Ahead of the first of our two semi-final clashes against Manchester City, Jack Pitt-Brooke from the popular City blog, The Lonesome Death of Roy Carroll, has taken time out to have a quick chat. The last time we spoke was ahead of derby day in September, with Jack hopeful of a 1-1 draw. Things didn’t quite work out that way!
Things have changed quite considerably at City since then but will our matches pan out the same way…?
Scott the Red: Last time we spoke, we talked about Garry Cook’s dreadful handling of the Richard Dunne transfer, where he basically kicked your captain out of the club behind his back. What do you make of Cook’s handling of Mark Hughes’ sacking?
Jack Pitt-Brooke: I was not impressed. Regardless of the merits of the decision to sack Hughes (more on which next), it was very poorly done. To allow Mark Hughes to find out about his dismissal in the papers on the Saturday morning was bad enough, but for it to happen on a matchday – with 48,000 people all aware of what was about to happen after the game, was quite wrong. It shows a real lack of respect. And I did not think that Cook came across at all well in the press conference with Roberto Mancini on the Monday.
STR: There has been plenty of talk of “moving the goal posts”, given that Hughes had guided City to sixth place, the position he apparently needed to keep a hold of until May. Do you think it was time for Hughes to go?
J P-B: No. I thought that the sacking was a real overreaction to what was simply a bit of a blip. Our results had been a bit patchy, those three blown leads at home (Fulham, Burnley and Hull) were infuriating, and the performance at White Hart Lane was shameful. But after the Sunderland game we were six points off fourth with a game in hand, and with a League Cup semi-final around the corner. To suggest that our ‘trajectory of results’ were well off target is bizarre. And then there is the fundamental point that once a target has been set (whether it was fourth place, sixth place or 70 points, which is itself contested) it is only fair to allow the manager to complete the season. Sacking Hughes in the summer if we had failed to meet a target would have been fair. But to sack him mid-season, before Hughes can complete the challenge set is not. And to do it when we were more or less on track with those targets is just ludicrous.
STR: Chelsea, another new to money team, have behaved in very much the same way since sacking Jose Mourinho. You have to wonder about the long term merits of sacking a manager every season. If Mancini doesn’t make top four this season, will he be looking for a new job? Are your aspirations for this season now higher than the 6th place target given at the start of the season?
J P-B: Well if you ask Garry Cook the target was upgraded from sixth to fourth after the heavy spending in the summer. One of the frustrating things about our recent form was how attainable fourth place is this year, and I can see that the board might have thought that sacking Hughes was the way to increase our chances of finishing there. I’m not so sure. Changing managers mid-season can sometimes help failing teams to stay up (Bruce at Wigan, Allardyce at Blackburn, Hart at Portsmouth etc), but I’m not sure if it’s the best option for a team aiming for fourth place in the league and success in the domestic cups. Particularly when the new guy’s experience of English football is pretty limited.
STR: Mancini has paraded around in your scarf and has started off his City career with wins, before the humbling defeat against Everton. What are your first impressions of him?
J P-B: Pretty good. He seems smart, funny, astute and likeable. More importantly, and we’re working from a small data set here, he looks like a decent manager. Up until Saturday there had been a marked improvement in defensive organisation – only one conceded in four, and that was due to an uncharacteristic slip-up from Vincent Kompany. There had also been a welcome reluctance to throw too many bodies forward too much of the time. Hughes effectively played 4-2-4, with full-backs who were encouraged to attack, plus of course the occassional forward bursts of Gareth Barry or Stephen Ireland. So too many times teams were breaking with only the two centre backs and Nigel de Jong between them and Shay Given. So it’s been a relief to see us go ahead against Stoke, Wolves, ‘Boro and Blackburn and force them to break us down. All this is tempered, though, by the fact that we were dismal at Goodison Park on Saturday. All teams have off days, and we could do with resting some key players, but we were dire. It’s the worst possible prepartion for Tuesday.
STR: City’s defensive record had been dreadful. Looking at the individual back five players, City have one of the best defences in the league on paper. So what’s going wrong?
