Ahead of tonight's game against Manchester City
at The Hawthorns, we caught up with Howard who runs City website Come On City. He
gives his views on their season so far, Roberto Mancini, Joe Hart, the
and more. You can also find Howard
on Twitter @howiehok34.
Happy with the club’s start to the season?
There have obviously been problems, as we may see this week with two away games,
but I am certainly happy with the wider picture – the manager, the squad and
some of the performances, which at home has seen periods of play better than I
have ever witnessed before. There is a raised expectancy nowadays and we are
somewhat spoiled as City fans, but I am certainly happy with what I am seeing so
far, and we have progressed nicely through two cup competitions, including the
Champions League. If we lose to West Brom, feel free to delete this answer.
City seem unstoppable at home yet are struggling results-wise away, any
particular reason why?
If I knew the answer to that question, I would be a rich man. The home form is
not surprising really - we do on paper have the best squad in the league, and a
manager that likes attacking football. The difference in the away performances
is baffling. The stats show we have more possession and as many shots, but it is
all so sterile, pedestrian and the urgency is sadly missing much of the time.
There have been freak results (Aston Villa stands out) and individual mistakes
that have contributed to the poor results, but we are certainly creating much
fewer chances. I can only assume it is a mixture of factors – a new manager who
hasn’t yet appreciated that you can’t just turn up to places and expect to win,
too much rotation of the side for away games and a psychological factor that
leads the team to play much more cautiously. It’s easy for me to say, but if the
team approached every game like a home game, playing high-tempo football and
fielding the strongest eleven, we wouldn’t be discussing this.
Thoughts on Roberto Mancini, it seemed a harsh sacking to the neutral, how did
City fans react in general?
They reacted in many ways, it is fair to say. Many still sulk about it now, and
Pellegrini is on a hiding-to-nothing with them. For me, it became clear quickly
that it was a decision that had to be made. The problem with criticising the
decision with many fans and media alike is that it was portrayed as being due to
poor results, but this was not the case - if it had been done for that alone, I
would have been wholly against it. It soon emerged that Mancini had fallen out
with pretty much everyone at the club, and that his position was untenable. For
all the stuff that came out in the papers, I have heard form journalists that
there was a lot more that never came out. If a manager has lost his working
relationship with those around him, there is no going back. His confrontational
style worked when things were going well, but it’s a style that comes up short
when times are tough. At the end of the day, the owners are not stupid and have
invested so much that they can do as they see fit – we now have a manager who
should not cause a problem for the club off the pitch.
Happy with Manuel Pellegrini, anything he can do better?
was happy when we signed him and I am happy now. Even with the mistakes he may
or may not have made, I like to give a manager time before making conclusions.
Clearly he has not worked out how to play away from home, but the summer
signings have been excellent and some of the football takes the breath away. It
would be churlish to complain. I can take a season of underachievement if
building blocks are being put in place and the future is bright and that is
precisely what is happening. Though I can only take that if United don’t win the
City’s player of the season so far?
It’s a tough call to pick out one player when there have been a few stand-out
performers so far such as Samir Nasri and David Silva (pre-injury), but you
can’t look further than Sergio Aguero, who is simply unplayable at the moment.
When fit, he is one of the best attacking footballers in the world.
Views on Joe Hart? Unlucky to be dropped or should it have been sooner?
It’s an impossible call this one, another decision that has split opinion.
Personally I think he did deserve to be dropped, as he continued to make errors
that have cost goals, and has areas of weakness in his game that have bubbled to
the surface and need addressing. I also feel the break may have helped him and
would like to see him back in the team now, but whilst Pantilimon may be an
inferior keeper to Hart, he has not done anything wrong to justify being
dropped. The problem Pellegrini has now is how to handle the situation from now
on, but the solution may lie in the transfer market. That would be a shame, but
I get the feeling the manager just doesn’t trust Hart.
Prediction for City’s season? Where will you finish and can you achieve success
natural pessimist carved from 30 years of failure, I would err on the side of
caution and predict a top 3 finish and a chance of a domestic trophy, hopefully
the FA Cup. We are still favourites with the bookies to win the league, but I am
not convinced that Arsenal are going to fall away, and our away form is a big
worry, and may already have cost us dear. As for Europe, I don’t see City being
at a level where they can hope to win the Champions League (yet), and with a
likely 2nd place finish in the group stage on the horizon, this means a very
tough first knockout-game, probably against one of the top three Spanish sides
or PSG. Reaching the knockout stages may be the limit of our ambition this
season. One step at a time…..
Prediction on how Albion’s season will pan out?
As is often the case with an established Premier League side with modest
resources, I would predict another mid-table finish and hope for a good cup run.
Modern football is all about money, so there is no prospect of a team like
Albion doing anything more than that, unless you take the City route - and
Michel Platini has put a stop to that. As you found out at Chelsea, winning
against “bigger” teams will not be tolerated anyway.
You clearly can beat anyone on your day, and have a solid manager, a settled
team and an abundance of talent, but the performance against Aston Villa showed
that you just don’t have quite enough to kill off teams nor the strength in
depth to push on in the winter months when the injuries start to hit. Qualifying
for Europe is always a possibility, as last season almost showed, but I think
there is too much of a gap to bridge for this season, especially with a lack of
investment in the summer. So I will confidently plump for a 12th place finish
and the quarter-finals of the FA Cup.
Any particular Albion players that impress you?
I’ve always liked Shane Long – maybe he only performs when I watch him, but it
surprises me he almost left in the summer and seems to be a better option than
Anichebe for me. Mululmbu has always looked the part when I see him, if a bit
reckless at times, an all-round midfielder, so I am pleased he is suspended.
Gera is of course one to admire, and it’s good to see him back (and just too
late for City hopefully), and Berahino
and Amalfitano look like they could cause City trouble.
(I know you didn’t ask, but Stephane Sessegnon really frustrates me as he is
clearly a great footballer who will do something brilliant one minute, then
something awful the next. And as for Anelka and Scott Sinclair….)
Any memories that stand out from previous Albion v City games?
Only losing – par for the course with City away from home down the years.
No-score draws away seem to stick in mind too for some reason. West Brom haven’t
figured in any of my City “highlights or lowlights” so it seems they have been
pretty standard affairs down the years. The last match was certainly a non-event
with an impending FA Cup final to play. The 4-0 win 2 seasons ago was a crucial
night in City’s history though, not just because of the three points, but at the
same time United were losing 1-0 to Wigan and the whole title race changed there
particular defeat stands out for me personally, a 2-0 loss (in 2005 I think),
City were miserable, West Brom lively and fully worth the victory, a quick
post-match drink resulted in missing the last coach, a long trek back notable
only for the best kebab I have ever eaten back in Manchester and arriving home
covered in mint sauce.
It was rarely about the football in the old days, as the football always let you
down. At least you knew where you stood with a chicken tikka kebab.
Premier League Champions?
Taking sentiment out of the equation – I think Arsenal will win the league – and
Piers Morgan will achieve the near-impossible and become even more irritating.
Despite beating West Ham, I can’t see Crystal Palace staying up. I think
Sunderland will though, so would add Cardiff to the mix as they can’t play us at
home every week. For the third spot, considering the clown they have just
appointed, put your mortgage on Fulham going down. Then re-mortgage your house,
put that on them too, then sell your car, sell everything you own and put that