Mancini facing winter of sheikh's discontent

Manchester City 0 Birmingham 0
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The Independent Football

After a goalless Manchester derby in which he was accused of lacking ambition came another stalemate in which he substituted the only player he would back to score a goal. It was not a good week for Roberto Mancini. Indeed, it might turn out to be a nasty month for him; and a testing one for City's owners.

It was around this time last year Sheikh Mansour and advisers made up their mind that Mark Hughes was not the man to meet their targets. He departed 17 games into the season. After 13 games, Mancini's team has the same points as Hughes at the same stage, but nine fewer goals.

If the City hierarchy are not aware of this comparison now, they will be by next weekend when City go to Fulham, where Hughes is moulding a team with familiar qualities, one that draws too often but does not easily lose.

Fulham are one of two banana skins lying in the Italian's path as he waits to see whether the sheikh was rattled by the booing that greeted Saturday's tepid performance. After Fulham, City travel to Stoke, full of vigour again after beating Liverpool and eager to claim another scalp.

Stoke will play two wingers, two strikers and two in central midfield. But if they unhinge City it will not be because of the system but because manager Tony Pulis has found the players to make it work, particularly Matthew Etherington and Jermaine Pennant in the wide positions.

Mancini, on the other hand, has a system but not the players, despite the mind-boggling sums spent.

Carlos Tevez works incessantly and looks perpetually likely to score – but there is little inspiration from anywhere else. James Milner's qualities are more industrious than creative, Adam Johnson promises much but as yet delivers inconsistently and David Silva's role as free spirit seems to involve long spells of invisibility. In Nigel de Jong, Yaya Touré, Gareth Barry and Patrick Vieira, meanwhile, there is a log jam of holding players.

No wonder the Eastlands crowd were dismayed when, with 10 minutes or so left to beat opponents in 17th place in the division and whose star performers were all defenders, Mancini took Tevez off and sent Barry on. If Tevez was carrying an injury, as was suggested later, he had not shown much evidence. In making reference, as he did later, to his complaint that "if Tevez does not score, no one does" Mancini only made the substitution more baffling.

It was the Birmingham manager, Alex McLeish, who put his finger on City's failings: "Everyone plays five in midfield these days, but it depends on your personnel. Chelsea have found a solution to playing with one up in the way that they get the others forward, the way they bomb the full-backs on. You couldn't say they were doing it for defensive reasons."

But City do not have an Ashley Cole or a Jose Bosingwa. More to the point, they have no real spark of creative brilliance in midfield.

If Mancini gets longer than Hughes did – and with Guus Hiddink claiming to have been sounded out, that seems by no means certain – you wonder if the next deluge of Mansour millions at his disposal should be spent not on a Fernando Torres but on someone like a Wesley Sneijder or a Rafael van der Vaart.

Match facts

Man of the match Carr. Match rating 6/10

Possession Manchester City 56% Birmingham 44%

Shots on target Manchester City 11, Birmingham 4

Referee M Jones (Chester) Att 44,321