A chance to set the pace for Manchester City

Posted by Simon Curtis

Manuel PellegriniGettyImagesManuel Pellegrini: His first Man City game will be against Newcastle

Fixtures Day. It doesn't have the romance of FA Cup Third Round Day or Cup Final Day or even Boxing Day, but when you are dragging your tired, numb body through the arid desserts of a non-World Cup summer, almost anything will do, even a few regurgitated games in a list that will not take real form for another two months.

Nevertheless, rejoice! It is Fixtures Day!

Well, at least, if you follow Manchester City, you should rejoice, for the computer that works only once a year (the Football Association's human resources officer should get onto that almost criminal lack of efficiency, incidentally) has treated City supporters to an almost perfect set of games.

The list, sure to be revised heavily when the TV networks get their eager hands on it, features the following obvious highlights:

• City will be at home on the opening day and at home on the final day.
• City will open against brothers-in-arms and fellow long–sufferers Newcastle United, always a treat of a fixture, which can only have been made more enticing by the arrival of world football's Joe Kinnear. (Every door is open to him, even the pantry door.)
• City will be at home on Boxing Day, the favourite family fixture in the calendar, and against Liverpool too.
• After the opener with Newcastle, City fans have the fresh views of Cardiff and Hull to take in.
• The opening sequence of games (first six distinctly winnable) gives City an ideal opportunity to set the early pace in the League.
• And finally ... Manchester United have been handed a horrible start. A home game with Mourinho's Chelsea and trips to Anfield and the Etihad in the opening games means David Moyes will really be thrown in at the deep end in his attempt to keep up the standards.

The only negative point I can find is that a penultimate fixture at Goodison Park has my personal alarm bells ringing already, some 11 months before the game is due to take place (something of a record even for me, I think). If City are still in the hunt for the title and need points there on the next-to-last Saturday of the season, many of us will be watching that particular game from behind clinched fingers.

And so it is to a sun-drenched opening with sky blue and black and white shirts down on the hallowed turf that we must now look forward to. Memories of sunny strolls in the '70s against Norwich (3-0) and West Ham United (4-0) flood back, of a first away game of the season at Cardiff in 1983-84, back when visiting the principality was also a rare treat, if that is the correct word to describe standing in facilities the Spartans would have baulked at and getting a good chasing from the home support before and afterward. All that and it was in the second division too. City also have opened the season away at Hull before, a 1-0 loss in '88-89 with Andy Dibble in charge of picking the Hull winner out of the net. Boothferry Park's rotting stanchions were highlighted by slanting sun that afternoon too.

In more recent times, the Premier League has brought us fresh memories of Queens Park Rangers trying to avoid parachutists and dancing girls on the occasion of the first-ever live televised Monday night fixture in 1992; of a sunny mauling from Leeds with two goals in the dying minutes, incredibly one to City; of a Friday night opener for television against Ipswich in the rainy Second Division; of a sun-drenched, emotion-charged, first-ever Third Division opener against Blackpool in front of a 32,000 full house at Maine Road and of a dreadful drubbing at The Unhappy Valley in 2000 on the occasion of City's reappearance in the top flight.

Who could also forget the more recent starts against Watford, to mark the beginning of the incredible Kevin Keegan season of 2001-02, when Stuart Pearce scored and all seemed right with the world. A year later the home season began with a visit from Newcastle and a stunning performance that led not only to a 1-0 win over the much-fancied Magpies, but also to the belief that Keegan's City would do more than just hold their own against the established elite.

Let us hope, then, that another home opener against the same foe will confirm to the expectant masses that City have what it takes to stay ahead of the field all the way though to that final day meeting with West Ham United, a match that could just be the occasion that the club's fourth league title is confirmed.

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