Sunday, 9 April 2017

Manchester City 3 v 1 Hull City

Saturday 8th April 2017
FA Premier League
Etihad Stadium, Manchester
Admission: £20.00
Programme: £3.00
Attendance: 54,393
Match Rating: 3

Taking advantage of another Virgin Trains West Coast sale, enabling me to obtain train tickets from London to Manchester for £10 each way, I then noticed that Manchester City were offering very reasonably priced tickets for this fixture. Considering that the £20.00 ticket price was less than most League Two clubs charge, I looked forward to ticking off another top flight stadium today, reputedly one of the most impressive in the country.

The Etihad Stadium is about a 20 minute walk westwards from Manchester Piccadilly circus, a very pleasant walk for the most part along the Ashton Canal, and the stadium within Sport City, an area containing various sporting facilities originally constructed for the 2002 Commonwealth Games. On approaching, the stadium is impressive in its design and is attractively decorated with club colours and images of memorable moments in the club's history, and the club has used the spacious area outside  very well to create a really good environment to enjoy ahead of a match. The City Square Fanzone is excellently designed with food and drink outlets well designed to allow fans to mingle, with the club shop located in the middle, and with a live entertainment stage which had performers playing music today. On entering the stadium, checks are quite rigorous, including body and bag searches and scans, and once inside, the stadium is very impressive. It is attractively designed and coloured, and the views are excellent, as one might expect from a relative new-build, with no viewing obstructions, comfortable leg room and a good incline between rows. I sat in the newest area of the stadium, in the third tier of the North Stand, the tier being brought into service in 2013. The stadium is a continuous bowl of seating, the three tiers stretching in a wave like appearance  along both lengths, whilst behind the other goal there are currently just the two tiers, with a row of executive boxes along the top. The programme was very reasonably priced, compared to other clubs in the Premier League and even the Football League, and although in quite a small format, it was a good read.

In Pep Guardiola's first season in the Premier League, a midweek defeat at Chelsea just about put paid to any lingering hopes on winning the title, as their attention turns to securing a top four and all-important Champions League spot for next season. They came into this match in fourth place, having won 17 and drawn 7 of their 30 league games, four points ahead of Arsenal and Manchester United having played a game more. After seeming to be inevitably heading for relegation at Christmas, Hull were a resurgent team when I watched their game against Swansea in February, and they have continued their progress under Marco Silva, and two home wins in the last week have resulted in them climbing out of the relegation zone and were two points clear, having won a total of eight and drawn six of their 31 league games. Their away form did not offer much hope though, picking up just five points from 15 away games. When the two teams met on Boxing Day, Manchester City won 0-3.

On a beautifully warm and sunny afternoon, this was a match that Manchester City unsurprisingly looked in complete control of throughout. Although the first half was quite even, Hull never really looked likely to score. With just four minutes on the clock, Hull keeper made a great double save, first from David Silva, making his 300th appearance for the club today, and then Leroy Sane, and Sergio Aguero and Yaya Toure also came close to scoring. But Hull's resistance was broken just after the half hour mark in quite unfortunate circumstances. Jesus Navas crossed powerfully low from the right and after finding it was through some legs, Ahmed Elmohamady turned the ball into his own net from close range. Hull had a great chance to equalise within a minute, but Oumar Niasse missed his kick from close range with the goal gaping. By half time, Manchester City held the narrow one goal lead, a lead that looked comfortable but always vulnerable to a goal on the break, particularly considering Manchester City's fragile defence this season.

Within three minutes of the restart, the home side doubled their lead. Raheem Sterling burst into the penalty area and crossed the ball low to Sergio Aguero, who had to step back to retrieve the ball, before driving the ball into the net, taking touches off a couple of defenders on the line. On 64 minutes, Manchester City sealed the win with a very good goal, Sterling again with assist, passing the ball sideways 25 yards out to Fabian Delph, who took a couple of touches before driving the ball low from the edge of the area inside the far post. Manchester City then coasted towards the finish with plenty of possession football, but five minutes from time, Hull scored a consolation goal. Shaun Maloney passed the ball back from the byline and Andrea Ranocchia hit the ball first time and although his connection was quite weak the ball still managed to find its way through the legs of defender John Stones and past the dive of goalkeeper Claudio Bravo. The goal took the gloss off of the win slightly, but the three points were well deserved in their quest for the Champions League spot. This was always a match that Hull would struggle to get anything from, but a relatively favourable run-in means that they are in a good position to secure survival in the Premiership for next season.

This was a most enjoyable day out, with the club doing much to enhance the overall matchday experience, but not in a contrived, "cheesy" way that modern football can sometimes be guilty of.

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