Monday night’s game at Villa Park between Aston Villa and Manchester City was particularly significant for two individuals who were facing their former clubs for the first time since summer transfers in the opposite direction. However their respective evenings unfolded somewhat differently. For the majority of the night, it was the best of times for ex-City captain Richard Dunne, whilst it was the worst of times for ex-Villa captain and hero, Gareth Barry.
The game itself had the potential to be very significant with both sides seeking to highlight their Champions League credentials and simultaneously deal a blow to a close challenger. A 1-1 draw on the night was probably a fair result and a served as a reminder to both sides that finishing fifth in the Premier League is no mean feat. City’s defensive frailties from crossed balls were again in evidence and they went behind early on when Dunne ironically rose above Barry to head home from a Stephen Warnock corner. However Mark Hughes’ men were not deflated and produced a resilient display to earn a crucial away point. The players stuck to the attacking game plan and continued to pass and move and play some lovely football. This tactic eventually paid off in the 67th minute when two of the three strikers who started the game combined, with Emmanuel Adebayor teeing up Craig Bellamy to score his fourth goal in as many games. It was exactly what City deserved and both managers will have been reasonably happy with the outcome, particularly Hughes who now sees his side lie fourth in the league with a game in hand to potentially go second.
The game was certainly not a classic, however it will be remembered for the contrasting nights endured by Dunne and Barry against their former clubs. The latter was certainly treated like a “Villain” upon his return to old stomping ground where he spent some 12 seasons and became a legend with the fans. However, those who adored him for so long were quick to turn on him, brandishing fake £50 notes featuring Barry’s face whenever he came anywhere near them. They let him know in no uncertain terms that they feel he is a mercenary after accepting the big bucks and moving north to Manchester during the summer, deserting Villa in the process, just as Martin O’Neill looked to be creating a decent team to compete at the top level. Neutrals will certainly sympathise with these fans as it is never easy to lose one of your best players. That said, it should be remembered that he was a loyal servant to his former club – even when he missed out on a move to Liverpool the previous season – and his decision could have been a purely footballing one. If City do break the dominance of the top four and Barry features heavily in next summer’s World Cup for England then who could argue with his motives?
Villa fans will certainly not be convinced of Barry’s good intentions so easily. Those who feel aggrieved and let down may point towards their new centre-half as a shining beacon of all that is good about modern day footballers and suggest that players like Barry, Bellamy or Adebayor should take a leaf out of his book. Few, if any Man City fans would disagree on this point and the applause he received from everyone in the stadium when he was announced as the man of the match was testament to this. It was a determined, committed performance from the straight talking Irishman who you come to expect nothing less from. He dealt admirably with the considerable threat of Adebayor in particular and capping his impressive display with a goal was surely beyond anyone’s expectations. Like Adebayor, Dunne may well have had just cause to be aggrieved with his former club, although it should be stated that Dunne did not bring any of it on himself. The manner of his departure from City was sadly lacking in dignity for such a loyal servant, however Dunne rose above this and, like Carlos Tevez last Monday, refused to celebrate out of respect for his old club.
Players out of this mould generally form the backbone of great teams. Chelsea have John Terry, Man United have Nemanja Vidic and Liverpool have Jamie Carragher as obvious, current examples. Martin O’Neill clearly thinks that he may have captured his own such player at the bargain price of £5million and City fans will be hoping that either of the £38million pairing of Kolo Toure or Jolean Lescott can step up to the plate soon, to save them regretting the haphazard sale of their former stalwart.
Manchester City Club Focus
E.A. sports both sides of his game against Arsenal – September 15
City travel across town £100m-worth of talent lighter – September 18
Error-strewn defence to blame for derby-day heartbreak – September 22
Perfect opportunity to consolidate – September 25
The Real Deal – September 29
One step at a time – October 2
A tale of two captains – October 6