J P-B: I think it was to do with the Hughes system: four forwards, plus attacking full backs meant that we were just too open defensively. Roberto Mancini has set us up to put men behind the ball once we’ve gone ahead, which might be a bit dull but is a relief after conceding three at home to Burnley and Sunderland. Neither Kolo Touré nor Joleon Lescott have been playing particularly well, but that doesn’t quite explain the extent of our problems. But I still think that Mancini will try to buy a new centre-back in January – if not Chiellini then maybe Iván Córdoba.
STR: Mancini has remarkably claimed he is going to win 5 league titles in the next 10 years with City. Is he hoping the teams above him are involved in a match fixing scandal to allow this to happen, as was the case when he won the 2 league titles in Italy? Or do you think City genuinely have what it takes to win the league 5 times in the next 10 years?
J P-B: It’s good that he’s confident but I’d be surprised if we do that well. If the board continue to spend freely I’m sure we will win something eventually, but that itself depends on how long Sheikh Mansour maintains interest. And managerial stability is important too: unless we think that we can tempt Hiddink or Mourinho we really ought to stick with this guy for a while.
STR: Last time we talked, we spoke of the disgraceful City chant claiming Tevez hates “Munichs”. At the beginning of December, Tevez said he still had “a great deal of respect” for United fans and “respect for the club” and that he wouldn’t celebrate if he scored against us in the League Cup semi-final, your first in 28 years. Considering he is now a City player and United fans despise him, how do you feel about his obvious feelings of affection towards our club and fans?
J P-B: It sounds like locking the stable door after the horse has bolted. Tévez has probably done his reputation with United fans terminal damage with his conduct in 2009. Ultimately this is an issue between Tévez and the United fans, though, which us City fans aren’t really part of. I’d quite like it if he did patch things up though – with Adebayor and Robinho we could do with someone re-dressing the balance.
STR: Don’t hold your breath! Before signing for City, he said he wouldn’t even talk to Liverpool out of respect for United fans… but then joined City! Your lot could pay him double what Liverpool would, so for his supposed “loyalty” to be bought is unforgivable. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t have had anywhere near as much problem with him signing for our rivals if he hadn’t made out (and didn’t still make out) that he loves the club. Nobody told to him to grab our badge or say he wanted to stay at United forever, or that he was “United through and through” and would not join City, he chose to do those things himself. He was the one who actively created a relationship with our fans, which just makes him appear to be a real twat now. To then bare-faced lie about the manager sealed his fate as hated amongst our fans. He can expect more abuse over the next two legs! For both of these games, Sir Alex Ferguson had said he would play young players in the semi-final, as he has done throughout the competition so far. Would you rather play our first team (or the closest thing we have to it, given the injury problems we’ve been suffering with in defence) knowing that you were in for a tough time but would have the pride in knocking out our strongest team or would you rather an easier time against our younger players but not have the full bragging rights?
J P-B: It looks like Ferguson might actually play the full strength team. But if he did go with Gibson, Macheda, Welbeck etc I honestly wouldn’t mind. I can see that in the eyes of some it might be devalued, but after no silverware since 1976 – and no semi-finals since 1981 – I can’t afford to be fussy. To be very frank, I’d love him to play your under-15s if he’s willing to. But I fear it’s going to be Giggs, Fletcher, Rooney et al tomorrow evening.
STR: And that’s fair enough. You can only beat what is there in front of you and if it means reaching a cup final, who cares whether it’s the first team, Reserves or U-12’s! Finally, last time we spoke, you predicted a dull 1-1. The game that followed was probably the best derby day ever, with us winning 4-3 deep in to injury time. Predictions for both legs of the semi-final?
J P-B:Yes that was a pretty bad prediction wasn’t it. I’m really not confident about theses games – your defensive problems might be bad but at least you don’t have to play Micah Richards at right back. I think that we’ll nick it at Eastlands – maybe 2-1 – but lose by a few at Old Trafford. I just can’t be confident about the late stages of a knockout competition.
STR: After the couple of months we’ve had with injuries, I’d have been happy to have had anyone who called themselves a defender at right-back! Cheers Jack, enjoy the game… but not too much!