James Lawton: Mixed views of southern sorties reflect City's siege mentality

City did not run short of praise for the muscular brilliance of their defeat of Chelsea early in the season. They were a side capable of triumph over prejudice

There now follows a message from the tribal battleground of Premier League football – one which some may believe is nothing less than a brilliant, assegai-sharp confirmation of Manchester City's growing belief that they are besieged by an envious and deeply embittered world.

It arrived after Manchester United's hard-won goalless draw at White Hart Lane on Sunday and it said: "Team from Manchester come to north London, fight for a 0-0 draw (even though they were the worse team) and keep their title aspirations alive. They are roundly condemned for lack of ambition.

"Team from Manchester come to north London, fight for a 0-0 draw (even though they were the worse team) and keep their title aspirations alive. They are praised for their doughtiness. Compare and contrast."

You can't compare the style of City and United, no more than you can apples and oranges or the flashiest rhetoric and logical argument.

City went to the Emirates earlier this month, as they had fatally last season, played one forward up and put about as much faith in their hugely expensive squad to win as Audley Harrison had in his own ability in a highly dubious world heavyweight contest in their own backyard. As football negativity goes, it was only matched by their performance against United on their own ground in November.

United went to White Hart Lane on Sunday and survived a Spurs attempt to play at their most expansive; they had only 40 per cent of possession and were a long way from their best, which, anyway, has been elusive all season despite their unbeaten record. However, they did have Wayne Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov up front, which is never a sign of pacifism, and then threw on Javier Hernandez.

The contrast, you might have thought with just a pinch of detachment, was self-evident.

Ah, detachment, that sweet old derelict aid to football enjoyment that could take you to a ground for no greater certainty than a glimpse of the beautiful game, for the thrill of seeing a master player. Now of course you see only your own team.

It means you can ride any wave of mediocre play and thinking as long as your boys sooner or later finish up on top.

Manchester City fans now have a siege mentality that would have served well the defenders of Dien Bien Phu and the Alamo, but some of them might recall that few clubs have seen the best of their football more warmly appreciated.

When they last won the title in 1968 they announced their intentions with a brilliant 3-0 away defeat of a then-formidable Nottingham Forest. They played some strong and exquisite football and they painted a future that may have been brief but was also unforgettable.

Of course, the world has changed and football with it and so all we can do, if we hang on to our love of the game, is enjoy the best of it and live with the rest.

City certainly did not run short of praise for the muscular brilliance of their defeat of Chelsea early in the season. They were a team capable of triumphing over any prejudice, one that anyone could admire.

It will be the same if they ever manage to string together a few such performances. The vast and flaunted wealth, the warring, ego-ridden dressing room, the caution of Roberto Mancini in the big games, will fade into the background quickly enough. City are in charge of their own image. It is something they, and their most fervent fans, have still to learn.



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