On our way up to Manchester we passed a minibus full of Manchester City supporters on the A1. Her ladyship doesn’t know much about football but a dozen or so men in replica kits is something of a giveaway. She asked who they supported and I told her it was that day’s opposition. She cogitated for a while and then opined: “power blue isn’t a good colour for men unless they are hairdressers”. Later she came up with the theory that it might be a good shade for a Manchester team, “to remind the supporters what the sky looks like in the rest of the country”. Not surprisingly she spent the afternoon shopping, while we watched the football. It’s not often you come away feeling optimistic after a 0-2 setback but this was one of those times. If we play like this regularly there will be more happy Mondays in our future than blue ones. Lining up against The Champions’ noisy neighbours at The Etihad there was just the one enforced change from the team that started against Norwich. Sagbo was serving the 2nd game of a 3 match ban (see, there is value in League Cup ties) and Danny Graham took his place in front of a now familiar looking formation. We kicked off playing away from the visiting supporters in the South Stand under blue skies with scudding clouds. The first twenty minutes must have been exactly what BT were hoping for when they coughed up the money to televise live games. Fluid movement, sharp passing, and penetrative attacks: just what you would expect in match featuring Manchester City only it was the team in Black and Amber that was looking like the ones expected to be challenging for the title. First a through ball to Koren that is dragged back and taken off the toe of a marauding Graham for corner. Then Aluko breaks free of a sluggish Lescott, advances on the exposed Hart and drags a shot agonisingly wide of the upright. It’s not all one way though. Figeuroa dallied on the ball giving Manchester a corner. The resulting near post flick is smartly turned around the post by McGregor. In a flash we are heading up to the other end. A flowing move involving Koren, Elmohamady, Graham and Aluko ends up with Brady whose cross is neatly turned in by Graham. He looked suspiciously offside and sure enough there was the linesman with flag raised. Subsequent views on television showed the decision to be the right one although Graham’s slick movement meant that it was closer than it had seemed live. It was breathless stuff and the next action look place in front of us. I had wondered at why the grass around the area had been cut the way it was. Perhaps it was to show less than honest players where to go ground, I mused? The ball was hoisted into the City area, and played out via a very obvious powder blue clad arm to Aguero on the edge of the box who took a very theatrical – and unwarranted – tumble: two bad decisions in two seconds. From the resulting free kick the ball was eventually headed towards the net only to be tipped over by the alert McGregor. We still weren’t twenty minutes in when Brady was taken out clumsily. Thudd’s free kick was cleared but only to Koren whose shot was lashed just wide. The game settled down a bit now. We continued playing some excellent passing football and for large swathes of the game it would have been impossible for an impartial observer to differentiate between the team assembled for billions and the one put together – in Premier League terms – on a shoestring. I can’t recall ever seeing a City team so comfortable with the ball from front to back. Much of this good play came through Huddlestone: an Oasis of calm. Livermore who was seemingly everywhere, no more so than when Davies rampaged forward. Chances were coming less frequently now, and on about 35 minutes there was a huge exodus of blue to the concourses. Through amber coloured spectacles (seriously, they are the ones I wear for cycling) it seemed that the referee had decided that Manchester needed a hand. He overruled the linesman more than once, gave free kicks for shoulder to shoulder challenges and for what looked like yet another Aguero dive. At the same time the manhandling of Aluko was ignored. After his early break he was being given no opportunity to turn, either by fair means or foul. Half time was reached with no goals. Would we regret the early chances squandered? Popular opinion was that we probably would. The 2nd half saw the introduction of one time City target, Alvaro Negredo for the ineffectual Dzeko. The latter had been consummately shackled by Davies and Chester, the former showing why he was (and will be again) so highly regarded, the latter growing into life with the big boys. Manchester start the period on the front foot and City’s bright spells of possession are becoming less frequent although still in evidence. Aluko continues to be the subject of physical assaults each tome he gets the ball and eventually Nastasic is booked for a tackle that would be more appropriate against Hull FC. A great spell of City play involving Graham and Koren comes to naught before our skipper accompanies Figueora into the book for a foul on Kolarov. The resulting free kick is cleared but the pendulum is swinging towards the home team now. Negredo had already got one errant header before he pulled away from Elmohamady in the box to get on the end of a fine cross from Zabaleta. The header was close to McGregor but powerful and angled down so our keeper was well beaten. 1-0 to the Powder Blues and our first half profligacy was coming back to haunt us as the wizened sages around me had predictions. Shortly thereafter, Aluko was fouled once too often and withdrawn to give Steven Quinn his first taste of Premier League action. And all action he was, winning a header and getting clattered for his pains before buzzing around the left flank and causing many worrying moments to the home defence. Koren had given way for George Boyd and the latter got off a wayward shot before Quinn threatened again. Quinn’s initial shot hit a Manc arm in the area (“bet they don’t show that again on the big screen” opined my neighbour, and sure enough, they didn’t) and his follow up was safely pouched by Joe Hart. A flowing City move sees the ball switched from left to right, through several passes. Brady’s cross is agonisingly ahead of Graham’s slide: if only he had been wearing the longer studs. It’s worth a few words about Graham at this point. He has put in a shift as they say, nothing like the feckless showing at Chelsea. Leading the line, getting shots in (it was a great finish in the first half, despite the offside) and generally looking a threat. He gets in one final header that is comfortable for Hart. We have been in the ascendancy for the last few minutes and looking the more likely to grab a goal so it is no surprise when we don’t and they do. Nasri had been introduced after the first goal. He has previous against City in a red shirts when the main attributes he showed were niggling little fouls and petulance. Nothing changes and on this occasion he did his very best Olga Korbut impression when Chester failed to make contact in injury time. Two rolls, a pike and a flip later the referee succumbed and gave the free kick. Ya Ya Toure, who had played like a poor man’s Carlton Palmer throughout, slammed in the dead ball off the underside of the crossbar. And that was that. In many ways it was similar to Chelsea. Two goals conceded, one classy, one thunderbolt from a dubious (and I being generous there) free kick. The difference in how we approached the game showed how much we had come on in those two weeks. For most of the game we matched one of the pre-season favourites. At times we outplayed them. In the end out shortcomings in front of goal meant that we were always likely to come away unrewarded. We won’t be playing the top teams every week and we now have a run of fixtures against teams that we will competing with in the lower reaches (i.e., everywhere below 7th or 8th) in the league. Play against them like we did on Saturday and we will get results. The New Order at Hull City will bring Joy in this Division.