The signs of City's progress

Posted by David Mooney

It's a very strange feeling walking away from the Etihad knowing that Manchester City might well have hit double figures if they'd bothered to get out of second gear, when they dispatched West Ham on Wednesday evening by six goals to nil. The truth is that it actually felt like the Blues were holding back throughout their Capital One Cup semi-final first leg. They had the handbrake on and it was a training game, fortunately for a friend of mine who had backed 5-0, 6-0 and 7-0 just in case.

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He could have lost that bet midway through the second half had the Blues eased up the gears -- and that's no exaggeration.

It was odd seeing so many fans feeling underwhelmed before kickoff at the prospect of a domestic cup semi-final. Expectations rightly change with the status of a football club, so I'm not going to sit here and tell any Manchester City fans it's right or wrong to hold the aspirations they do because it's not. But when a squad has had the investment that City's has had, it's also not right to swat off a series of poor results or performances with the phrase: "look where the club was 15 years ago -- THAT was bad", because that's equally as wrong.

Wanting to see scintillating football every week, combined with gluts of goals doesn't make that history of struggle unimportant, it just means that the club has progressed to the point where a winless run of two or three games is a huge deal. It also doesn't make the fans ungrateful for the quality of football they're enjoying. It makes them human.

It just feels odd for a club that was starved of silverware for so long for a semi-final to be looked upon by many as a "just another game", simply because they went into it as huge favourites -- even if it turned out the bookies were right on that front.

On the 9th January 2014, Manchester City fans are enjoying the reality of another trip to Wembley (barring a miracle at Upton Park) -- which would be their sixth in around three years. Meanwhile, on the 9th January 1999, Manchester City fans witnessed a dour goalless draw at Bloomfield Road that left the club 13 points adrift of the automatic promotion places and ninth in Division Two.

This isn't a "look how far the club has come!" comparison, but if you'd told the fans who went to Blackpool that day that in a mere decade and a half, their team would have won an FA Cup, a Premier League title, be Champions League regulars and on the verge of another trip to Wembley thanks to a first leg win to the tune of six goals, they'd have been calling for the doctors with the white coats.

Back then, another relegation in a couple of years' time was a real possibility. After all, they'd just witnessed a game that had one highlight: Paul Dickov got booked after going down easily in the box, before squaring up to the Blackpool lad who thought he'd dived. Both were shown a yellow card for their moment of handbags.

For the rest of the match, two managers, four match officials, 22 players, and 9,752 fans snoozed through the afternoon -- which, for reasons it seems difficult to fathom, began at midday rather than the usual 3pm. I don't know for sure, but I can't imagine any TV company was falling over themselves to televise the football equivalent of a newly painted wall drying. A trip to the beach might have been a better way to spend the day for the fans that made the journey, even with the freezing cold January temperatures.

Since that year, the 9th January has hosted City games twice -- both in the FA Cup. In 2000, there was a 5-2 defeat to Leeds at Maine Road and, in 2011, a 2-2 draw with Leicester at the Walkers Stadium (nod to @StatCity for those).

The thing is, it's very important to remember the times like that borefest with the Tangerines, but it's equally important not to judge the current City squad and performances by those dark days. If that were the case, then nobody could feel disappointed by, say, a stuttered display in a 1-0 Premier League win over Crystal Palace between Christmas and New Year... because that's much better than losing at home to Wycombe to all but end the club's chances of automatic promotion from the third tier. And, in the grand scheme of things, it always will be.

It's possible to be both amazed at the changes that have happened at Manchester City in the last 15 years and be disappointed with a more recent event because expectations have changed with the developments on and off the pitch. Fans of the late 90s would have been delighted in a narrow victory in a tight game. Fans of the early 00s would have been overjoyed at a mid-table Premier League finish and a good showing in the Manchester derbies.

It's now right that fans want to win trophies and want to be topping the Premier League table, but that does not -- and never will -- detract from the achievements (or underachievements) of previous City teams.

It simply makes the highs feel even higher.


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