With a full English breakfast at £3, including a mug of tea and bread and butter, the cafes in Barnsley's indoor market were bustling yesterday. Not many other businesses were though; the South Yorkshire town has been hit hard by the recession, and everybody, including the football club, must cut their cloth accordingly.
For all that a recent survey of 4,000 football supporters revealed almost a third would be attending fewer matches this season, the officials at Oakwell were understandably optimistic. With prices reduced to £10 for adults and a fiver for under 16s, the chance to watch footballers considered by Manchester City to be worth hundreds of millions of pounds, and earning in a week approximately four times the amount that the average Briton earns in a year, would surely prove hard to resist.
So it proved. The only concern being voiced in the queue at the warm pork pie counter was which of the 40 City players listed on the back of the programme would be turning out, because the Blues were not only playing against Barnsley yesterday, they were also sending a team to play Rotherham at the Don Valley Stadium. City, someone pointed out, could have fielded a full team of internationals at both venues, but manager Mark Hughes had clearly decided this was the big one, and the first sight of Kolo Touré and Emmanuel Adebayor was greeted with relief in the rapidly filling stands. True, there was no Carlos Tevez or Gareth Barry, both nursing minor injuries, or Roque Santa Cruz, whose knee injury may – reading between the lines – be more serious than City are prepared to admit, but Robinho, Shay Given, Micah Richards, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Craig Bellamy and Stephen Ireland were all included. If there is any disquiet among City's famously loyal supporters about the manner in which their club has splashed the cash this summer, it was not obvious among the 3,000 who had crossed the Pennines.
Adebayor, who has already acquired sky blue boots, lined up alongside Bellamy up front, with Wright-Phillips on the right and Robinho on the left. Touré partnered Nedum Onuoha in the centre of defence, with Richards, watched by England under-21 manager Stuart Pearce, at right-back.
It was Bellamy who caught the eye early on, as he usually does when playing lesser opposition. The Wales international appears to have quickly adjusted to the fact that his role, when chosen, must be provider as much as finisher, and he set up chances for both Adebayor and Robinho. Adebayor reacted too slowly, but Robinho, cutting inside, drew a good save from goalkeeper Luke Steele.
Barnsley were not to be overawed. Jon Macken, not so long ago a City striker himself, went a long way towards explaining why he didn't cut the Premier League mustard by twice failing to hit the target from close range, but shortly before half-time, City's old failings in defence began to reassert themselves when Jacob Butterfield shot against the bar.
The second half saw City create, and miss, chance after chance, and when Daniel Bogdanovic left Tal Ben Haim in his wake, Touré having been substituted with what Hughes said was cramp, to score the opener, it looked as if City may be embarrassed. It took Martin Petrov's close-range tap-in to save their blushes.
"Barnsley are closer to their start of the season proper, they were nice and sharp and that was a good test for us," Hughes said. "We had seven or eight chances we could have converted, but they scored a good goal, and it was good to come back from that.
"We weren't going to take any risks with Touré, but you could see the qualities he had, and Ade gives us real focus with his physical presence up front."
City have two bigger tests to come, against Rangers and Celtic, before they travel to Blackburn in their first Premier League fixture. "The key is to make sure we're fit and well for the big kick-off, and today will have been a big help," Hughes said. "We've now got two high-profile games left to get things as we want them."
There were no questions about fees, salaries or whether he had even allowed himself a slight smile on hearing Touré claim that he had moved to City because of the "love" they had shown him. If love is measured in pounds, you couldn't argue.Reuse content