Bloody, chuffing, crikey, Nora Batty, Christ alive what an end to a football match! After thoroughly preparing to sing our praises for doing well under the circumstances, and getting a very credible 0-0 draw, then it happened. Yet ANOTHER piece of late drama, which sends us to 13th in the league, and gaining three valuable points which came very much against the run of play.
I don't even know where to start. Oh what the hell, read our recap of all the action...
We knew prior to kick off that changes were to be made, and whilst we all wondered about what would make up the back four, a further killer blow was dealt as Kieren Westwood was strangely absent from the team. Luckily, Simon Mignolet was able to take a spot in goal. How we injure so many keepers is beyond me, it really is.
Anyway, with Mignolet back between the sticks, a make shift defence of Craig Gardner, Wes Brown, John O'Shea and Jack Colback did seem about as good as we could have expected given the circumstances. James McClean, our great white hope, also made his first start on the left hand of midfield.
Nerves were on edge from the first few minutes when a strong run from Yaya Toure resulted in a City corner. Not to worry too much as Craig Gardner got his bonce on it and away to Stephane Sessegnon. Sess then produced a moment of magic to slip in an on-rushing Nicklas Bendtner from the half-way line. Bendtner, showing a good set of heels to escape Kompany and De Jong however attempted to go around Joe Hart rather than just smash it and the chance was gone.
James McClean was next to have a pop at goal in a very open first five minutes, cutting in from the left hand side onto his right foot and force Hart into a low save to his right in his first start.
With the game going a little quiet we were briefly reminded that Manchester City are indeed quite a good team when we were caught napping for a corner, and Adam Johnson was allowed to almost repeat what he did last season (I think it was) at the Stadium of Light by firing a curling drive towards goal. Thankfully this time it went over the bar by a whisker as opposed to finding the top corner. Moments later Yaya Toure got through on goal, but didn't fancy it on his left foot and got things horribly wrong. Both let-offs.
Headed into things we wondered how the defence would stand-up to the likes of Dzeko, Nasri, Johnson and company, but for the opening 20 minutes everything was fine. Colback and Gardner looking very able, O'Shea & Brown staying solid. However, things did take a turn for the worse shortly after that when Wes Brown pulled up with a knock. Well, the defence was already makeshift, what worse could Matt Kilgallon really make it? On he trundled for his first outing for the club since 2010.
As the half hour ticked over, City could have had the lead on three occasions. First of all Simon Mignolet stood up excellently to keep out Edin Dzeko from close range, followed swiftly by Adam Johnson picking up Sessegnon's misplaced pass. The local lad played in Samir Nasri who beat Mignolet, but thankfully Craig Gardner was on hand to clear from the line. And finally, Dzeko again picked up the ball from a corner and smashed the ball off Mignolet's crossbar and over.
Between then and the half-time whistle the Stevens were relatively even. We seemed to be able to handle anything that the blues could throw at us, the defence looking very confident, and right at the death Craig Gardner with a trademark long distance strike fizzing narrowly wide of Hart's goal. Certainly at the break we were more than in this.
Following the break it was very much as you were with us defending resolutely, and creating the odd half-chance whilst City responded equally. The first chance falling early to James McClean following good work by Sessegnon. McClean's attempted cross ended up being more of a shot and enough to give Joe Hart the willies. Meanwhile at the other end a cross from Kolarov forced Mignolet into an unorthodox stop.
City nearly got doubly lucky on the hour as Sessegnon was clearly fouled on the half-way line. Play was waved on, and Dzeko laid in substitute Sergio Aguero who shot straight at Mignolet. The corner came to nothing following furious (and justified) protests from Sessegnon and Cattermole. With City being kept relatively quiet, seemingly forced into playing the ball long, we were certainly holding our own. Then, things nearly got even better.
Bendtner didn't win the flick on from a throw in, but he did enough to force Joleon Lescott into heading backwards and into the path of Sessegnon. Sess turned Kompany inside out and go through on goal, his curled effort with the outside of the boot going agonisingly wide. Such a shame as as an attacking force, we'd perhaps created the most clear cut chances.
With 20 minutes or so to go, City began really knocking at the door of us. Dzeko nodding wide, Aguero firing wide too, even Pablo Zabaleta denied only by a superb tackle from Craig Gardner inside the six-yard box. More desperate defending followed as Dzeko was put in the clear, luckily combinations of Colback, Kilgallon and Cattermole forced him off stride before he could get the shot in.
As we entered the final ten minutes nerves were shredded. Ji Dong-Won and Ahmed Elmohamady were introduced at the expense of David Vaughan and Nicklas Bendtner. Both of whom put in solid if unspectacular shifts and provided a little more energy than those who they'd replaced, which was exactly the right move from O'Neill.
With two minutes to go, hearts were well and truly stopped and/or in mouths as David Silva smashed one at Mignolet. His parry falling right to Micah Richards who 's downward flying header bounced up and off the bar before being hacked away. When Silva tried his luck again from a similar distance moments later, Mignolet managed to hold it.
Time ticked on, and on. City camped out in our half. Three minutes of injury time added and City still pressing with purpose. Ah, some respite as we managed to break with thirty seconds left... TO THE CORNER!... Not for O'Neill who urged the team forward. Ji playing in Sessegnon... back to Ji... Is he offside?... who caresI He's around Hart! Stumbling, the Korean puts the ball in. Delirium ensues. That was the last kick of the game.
Team (Ratings in brackets)
Starting XI: Mignolet (7), Gardner (8), Brown (6), O'Shea (7), Colback (8), Larsson (7), Vaughan (6), Cattermole (9), McClean (7), Sessegnon (8), Bendtner (6)
Subs Used: Kilgallon (8), Dong-Won (7), Elmohamady (6)
Man Of The Match: Lee Cattermole - Everything you'd want out of a captain today, embodying our team work ethic. Cattermole's revival under Martin O'Neill continued. It wasn't spectacular, but he was all over the midfield. Breaking up play neatly, hustling and harrying whoever had the ball, he was a solid ball of energy throughout. This may well have been his finest game in red and white.
What. A. Game... and not just because of the results. At 0-0 I would still have said it was one of the best 0-0's you'll see in a while, but then Ji put the icing on the cake.
The performance was outstanding. A huge team effort rewarded in buckets. Hard to think these same players laboured in a 2-1 reverse to Wigan Athletic only weeks earlier. Huge credit goes to the fans today too who were in magnificent voice from the get-go. Genuinely they were a 12th man for us today.
A team will always beat individuals. Spend as much as you like assembling some 'Galacticos' but you'll not see such incredible team play as you witnessed today from the side in red and white.
Thank God tomorrow's a bank holiday too. I need a drink. We're on our way!