As Raheem Sterling stroked the ball high across Dúbravka into the top left corner to make it five, there was no kicking of the seat, no swearing, no despair. Instead, we picked up the incessant beat in the away end one more time – “Eddie Howe’s Black and White Army, Eddie Howe’s Black and White army”. Fifteen thousand empty seats remained silent in response. A quarter of those had been unfilled all afternoon. God help us if this is the future of oil money.

Seven years ago, I trudged disconsolately back from Eastlands after a desperate 5-goal defeat that presaged relegation. Ten years before that, it was a freezing furious stomp back towards town after what would prove to be Souness’s final match. And twelve years earlier, I sat on the pavement outside the Manchester City social club in Moss Side (don’t ask) in utter despair, unable to believe that we’d just been dumped out of the League Cup by Uwe Rösler – his granddad bombed Old Trafford, don’t you know – and Paul Walsh. Those who know me will know I’ve never been one to accept defeat with a rueful, stoical smile.

But today was different. I mean, when Sean Longstaff is matched up against Kevin de Bruyne, your expectations have to be lowered somewhat. Actually, I had to be reminded halfway through the second half he was even playing. For most of the match, City were playing five-a-side in our penalty box, every touch assured, every movement purposeful, always a willing runner. In truth, two goals in injury time only gave the scoreline a more accurate reflection of the balance of play. As yet, we’re not in a position to bring Phil Foden off the bench. Give it time. I hope.

Weirdly, we opened the match quite brightly. We even toyed with the quaint notion of passing and possession. As the olés went up from the away end in the early summer sunshine and Miggy found space down the right, it felt like the impossible might be possible. Then the ball reached Lascelles, reinstated as captain in the absence of Schär and Shelvey, and horrible reality dawned. His terror was palpable even in the back row of the third tier. Don’t put me through that pain again. Ever.

And then came the moment that should have put us ahead after barely five minutes. Saint Maximin found himself on the right and put in a testing cross. Meanwhile, Wood had taken a moment off from “occupying defenders” to actually consider threatening goal. Alas, his free header fell tamely into Ederson’s hands, while Joelinton was waiting beyond him to power home/ miss horribly (delete as applicable, depending on the extent of your blind faith).

When you’re playing the best club team in the world – regardless of their endlessly hilarious capacity to fuck up the Champions League, of which the away end was not slow to remind them – the last thing you need to do is give away soft goals. Unfortunately, we lack the quality to avoid that particular pitfall.

First, Sterling was left free at the far post with Dúbravka rooted to his line. Then, Dubs spilled a shot from a corner into the grateful path of Rúben Dias. He recovered well to block that effort, but could do nothing to prevent Laporte’s tap-in. Our entire defence were presumably trying on their flip-flops as the ball broke off the keeper. Finally, after a soporific start to the second half, Rodri made a near-post run from a corner and effortlessly glanced home on the hour. Game very much over.

Of course, it’s hard to judge when we’re faced with such quality, but it’s difficult not to feel that certain players proved themselves once and for all inadequate. Krafth was targeted mercilessly. Almirón was willing but ultimately incapable. And Saint-Maximin had plenty of opportunities in space to prove his equivalence to Mané, only to do a more than passable impression of Wayne Fereday.

Positives? BDB made mistakes but was by far the most assured and dynamic of our back five. Bruno was, as ever, head and shoulders above his teammates but overwhelmed in his attempts to single-handedly defend, create, and run the whole of midfield. But most positive of all was the long awaited return of Trippier and Wilson, the latter greeted by lusty and sustained chants wondering how exactly he scored that goal. Christ, we’ve missed him.

Despite obviously lacking sharpness, he showed in 20 minutes what a difference a pacey dynamic striker can make, one who is willing and able to make runs off the shoulder of the last defender and to gamble in the six-yard box. On one occasion, only a last-ditch header from Fernandinho denied him. On another, he was put clean through but failed to convert, Ederson demonstrating his class. Meanwhile, Trippier reminded us briefly of his constant energy and influence, at one point winning a header on the halfway line to which he had no right at all.

But it was that adventure in the final twenty minutes that was our undoing. Having looked by far the more likely to score, we were cut open with surgical precision in injury time, as the City fans practised their fire drill, heading obediently for the exits.

The last two matches might have shown us how far behind we are when it comes to the Premier League elite, but honestly that isn’t our concern at the moment. The first step was to learn how to win against Leicester, Wolves, and Brighton. That we’ve already taken that step meant that, for just one afternoon, I was able to stroll in the sunshine through north Manchester without a care in the world. Bring on the summer.

Matthew Philpotts @mjp19731