Manchester City 2 Hull City 0 match report: Struggling Manchester City show that they are still a work in progress
Manuel Pellegrini refuses to hide behind the gloss and calls for a big improvement after his team labour to put away a workmanlike Hull
the Etihad stadium
Sunday 01 September 2013
There are lies, damned lies and 2-0 wins. When the final whistle went, one team went over to the section where their supporters stood to applaud them. That team was Hull City. The remainder of the stadium was largely empty. The winners had long since sloped off to the car parks.
There are two ways to look at this result. One would be to reach for the cliché that these chiselled-out victories are the kind that 'wins championships'. The other is to say that they are the kind that paper over cracks. The truth is probably somewhere in between.
Manuel Pellegrini's first game in charge of Manchester City suggested a seamless transition. The football was fluid and flawless and Newcastle could have conceded many more than four goals. Last Sunday's defeat at Cardiff and this often laboured affair suggested that Pellegrini's City is very definitely a work in progress and that Newcastle might just be terrible away from St James' Park.
Presumably on the grounds that you should attack those who threaten you most – he is very complimentary about Arsène Wenger these days – Jose Mourinho had chosen this moment to describe Manchester City as "economic sharks".
Once the irony of being accused of plundering the transfer market by a manager of Chelsea had faded, came the realisation that these were no Great Whites. Mostly, City resembled basking sharks, the great creatures that can sometimes be seen wallowing off the coast of Cornwall, threatening nothing larger than plankton.
Manchester City managed to be both sluggish and skittish and Hull might have scored twice before the interval. They did not and what followed was inevitable. The most famous half-time at the Etihad had seen Hull's then manager, Phil Brown, keep his side on the pitch, 4-0 down, and lecture them in public. Now, it was Pellegrini who had the thinking and talking to do. When the teams walked off, it had been to a smatter of jeers.
He responded by removing Edin Dzeko and replacing him with one of his own signings, Alvaro Negredo, who almost immediately produced one of the worst headers the Etihad could have seen from a recognised striker. It was not typical. What gave Negredo the edge for Seville in La Liga was his ability in the air. He had already scored twice in as many games, although the one against Newcastle had been ruled out, probably wrongly. Now came a fabulous deep cross from Pablo Zabaleta and the header was worthy of the delivery.
A minute before the end came another piece of the shimmering skill that Manchester City's money buys. James Chester made a foul on the edge of his own area and Yaya Touré, left, accepted the invitation to find the top corner of Allan McGregor's net.
Pellegrini did not try to hide behind the gloss. "The most important thing is the points but I think we must improve," he said. "We were without movement and we need to try to be a dangerous team. Maybe the defeat at Cardiff meant we lacked trust in the first half but I knew the Premier League would be hard. I did not expect all the games to be the same as Newcastle."
Steve Bruce is a far more sophisticated manager than his public image, which is all four-four-two and pints of ale in the Wallsend Workmen's Club. At Wigan he had tapped markets in South America and Egypt and been more successful than Roberto Martinez, albeit on a larger budget.
His time at Manchester United not only earned him abuse here, it would have taught him that smaller clubs who try to eke out a point in the great arenas rarely succeed. Hull came to attack.
They were measured in their manager's arm movements. When Sone Aluko, who had sprinted clean through, screwed his shot wide, Bruce's hands hid his face. Then they punched the air as Danny Graham stretched out to meet Robbie Brady's low, curving cross but the only arm movement that mattered was the linesman signalling offside. They were cupped to his ears when Bruce responded to chants of "You fat bastard".
"We have to enjoy these days," said Bruce. "It is a long, tough, hard slog to get out of the Championship so why don't we just relish it in these stadiums? Be bold and see if we can stay in this division."
If it was clear why Pellegrini was attempting to reinforce his defence with Martin Demichelis and it was obvious why Hull, who have not scored from open play in three matches, are searching desperately for that rarest of things, a cheap, effective centre-forward.
"Our Achilles heel is the same as it was in the Championship," said Bruce. "Can we score enough? It is easy to say we need a striker that will get us 12-15 goals but for those strikers who can make a difference there will be stiff competition and high prices."
The price of not getting one, is, however, likely to be far higher.
Manchester City (4-2-3-1): Hart; Zabaleta, Lescott, Nastasic, Kolarov; Fernandinho, Toure; Navas, Aguero (Milner, 76), Silva (Silva 66); Dzeko (Negredo, h-t).
Hull(4-4-2): McGregor; Elmohamady, Chester, Davies, Figueroa; Koren (Boyd, 75), Livermore, Huddlestone, Brady; Aluko (Quinn, 70), Graham.
Referee: Phil Dowd
Man of the match: Tom Huddlestone (Hull)
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