City exorcise the ghosts of Christmas past

Posted by Simon Curtis

Last season's Manchester City versus Tottenham Hotspur match programme bears a delightful picture of a grinning Edin Dzeko on the cover. Inside, some poor chap called Curtis had been given space to bash on about bogey sides, into which category Tottenham certainly fell until a bolt of sky blue lightning struck the proud cockerel wired to the roof at White Hart Lane sometime in 2010. Since that time, City - and in particular Edin Dzeko - have laid waste to the Lilywhites almost every time they have met them.

- Dzeko strikes late again to down Spurs
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- Jolly: City's Silva lining returns against Spurs


I used to have the most terrible nightmares about Spurs: Nayim would appear from behind the curtains to score his only first-class hat trick against City; images of the Maine Road groundsmen clearing up steaming piles of horse excrement after a pitch invasion in that same "Nayim Match" in the Cup would have me running for the midnight Ovaltine; bogey men would shout, "And it's there! Incredible!! Ricky Villa!!!" in my sweat-drenched sleep; a ridiculous voice would sing "in dee cap for tottinghem" and images of the utterly barren Helder Postiga's only goal of 2003 would rerun and rerun as I tossed and turned to escape.

These days, however, City and Dzeko have got the measure of these London upstarts. Even on occasions such as this, when the Blues play like their boots are filled with lead, they seem to be able to wriggle out of any slight conundrum put together by the men in, erm, grey and black halves. (Glory glory to change kits, by the way. Message to Under Armour: Spurs play in yellow away from home.)

Here was a game that took me back to the Old Days. I had no explanation for the dreariness of City's opening half, littered as it was with misplaced passes, runs into cul-de-sacs and ballooned crosses. City's only approach on Tottenham's goal had marginally worried a flock of pigeons alighting on the top of the South Stand. Aguero seemed to be wearing his bedroom slippers again (neat little moccasins made from real Argentinian alpaca) and Zabaleta was busy leading the welcoming party for the suddenly lively Adebayor. (Here was a man, who covered more kilometres in the first 45 minutes at the Etihad than he seemed to have done in 34 mainly self-obsessed games for City.) Zabaleta with the pampas fires burning deep within looked like a man on a mission (red card as soon as possible) and with referee Michael Oliver leaning wildly toward the away side, it looked only a matter of time before City would be the recipients of yet another red card.

Then we spotted a figure in the crowd: England's Stuart Pearce. Admittedly this was the aristocratic, panel-jacketed, side-parting Stuart Pearce, not the sleeves rolled up, tracky-bottoms halfway under the armpits, mouth-breathing variety City employed to such little effect in 2006, but nevertheless memories came flashing back vividly and copiously. The side he built in our name, unably led up front by the non-scoring, wet-paper pairing of Bernardo Corradi and Georgios Samaras, held together in midfield by Joey Barton and his unwitting sparring partner Ousemane Dabo and shored up at the back by all-time Premier League own-goal scoring legend Richard Dunne, gave us all severe heartburn for 18 months. Now it dawned on me. The first half was clearly a tribute to our guest of honour in its limp inefficiency and comedy inaccuracy.

Maybe Stuart upped and left at half time, maybe manager Roberto Mancini redirected the hot draught from his now infamous Babybliss hair dryer, but City soon looked a team transformed. As the second half wore on, the pressure mounted. Spurs retreated, inviting the clever passing between Silva (now suddenly effective), Aguero and Yaya to take effect. The tide turned, the ball rolled and City - despite the teenage linesman, who must have been born with his right arm stiff, and his little yellow flag - gradually suffocated Tottenham's creativity.

Two sights will particularly warm the cockles on this frisky evening. First, Dzeko once again coming on to belt in a classic centre forward's winner: receive, guard your space, hold off excited defender, modest back-lift and kerboom, bury the ball. The second was the seldom-seen Maicon cutting a ferocious dash down the right wing, supposedly the territory of media darling Gareth Bale, who had upstaged him so embarrassingly in the Inter vs. Spurs Champions league clash, suddenly a wide Brazilian highway toward the Spurs' box. What a sight the big man was in full flow.

Let us finish, then, with a glance at the all-important statistics that we all love so much, for they never lie: City have now gone unbeaten at home in the league since December 2010, 35 games in total, the third highest in Premier League history. City have 25 points from 11 games. Against the same opponents last season, they managed 23. City's record against Spurs up to 2010 looked a little like this - P142, W52 D34 L56. If that's a jinx, I'm Old Mother Hubbard. Now, let us look at the Premier League era - P29 W5 D5 L19. Ahem. When Benjamin Disraeli stated there were lies, damn lies and statistics, he probably wasn't thinking about Gareth Bale's sticky-out ears, but it is true, we can look at these numbers from various angles. In City's case, whichever way you stare, they look absolutely horrible. Or looked absolutely horrible. Now here are the last five: P5 W4 D1 L0 F11 A4

Perhaps, at long, long last, it is the Londoners who should now prepare to talk about City as a bogey side.

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