On the way in to the stadium I passed Arsenal legend Patrick Vieira signing autographs and posing for photographs. The wind was so strong a hat blew off someone’s head and 20 yards down the pavement. A steward searched my bag and confiscated my Lancashire Sauce and anti-perspirant. A superstitious man might have seen these as bad omens.
Eastlands is gorgeous (although it could do without Manchester City’s misuse of the Helvetica typeface). The view from the upper tier is great and I began to fantasise about White Hart Lane’s redevelopment. There are plenty of stadiums bigger than White Hart Lane, but nobody has better screens.
It was bitterly cold, so much so that I wore my spare socks on my hands in lieu of gloves. So cold I was shivering and yearned for the chance to parody the Poznan in order to warm myself with a few moments of movement. A cough prevented me from as much singing as I’d like, but I had no trouble waving imaginary cards at the City fans.
Pre-match entertainment included live broadcasts of interviews with fans, so while the City players warmed up they had to listen to criticism over the public address system – Stefan Savic lacks experience, Samir Nasri hasn’t hit the heights he did at Arsenal.
In terms of selection Harry Redknapp only had one choice to make – Younes Kaboul kept his position and Ledley King took Michael Dawson’s place and the armband. For City Edin Dzeko was preferred to Mario Balotelli.
Nasri and Dzeko were the stars of City’s 5-1 win against us in August, but neither has shone regularly since. That result is a complete antithesis to the rest of our season, but City have continued in the same vein. Even when they aren’t steamrolling teams there is little doubt that they are the best team in England. Yaya and Kolo Toure are at the Africa Cup of Nations and Vincent Kompany is suspended, so these were just about the best circumstances to play City under.
The first half wasn’t much of a spectacle, but Sergio Aguero and David Silva caused a few problems, moving freely like wild mercury. The second half was much better entertainment and City took the lead with a fantastic Nasri finish. Silva played a devastating pass and the Spurs defence came apart like wet newspaper.
They doubled their lead a few minutes later as Lescott fell into the net with the ball. It was a slightly fortuitous lead and it didn’t last long.
Savic didn’t deal with Kaboul’s long ball, Defoe chested the ball past Joe Hart and finished from a tight angle, then Bale swept the ball into the net with a first-time strike from 20 yards. It was beautiful. He was wasted in the first half playing a free role, but was back on the wing and playing very well.
Four goals in nine minutes. The game had come to life.
Two incidents I didn’t notice in the ground and if I had I may have left in tears. First Joleon Lescott smashed his elbow into Kaboul’s face, then Balotelli stamped on Parker’s. Both should have been sent off. Neither were.
We were so close to completing the comeback when Bale broke down the wing and crossed for Defoe in the 91st minute. Defoe had the goal at his mercy, but he appeared to slow down a little and stretching to poke the ball it went inches wide.
Five minutes into injury time Balotelli burst into the box and Ledley King scissored him with a poor tackle. Balotelli coolly put the penalty into the bottom corner and a deafening roar broke out in a stadium that had previously been bereft of atmosphere. Bale collapsed to the ground when Howard Webb pointed to the spot seeing a man of the match performance (or the half at least) come to nothing.
Match of the Day promised impartial analysis, but Lee Dixon’s dismissal of Balotelli’s stamp was completely partisan. He and Alan Hansen were incredibly negative about Spurs after what was a very good performance. We went to the league’s top team and played to win and if the opposition’s violent actions had been properly punished we may well have done.
Despite the defeat, every player can walk with their head high.