Saturday 8th August 2009
Manchester City 2-1 Celtic (pre-season friendly)
The City of Manchester Stadium is the ground I have called home since its opening for football in 2003, so it’s an obvious starting point for my scribbles. Celtic were the latest visitors at the time of writing, and this piece will be slightly different from the rest as I’ll be writing as a home supporter as opposed to an away one or a neutral.
In travelling to Manchester for this pre-season friendly, Celtic were following in the footsteps of the likes of Barcelona, Valencia and Milan, but the Scottish side’s large support promised a more rowdy occasion that usual, and so it proved. Sections of City’s more vocal fans can be found to the left of the goal at the South Stand end, so it is to their chagrin that large away supports in cup competitions are allocated this entire stand. Celtic’s 6,000 fans required a similar arrangement.
Unlike City, Celtic’s competitive season had already begun as they defeated Dinamo Moscow 2-1 on aggregate in a Champions League qualifier the previous Wednesday. As a result, they sent a slightly weakened squad over the border, though former Blues Georgios Samaras, Chris Killen and Willo Flood all started. Conversely, this was the home fans’ opportunity to see summer signings Gareth Barry, Carlos Tevez, Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Adebayor for the first time.
City started well with the midfield and forward lines functioning smoothly as a unit, and took the lead after 16 minutes when a delicious cross from Pablo Zabaleta found Barry’s perfectly-timed run, and the England midfielder volleyed past the static Zaluska into the bottom corner. The opening goal stoked the atmosphere up further, including a rather predictable chant and counter-chant of “England” and “Argentina” (seemingly forgetting City have two Argentinian players).
The lead didn’t last long, however, as two of Celtic’s ex-City contingent combined to level the scores. Samaras found the unmarked Killen with a lofted through-ball, and the New Zealander beat Shay Given (himself a former Celtic man) with an emphatic finish.
In previous seasons, half-time ‘entertainment’ at COMS has consisted of mascot penalty shoot-outs or people attempting to shoot at holes in bouncy castles to win holidays. Nothing of the sort was on show today, so I can only imagine the powers that be are currently thinking up something new in time for the first home game of the season against Wolves.
City regained the initiative six minutes after the restart, with Wayne Bridge making a fine surge from left-back and sending Bellamy on his way with a ball over the top. Bellamy, also an ex-Bhoy, twisted and turned to rid himself of the attentions of the Celtic defence before firing a superb shot into the bottom left hand corner, past Zaluska’s despairing dive.
That proved to be the final goal of the afternoon as the match fizzled out, with the customary deluge of pre-season substitutions taking place. One moment of note was the introduction of Carlos Tevez in place of Bellamy, with the Argentinian striker receiving a standing ovation following his high profile move from Trafford to Manchester.
Though I’m biased, I think I’m right in saying that the City of Manchester Stadium is one of the best grounds in the country. It’s impressive from both the inside and the outside, and unlike the majority of new grounds it’s got a design all of its own, unlike near-identical stadiums at Doncaster, Darlington, Cardiff and so on. It’s well-known that COMS started life as an athletics arena for the 2002 Commonwealth Games, and there was much criticism from the athletics fraternity when the football conversion took place. This, of course, ignores the fact that the ground wouldn’t have been built at all if City hadn’t agreed to move in at the conclusion of the Games in the first place. (The track-and-field tradition lives on at the adjacent Regional Athletics Arena, where City’s reserves also play.) Some City fans still pine for Maine Road, but COMS is a more than adequate replacement.