Sunday 4 January ~
Wayne Bridge said hello to his new team's supporters at Eastlands on Saturday. This may have seemed like a good idea ahead of the Man City's FA Cup tie with Forest, less so when the team were two down to opponents who have spent the whole season in the bottom four of the Championship. City rested a couple of players for the match - fewer than Stoke who endured an afternoon of comparable humiliation at Hartlepool - but this was still a ridiculous result for such an experienced group of players whose previous home match was a 5-1 thrashing of Hull. In the days of the old Division One, Ron Greenwood's West Ham were often lampooned for their capacity to beat the League leaders at Upton Park one week, then lose 4-0 away to a team below them the next. But for absurd inconsistency they are no match for the current City side whose six League wins this season have each been by at least three goals, yet who have also lost ten matches.
In the recent past the overspending on transfer fees and wages sanctioned by Roman Abramovich caused inflation throughout the League. That is unlikely to happen in the face of City's financial profligacy because other club owners simply can't afford it now, not least when almost half the chairmen in the Premier League seem to be looking, with varying degrees of desperation, for a buyer. But even with a cluster of new signings in January, Mark Hughes won't get the team anywhere near where their owners had expected them to be this year. Hughes himself even said so, forlornly, after hearing his side booed off yesterday: "It is not going to happen in this window, or even two or three. We need more time.”
The forthcoming crop of signings, which seem likely to include Roque Santa Cruz, Scott Parker and possibly Craig Bellamy, might just propel City into a UEFA Cup spot, qualification for which may reach as far as seventh place. But they will be no nearer the top four in points terms than they were last season and a whole new set of players would still be needed to bridge that gap - if, that is, such players can be persuaded to leave Champions League qualifiers from La Liga and Serie A for a team that might scrape into the top half of the Premier League. And even then there would be cause for doubting the competitive instincts of players who are only coming for the money. However, that is looking unlikely to be a problem that Mark Hughes will need to deal with - and as his hair seems to be getting whiter by the week he might even be quietly relieved by that thought.