It did not take David James long to learn a few home truths about Manchester City.
It was January. The England goalkeeper had just signed for the club and found himself in a taxi driven by a City fan. "He said there was no atmosphere at the new stadium and that at Maine Road you had singing sections," James recalled. "I told him you get atmospheres from winning games. If we beat Manchester United on Sunday, we'll have an atmosphere."
Three months after his arrival from West Ham to replace David Seaman, this atmosphere is something James has yet to taste. City's last victory at Eastlands was in October. Nevertheless, there should be no absence of noise tomorrow. Even if Manchester City are torn apart in revenge for United's Champions' League exit their players will still be howled off. James claimed he knew "instinctively" that City will win, a gut belief based not on United's recent stumbling form but on the fact that, despite a precarious league position, Kevin Keegan has actually overseen some reasonable performances, not least the 1-0 defeat by Chelsea in a match they managed to dominate.
"Since I've come here, this team has been capable of winning just about every game but for whatever reason we haven't," James said. "If there was one criticism of the Chelsea game, it was that Carlo Cudicini was not worked more. For all the possession we had, he made one save but the most disappointing thing about the Chelsea game was that we dropped points against the teams around us."
They can feel the cold breath of the relegation pack on their necks in the blue half of Manchester as their stadium prepares for its first derby. The first season United came to Maine Road they were beaten 3-0 in the FA Cup and held to a 1-1 draw - and much good it did City, who in April 1926 found themselves relegated. History might well repeat itself, although James, who knows the feeling of his team sinking under him from last season at Upton Park, doubts it.
"If you compare this club with West Ham, you can tell when a side's not going to do well because of the buzz around the club," he said. "At times at Upton Park there wasn't one; here there is. At West Ham we were bottom of the league at Christmas and everyone was saying that because of that we were certain to go down - and we did. There was a fear factor.
"We did awesomely well at the wrong time of the season. We took Alan Pearson as a psychological motivator last spring and he changed the views of the team, it was amazing how one man could have so much of an impact but it was too late."
James imagined a derby victory might have a similar impact to Pearson's words: "It wouldn't change the mood of the club because it's good already but it might change the mood of the supporters."
Manchester City is James' fifth club and he has found the adjustment different to any of the others for the simple reason that he moved mid-season. "Usually, you join a new club in the summer, do the pre-season to have your laugh and joke and bedding-in period. I found Liverpool a completely different world from Watford and it took me all pre-season to adjust. Tim Howard must have had the same, coming from America, but from what I can gather they took to him from the off at United and he seems to be a decent enough bloke, which does help."
Howard's failure to hold Benni McCarthy's free-kick against Porto on Tuesday night was the catalyst for the goal which saw Manchester United fail to make the quarter-finals of the European Cup for the first time in eight years. Peter Schmeichel, whose son was in tears at the final whistle at Old Trafford, was highly critical of the American, arguing that he should have turned the ball around the post.
"He is 24 years old and I was out of the Liverpool side at his age," said James of his opposite number tomorrow. "When I signed for Liverpool, my first two or three months at Anfield were superb, amazingly good, and a month or two later I was out. For him to be holding his place and force out Fabien Barthez and keep out Roy Carroll, who the United boys rate very highly, is some achievement. He has done some good things in the Champions' League and some not so good things. And that, bluntly, is a goalkeeper's lot."Reuse content