Robin Sainty: This isn't what City fans signed up to...
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
When we were all enduring the pain of Operation Restart, as a clearly inadequate squad racked up defeat after defeat, two things made it vaguely bearable.
The first was that we were doing so from the comfort of our own homes and without all the additional outlay involved in travelling to games, but the second was that we were constantly told that the club was “paying for the sins of the past” and that relegation and another promotion might be a necessary evil in order to reboot it for a brighter future.
After a shaky start, last season’s Championship title got the fans back onside and we entered the summer optimistic that, whereas on the previous occasion Premier League survival would have required, in the words of Daniel Farke, “a small miracle”, this time around it would be much more viable.
Since then, the club’s outstanding player of the previous two seasons has departed, albeit through his own choice, the ill-judged sponsorship deal with BK8 has come and gone, and the man who was instrumental in City successfully walking a financial tightrope, Ben Kensell, has left, while one of their brightest assets, Todd Cantwell, has mysteriously disappeared from the picture for much of the season.
The sale of Buendia did at least generate a significant transfer budget with City bizarrely becoming one of the Premier League’s bigger spenders in the summer window.
But despite all that and a change of manager the squad has generated just 10 points from 20 league games while scoring a paltry eight goals. It could hardly be considered progress.
Of course, Covid and injuries haven’t helped, but the simple fact is that this squad looks even less well equipped than its predecessor at this level.
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There is little attacking threat unless Teemu Pukki can conjure something from negligible service, the defence continues to concede soft goals and in the absence of Mathias Normann the midfield is neither creative nor strong enough in the tackle, and the sight of Pukki sprinting back beyond his midfielders to snuff out a dangerous Charlton breakaway on Sunday spoke volumes about how shambolic City looked.
I have some sympathy with City’s defenders because they are so often left exposed. For example, at West Ham the centre backs were under constant pressure because City’s wide players didn’t do enough to stop crosses coming into the box, and it was almost inevitable that at some point someone would make a mistake, as Ben Gibson did in allowing Jarrod Bowen to get in front of him for the Hammers first goal.
Dean Smith, who has undoubtedly inherited a difficult situation which has been made worse by Covid, is clearly a frustrated man and that manifested itself in his criticism of the fans at Charlton for some negative chants.
While I can understand where he’s coming from, and some of them were definitely beyond the pale, I do find it frustrating that managers tend to praise fans to the heavens when everything is going well, but are quick to target them when times are tough. Supporters are reacting to what’s happening on the pitch, not causing it.
City fans had every right, and indeed were encouraged, to expect so much more from this season, so what they are seeing is hard to swallow. They can accept losing, but the failure to be genuinely competitive is much harder to take, and the feeling amongst many of them currently is one of embarrassment.
When they’re then told not to expect any strengthening in January it isn’t surprising that there is also growing anger and frustration in the stands and whilst that is unlikely to change anything given the club’s financial position, the real concern with season ticket renewal windows soon to open and income being so critical to the self-funding model, is that that anger will transform into numbness and then to apathy.