Tilting at windmills

Posted by Simon Curtis

Mike Channon ran around the block in the good name of both Southampton and Manchester City a few times, scoring goals, mostly for Southampton it must be said, but also in the sky blue shirt of City when the wind was blowing in the right direction. Whenever he did, the famous windmill celebration would be enacted, as he wheeled away, face split with a giant smile. When Channon arrived at Maine Road, he was a full England international looking to make that one last big move to seal his reputation as a really top-calibre English striker. He had not reckoned with the Manchester City factor, which, going by Saturday evening's evidence, is still there, despite all the recent upheavals and improvements.

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As soon as Channon walked through the tattered old front doors at Maine Road, things began to turn against him. He scored a brace against Norwich on his home debut and was called into the England squad by manager Ron Greenwood, then got injured and disappeared into City's late '70s remake of "Don Quixote." As the superb side managed by Tony Book gradually fell into pieces, picked apart at the seams by the returning Malcolm Allison, rumours abounded of a fifth column at work to destabilise the club. This went on until the end of the '90s, when City managed to start a painful climb out of the third division, the same damp and malodorous place Southampton departed from only two years ago. It was a strange time of rumour and counter-rumour, with many accusing shadowy figures of trying to bring the club down.

In City's shambolic performance at St. Mary's on Saturday, one could reminisce quite lucidly on the old days of biff and bosh, as the curtains came tumbling down and everything else followed shortly after. This was a game with men facing in the wrong direction, others with their shirts on back-to-front and yet others plainly in a state of severe confusion. In conditions like this, the City faithful revert to type. Witness a raucous last 20 minutes' rendition of the songs of yore, never winning at home, never winning away, having a swift half and not really being too bothered about the outcome, or words to that effect. Well, the Blue faithful are bothered, naturally they are, but sometimes you have to just hold up your hands and say "what the hell was that?" To those who say Manchester City has no soul, take a look at those in the packed away section on Saturday. Eight hours from home, singing "we're staying up" as the title slides inexorably towards ...

Gareth Barry is a man who usually only gets himself into the spotlight whilst being bypassed by German midfielders working in a different dimension to his own cosy world of two foot passes and easy slips and slides. Saturday at St. Mary's, Gareth was unlucky enough to have been involved in a pre-match error by the kit man, inadvertently easing himself into Yaya Toure's giant boots instead of his own. This alone might not have engineered City's downfall all by itself, but then hapless Gareth deigned to put the giant torpedo-shaped objects on the wrong feet too and all was lost. His safe as houses game of punt and slide became a shambolic death by poke and fritter, the ball skidding off his toes as if it had been deeply insulted. The rest is very much history. History, some might say at this point, is what we might have to call the league title too.

At the very least my questions from midweek have been answered. Was a featureless 0-0 draw at Loftus Road and a lucky 2-2 draw at home to Liverpool the prelude to upward or downward movement, I asked nobody in particular. On England's wet South Coast came the answer, loud and clear.

As the dust settles on this abject performance, the hard work begins. The serious thinking begins. The gathering of nerve, sinew and energy begins. Thanks to a variety of prime examples of both short-term and random thinking by certain members of the management team at the Etihad, City's season now rides solely on an FA Cup match with Leeds United. Leaving mind games to the people who enjoy that sort of thing, United can now do what they will with the league. If they maintain this season's phenomenal combination of results and goals to order, the title is in a little plastic bag, knotted and delivered. If they think it has all become a stroll, they might just still suffer a little before crossing the finishing line. Knowing their one-eyed, ever-so-slightly obsessed manager as we do, I somehow doubt that this could come to pass.

So Bugles blow golden and banners fly blue,
but these days the castle's just drywall and glue,
and tilting at windmills is the best you can do,
with the black knight of time on your lawn

Maybe the best thing City can do now is take a leaf from the great book of Cervantes and "take care, Sir" not to tilt at the wrong windmills at this jittery, all-important turning point of the season. Mike Channon expressed a pride in having scored for both Manchester City and Southampton. It is now for today's wearers of the sky blue to show us how badly their pride has just been pricked.

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