. A Valdes error caused a scramble in the box, the result of which was Paul McShane prodding the ball into the net, but from an offside position. Just a minute later the lively Brady whipped a cross in from the left, finding Elmohamady, whose header produced a fine save from Valdes. The resulting corner caused more drama in the United box, Stephen Quinn controlling a clearance and firing the ball into the net. Unfortunately for City, N’Doye had deflected it in, and was offside. City’s luck wasn’t in, and Bruce’s exasperation in the dugout was symptomatic of the collective mood of City fans everywhere.
In seeking to maintain an attacking approach, City were almost undone early in the second half when Herrera found himself through on goal following N’Doye’s error. Michael Dawson, surely the epitome of what is best about this team, produced a fine block and City were once again in the ascendancy. Perhaps the best chance of the match came and went when David Meyler missed badly from the penalty spot after Jelavic had knocked the ball down for him.
On 54 minutes, disaster. News of Newcastle taking the lead quickly filtered through into the stands and the atmosphere became more subdued. To City’s credit their approach didn’t alter and chances continued to fall their way. Brady’s in-swinger from the right was asking to be put away but neither Dawson nor McShane could produce a decisive touch.
Two positive substitutions injected more life into the match, with Sone Aluko doing well to put Jelavic in, whose shot was saved smartly by Valdes at the near post. Although the pressure on United’s defence was persistent, the situation looked increasingly bleak as West Ham showed little sign of helping City out at St James’ Park.
A moment of stupidity from substitute Abel Hernandez – the Uruguayan clearly punching Phil Jones in the stomach – should have resulted in a sending off. The referee let that one go but did produce a red card for Marouane Fellaini with just over ten minutes remaining, a disgusting challenge on Paul McShane leaving Lee Probert little choice but to give the midfielder his marching orders.
Quinn and Hernandez had late chances but it was becoming increasingly clear that relegation was imminent. This was confirmed five minutes from the end, Newcastle going into a 2-0 lead, leaving City powerless to influence their destiny. A sense of dejection, mixed with stirrings of pride at a valiant effort from the players, followed the final whistle. The Championship beckons and major changes are on the way.
Harry Drew @hdrew95