Again and again, I’ve taken too much. Of the things that cost you too much
It was inevitable that the hedonistic highs of last Saturday would give way to the most sobering of comedowns a day later. This is our fate. The inescapable pain of our endless, unremitting, miserable addiction. It shouldn’t still hurt. But, fuck, it does.
And yet, even from Monday’s pit of regret and remorse, we came back for more on what was a cold, unforgiving morning in East Manchester. Like desperate addicts scrambling through the detritus of the night before, for one final hit. Just one more, and then we’d be done, we told ourselves. Turkey that was not so much cold, as deep bloody frozen.
The stupid thing is, I’d convinced myself today would be different. According to the divine grace of those much invoked footballing gods, we would somehow be gifted the most unlikely of victories in Manchester. The Etihad would be to Wembley as Old Trafford was to Radford and Edgar Street all those years ago. The spirit of Motty decreed it.
Fat fucking chance.
For that to happen, we would actually have to score a goal. And this was Groundhog Day all over again. Two soft goals conceded, plenty of promise, but about as much chance of scoring as a Mackem in a knocking shop. Welcome to Wembley 2.0. I swear the last goal I saw away from St. James’ was in the balmy days of August at Anfield.
Not that it was all doom and gloom. We bossed the opening 15 minutes, and for much of the first half we had City playing on the break at home. The goal when it came was less a Foden solo wonder strike (copyright BBC Sport) and more a parting of the defence worthy of the Red Sea and a cruel deflection past Pope.
Still we pressed, literally and metaphorically. Gordon was a revelation. Or not as the case may be. A more Eddie player you will not find. All energy and intelligence, retaining possession at all costs and shutting off any production for City down their right. With him in the team instead of Maxi, we looked alive, competitive, an intimidating unit. Everything we’re not when we choose to play with 10 plus ASM. Quite why he gave way in the second half, I do not know.
But for all the promise, there was precious little end product. Again. Trippier got in behind on the right a couple times. Repeatedly we looked like we were one smart ball or a lucky touch away from a goal. But always it came to nothing.
Meanwhile, the footballer formerly known as Callum Wilson continued his lame tribute act to the number 9 he was before Christmas. In his defence, the referee seemed to have decided that all-in wrestling by the City centre halves was entirely permissible. And yet, he looked laboured, off the pace, and entirely without threat. Mind you, he was about as much use as Haaland who was, frankly, a sack of shit.
Speaking of the Qatar affliction, Trippier continued to struggle. Again, the smart corner routines were replaced by a single direct predictable ball, often not beyond the first defender. And when he gave the ball away for the second goal, the most surprising aspect was how unsurprising it was.
As last Sunday, that was the killer blow. Not least because in the preceding five minutes we had got up a head of steam and seemed by far the most likely scorers. Isak energised the front line, full of pace and a trick. Just not a goal.
And with that the silence in the Manchester library was briefly broken. It would be churlish and childish to make the obvious observations about empty seats and the astonishing quiet of the home crowd. But we’re nothing if not churlish and childish here.
Even by the current standards of Eastlands this was embarrassing. Not so much “sing when you’re winning” as “momentarily find your half-hearted voice when you’re comfortably two goals clear”. Respect, though, to the tourist Blue walking towards the ground resplendent in half and half scarf (wtf), who had made sure he’d nipped to Jo Malone first. Don’t know about you, but an overpriced scented candle is a must in my pre-match routine.
Still, we’d do well not to crow too much over the empty seats, given the number next to me in the last ten minutes. For some, queuing for the next cup of vomit-inducing berry cider is clearly more important than actually watching the match or supporting the team. On the plus side, I was given a fascinating and repeated insight into the cost of vodka and lemonade in London by the lad next to me who spent the entire match on his phone arranging the next drink. Ultimately, the surrender was as lame in the stands as on the pitch.
Losing here won’t make much difference to the outcome of our season. It’s baked in, after all. And we gave a much better account of ourselves than we have on plenty of previous occasions, including last season.
With Gordon and Isak starting and playing less strong teams than the Abu Dhabi All Stars, we’ll get back to winning ways. And we’re nothing if not owed a shedload of goals.
But this was another occasion to remind us of what we put ourselves through in the hope of one day basking in the morning sun. Or as the song goes that gives voice to our addiction:
That’s the price that we all pay/ And the value of destiny comes to nothing/ I can’t tell you where we’re going/ I guess there was just no way of knowing.
Except when we play at the Etihad. Then we know exactly where we’re going. And it doesn’t end well. Ever.
Matthew Philpotts @mjp19731