19 April 2016

Game on: Man City proves that it's not just Arsenal who can bottle things...

Well, well, well. Turns out that rumours of Arsenal's demise were greatly exaggerated...at least for a few more days, at least. Manchester City went into St. James's Park on Tuesday with a chance to secure third place all to themselves. The perennial relegation-fodder that is Newcastle would surely offer little resistance against the Leviathan that loomed before them. After all, Man City arrived in the midst of a purple-patch of sorts, having defeated PSG in the Champions League and having scored nine goals in their previous three Prem matches. Game, set, and match to the Citizens, yes? In a word, no. Like us, they found a way to drop points from a winning position against an overmatched opponent.

City's goal was more than a bit dodgy, what with Agüero being about a kilometre offside, give or take, but the goal stood. Would that Arsenal could benefit from such liberal application of the rules. Surely, City were off and running, were they not? Justice, unlike revenge, is a dish best-served piping hot, and Newcastle served up that dish on the half-hour with a legitimate goal. There would be a few more chances for either side, perhaps none more gilt-edged than Wijnaldum's effort for the hosts which Joe Hart parried away rather desperately.

After our own draw at home against Crystal Palace, your correspondent might have been a bit hasty in penning a post-mortem. It was, after all, the second straight matchday in which we seized a lead only to be dragged back down into a draw. Throw in Leicester's draw against West Ham, one so jammy that you could start a company selling preserves and confits labeled "Leicester 2-2 West Ham" and retire on the proceeds, add in Tottenham's thrashing of Stoke, and you've got yourself a recipe for disaster.

Still, too many chefs, as the saying goes, spoil the broth. Just as we were fretting our hour upon the stage, Man City came along and threw their hat in (bear with me as we mix metaphors). We had slumped to that infamous and all-too-familiar fourth place. Making matters worse, we had to get out an abacus and a slide-rule to calculate the permutations should Liverpool win the Europa League and Man City win the Champions League. Then, in the midst of those mad-cap calculations, City bottled it. Yes, it's true that Newcastle are struggling bravely to stave off relegation, and they've looked a bit steelier under Rafa "do remember I won the Champions League once upon a time" Benítez. However, City squandered a golden opportunity to make like well and truly uncomfortable for Arsenal.

Remember when we all circled the eighth of May as a day that might affect the title-chase? Adorable, those days now seem. Instead, that day might very well decide who finishes third. Man City have a tougher road to hoe—two legs against Real Madrid plus strips to St. Mary's Stadium and the Stadium of Light. Let's toss in this weekend's visit by the Orcs for good measure. At our end, we host West Brom before visiting Sunderland and hosting Norwich (could we repay the favour we owe to Newcastle?) and end the season hosting Aston Villa.

Much as I hate to engage in a science as dismal as this, we could go into the Etihad not needing a win to secure third place. That's a far cry from the halcyon days of wondering whether we'd need a win to crown ourselves as champions of the Prem, but it's perhaps just enough to hang our hats on. For now.