In this febrile Manchester City era of petrodollar-fuelled expectation, the smallest incident becomes magnified, dissected, imbued with meaning. So when Roberto Mancini took to the pitch in Poland last night for a pre-match TV chat without his usual blue-and-white muffler, "Scarfgate" was under way. Another sign, surely, of unrest in a divided camp, of a manager no longer part of the project? Um, no.
The neck-wrap was safely back in place for kick-off, but, as Barack Obama might say, Mancini then had to endure a shellacking considerably more damaging than any bit of gossip about infighting, backbiting or civil strife in the land of the monied Blues.
Lech Poznan sealed this Europa League win with two goals in the last five minutes but they deserved it and perhaps should also have had a penalty and a bigger margin of victory. This is what often happens when you get a new gaffer – the Poznan manager, Jose Maria Bakero, only replaced Jacek Zielinski on Wednesday – and it won't be a development that went unnoticed at Eastlands.
It is perhaps too early to say Mancini's job is imminently on the line but perhaps is operative; the Italian is in fever City now, each defeat disproportionately heavy, each backward step a big one. City had wanted to seal their place in the knockout stages of Uefa's second-tier tournament; instead they lost for the third time in three outings, this wet Thursday wobble coming on the back of Premier League defeats to Arsenal and Wolves.
Next up is a far from routine assignment on Sunday at The Hawthorns against the season's domestic upstarts, West Bromwich Albion. The Baggies have their own smooth Italian in charge, not to mention a hoodoo of sorts over City in the Premier League era. West Bromwich have won four and drawn two of their last eight top-flight meetings with City, including the previous three at home.
Martin O'Neill's name is being whispered more loudly each day that Mancini falters, and last night's reverse – the first time City have lost three consecutive games since April 2009 – will do nothing to quieten it.
Dimitrije Injac lashed home the hosts' opener just before the half-hour, but only after City had wasted chances. Emmanual Adebayor twice had efforts saved in the first 30 minutes and Dedryck Boyata – on a bad night for him – nodded straight at the goalkeeper Jasmin Buric when he should have scored.
Adebayor levelled just after the break, netting City's 100th European goal in their history; his header from James Milner's corner was saved by Buric, but the Togo striker slammed in the follow-up.
However, Poznan regrouped and gradually reasserted control, and regained the lead with four minutes remaining through a freakish Manuel Arboleda header. Sergei Krivets' free-kick dipped into the area and Boyata headed it out, but only into the back of Arboleda's head, from where it rebounded back past a surprised Shay Given in the City goal.
Poznan's cake was iced with a 25-yard stunning strike from teenager Mateusz Mozdzen in time added on. The rain kept coming down on Mancini in more senses than one.
If the referee had been in a less forgiving mood, City could have been 2-1 behind earlier on but when Wayne Bridge felled Slawomir Peszko in the penalty area in the 67th minute, nothing was given. Bridge was replaced a few minutes later by Aleksandar Kolarov – Mancini's first-choice left-back – for his first appearance since picking up an ankle injury against Spurs on the first day of the season.
Shaun Wright-Phillips was also replaced by David Silva at the break. Mancini had said before the start that he needed to rotate, such are the demands of so many games, but that logic gets you nowhere fast when you're losing.
City's European progress is now as palsied as their domestic title challenge, with nothing certain in Group A with two games remaining. They should still make it to the next phase because they have to play Red Bull Salzburg at home, but then they should have had their noses ahead in this one and stayed there.
Mancini opted for a much-amended team – eight changes from Molineux on Saturday – and his squad was devoid of both Touré brothers as well as Carlos Tevez, only just back from Argentina. City's season cannot be written off yet, far from it, but money does bring expectations and having a squad worth £315m losing to one that cost £19m, with Poznan's £2.3m midfielder Semir Stilic their most expensive asset, is not how the dream is supposed to unfold.
Results so far Juventus 3 Lech Poznan 3, Salzburg 0 Manchester City 2; Lech Poznan 2 Salzburg 0, Manchester City 1 Juventus 1; Manchester City 3 Lech Poznan 1, Salzburg 1 Juventus 1, Lech Poznan 3 Manchester City 1, Juventus 0 Salzburg 0.
Manchester City's remaining fixtures 1 Dec Salzburg (h); 16 Dec Juventus (a).
Lech Poznan (4-4-1-1): Buric; Kikut, Bosacki, Arboleda, Henriquez; Peszko (Wilk, 73), Injac (Kielb, 52), Djurdjevic, Krivets; Stilic (Mozdzen, 62); Rudnevs. Substitutes not used Kotorowski (gk), Gancarczyk, Bandrowski, Zapotok.
Manchester City (4-2-3-1): Given; Richards, Boyata, Lescott, Bridge (Kolarov, 70); Vieira, Zabeleta; Wright-Phillips (Silva, h-t), Milner (Kompany, 78), Johnson; Adebayor. Substitutes not used Hart (gk), Barry, Jo, Balotelli.
Referee P Vink (Netherlands).
Man of the match Peszko.
Match rating 7/10.
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