Friday, 8 May 2015

City EDS 1 v 0 Porto. Premier League International Cup Champions.

Not our finest performance. Not even close. But we won to become champions of the inaugural Premier League International Cup, and i'm absolutely delighted for them. This group of players deserved something this season for their play, persistence and effort. Porto were better, quicker and (apparently) a lot more experienced. They should have got something from this, definitely. They squandered several chances, some clearer than others and they'll be rueing this result. That aside, this wasn't pure luck; we showed exceptional character. It was an incredibly gritty performance and they dug in from the first whistle to the last to hold on to the early lead. Even our goal was in good fortune, their centre back had a nightmare. A short back-pass in the fourth minute was pounced on by Kelechi - he dropped his shoulder, calmly rounded the keeper and put the ball into the empty net. If i'm being honest that was then it. We then basically held on for the rest of the game. We did a Chelsea.

The weather was atrocious. It was a properly miserable night - we couldn't keep hold of the ball at all and, truth be told, we played poorly. There was some bright moments, mainly some nice link up play between Kelechi and Pozo. The Spaniard was our brightest spark in that first half, running between the lines and turning at the defence, showing encouraging signs that his recent return to form might not be a flash in the pan. The second half was Porto's, though we did have a brief 5-10 minute spell of pressure in the second half when Barker and Bryan were introduced for the isolated Iheanacho and tiring Glendon. Iheanacho was situated on the left wing and struggled, as did Pozo up front, unsurprisingly. We should have switched them, but we didn't. Barker and Bryan's introduction gave us much needed balance and we turned the tide a little, but it was fleeting. The normal routine quickly returned - we lost our cool, hoofed the ball long to Pozo who struggled to do anything against the two centre-backs five inches taller than him, Porto recycled possession and quickly returned to attacking us. There was the odd half chance as we tried to counter, notably Barker firing just wide and Byrne stinging the keepers hands with one 20 yard drive but that was it. Porto pressed, drawing some good saves from Angus Gunn, but thankfully we held out.

Gunn was fantastic. It's easy to overlook how good he actually is given how many talented players we have in our side, but he's arguably as big a prospect as any of them. I'd argue he's better than Hart was at his age, a much better 'footballer' too. Commanding, technical, catches the ball instead of punching it and he's supremely confident - there is NOTHING I could ask him to do any differently. He's a product of a post-Neuer world and he has that same nonchalant aura that exudes from Courtois. If he's not number 2 next season he should be out on loan to a championship or league 1 club, ploughing a similar path to the ones Hart and Szczesny took as they gained much needed experience. He'll be England number one eventually. I'm certain.

Evans had a poor game I thought, once again being played out of position, but I was surprisingly impressed by Plummer. He was solid and dependent doing a more than passable Lescott impression - there might be a decent career for him somewhere after all. You could definitely tell he'd played first team football already while on loan at St. Mirren as he wasn't fazed by the late onslaught, coping manfully with everything Porto through at him. Maffeo was, as ever, and i'm getting bored of saying this, excellent. Okay, there was one incident where a perfectly weighted long ball caught him out, but it happens. No one is infallible and that moment aside he didn't put a single foot wrong in the 95 minutes he was on the pitch. Angelino was his usual bundle of effervescent energy and Glendon and Byrne scurried about trying what they could. I'd say Byrne perhaps the better, though neither were at their technical best on the night but both worked extremely hard. Ntcham was disappointing, though he wasn't helped by the fact that he was effectively an outlet for long passes all night. Intima offered decent width for us but suffered from a slight Navas syndrome, hitting his first man far too often. He did whip in a couple of nice crosses though which deserved better movement from the forwards.

Overall it wasn't a skilful performance, far from it. It was one of grit, determination and endeavour. Games like this are invaluable. They looked absolutely delighted to win this, and so they should be. Things like this will build character and they'll be better players for it. There's no shame in not winning gloriously sometimes - they didn't park the bus or set up shop to frustrate the opposition. They tried to play football, but it didn't happen and they won, quite simply, because they worked incredibly hard. I have to say too, the atmosphere at the CFA was wonderful. Twice that of anything we've had recently at the Etihad. The ground was buzzing, noisy and vibrant despite being about a third full. There was about 50 fans behind the goal that sang and jumped about all game doing a more than passable impression of the notoriously hardcore Dortmund fans. Heartening stuff - i've not seen anything like that at a city home game in years. Twice now at the minihad. A fitting backdrop for a memorable day for the City Football Academy.

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