James Lawton: Manchester City's rage at the officials would be better being directed at themselves

This was another sub-standard attempt to justify their status

Embattled manager Roberto Mancini threw himself at the Danish referee Peter Rasmussen and even in these days of near legalised, shirt-grappling mayhem it was not hard to understand his rage. It came when an Ajax defender attempted, and almost succeeded, in removing the jersey of Mario Balotelli in the last seconds of the match which took City to the very edge of another Champions League extinction.

Yet there was a deep frustration that went beyond another moment of European despair.

Indeed, there was a bitter truth that the scoring heroics of Yaya Touré and Sergio Aguero ultimately couldn't disguise. If City had some complaints about the officiating, their largest criticism had to be directed mostly at themselves.

This was another sub-standard attempt to justify their status as champions of England and serious challengers in Europe.

For the moment, Mancini can only be grateful that at least some of his players finally fought for survival – and their own reputations.

Touré used to be City's one source of unequivocal strength and will, a constant reproach to those around him who frequently fell below his implacable desire to win the important matches. Last night he represented both sides of the enigma that is City. He was, at different points of the action, another plutocrat player marooned in a team with a dismaying tendency to become utterly lost – and then, in a flash of wonderful authority, he again represented Manchester City's best chance of exerting some of the command and the furies which carried them to the Premier League title.

The goal which put his team back into the game was another announcement of the power and the command which has frequently promised to carry City to a dimension which would make a mockery of the worst of their Champions League floundering. It was a relatively nondescript build-up, nothing to compare with the fluency with which Ajax had claimed such a huge early advantage, but when the ball came to Touré in the air his response was withering, wonderful control and a scissors strike which permitted no serious response.

The irony was that the big man had been as catastrophically detached from the reality of City's crisis as any of his team-mates as the Dutch captain, Siem de Jong, swept his team into a two-goal lead within 17 minutes. They were goals given up by something that could only be described as a mockery of zonal defence – and no-one had removed himself more completely from the specifics of serious defence than Touré. He went missing at the corners which Ajax exploited with an ease which was nothing short of the ridiculous.

Yet City, even this one which had arguably dropped to their lowest point in two impoverished Champions League campaigns, always have one source of potential redemption. It is the individual quality of their best players and once Touré had struck in that familiar way, it was, even as Mancini tore at his hair, scribbled his notes and, at half time, turned to Balotelli, a different match.

Ajax, prompted by the young Danish playmaker Christian Eriksen with some of that cool panache he displayed in the destruction of City in Amsterdam, still played with an easy movement and skill, still rolled forward in an eye-pleasing manner unmatched by their opponents. But City were applying heavier weight in attack and when another of their natural-born winners, Aguero broke on to a pass from Balotelli to equalise there was plainly time enough for the possibility of a great escape.

If it happened, and there was certainly sufficient momentum as the Etihad Stadium shook itself of something that come to resemble a collective coma, the reason for salvation could hardly be ranked as a mystery.

If their coach had been pilloried in recent weeks – and not without some fairly compelling reasons – the contribution of the players could hardly have been recorded in lights. Now, on the point of the most ignoble, and earlier in the evening frankly embarrassing, exit from Europe there was at least clear evidence of a dawning sense of responsibility. Personal responsibility, this is, the kind that flows from professional pride and also, perhaps, some of the richest salaries in all of football.

It threatened not only to preserve at least a notional presence in the fight for play-off qualification but also a call for the most rewarding challenge when Real Madrid come to Manchester.

Instead, City had their rage against the referee and may choose to push blame away from their own essentially dismal campaign. It is a device that really doesn't work, not when you reflect that so much of the game was shaped, once again, by a much younger but at times sharply more coherent team.

City manage to live on, just, but as precariously as ever. They remain a team which, considering their cost and their man-for-man talents, astonishingly unformed.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat