MAN CITY 1, HULL CITY 1
Yaya Toure’s return from the African Cup of Nations cannot come quickly enough on the evidence of Manchester City’s wretched display at home to Barclays Premier League strugglers Hull City.
City, held at home by the Tigers, have failed to win in any of the six games Toure has not played in the current campaign.
Indeed, two defeats and four draws is an indication as to how important a player Toure, currently away playing for Ivory Coast, is for City who lost even more ground to Chelsea in the title race as they are now seven points behind the leaders.
It was a deeply disappointing display for City who could easily have lost but for an injury-time equaliser from substitute James Milner.
That cancelled out a first-half strike from David Meyler as bottom-three side Hull, with only two wins in their previous 16 league and cup games, turned the form book on its head.
It was a frustrating afternoon for City manager Manuel Pellegrini who said: “Once again we couldn’t create space against a team that defended behind the ball.
“We didn’t have clear chances to score because we are not playing well attacking. It is very clear what we must do – play faster in the last 25 metres.
“We had all the possession, attacked and attacked, but only created one more chance when Kun (Sergio Aguero) hit the bar.”
Pellegrini added that he could not fault the effort of his players saying they must continue to work hard in an effort for a return to “normal performances”.
He admitted Toure is a “very important player” but added it is a team game and not just about one individual.
Of the seven-points between City and leaders Chelsea, Pellegrini said: “I am not concerned about the gap, but more about returning to score.”
There was disappointment for Tigers’ manager Steve Bruce that his side was unable to hold on for victory.
“That’s five, may be six, times we have conceded late on,” he lamented.
“The most important thing was the response to the last half hour against Newcastle last week when we were not of the standard expected of the team I have had the pleasure to manage for the last two-and-a-half years.”
Bruce was pleased with the resilience he side showed in the second half adding they could have been further ahead than 1-0 at the break.
He added that he believes the draw could be a turning point in their fortunes as they bid to stave off the threat of relegation.
“It’s been an awful 10/12 weeks, but hopefully this result can galvanise the whole squad and the confidence and belief, which has ebbed away, will come back so that we can come here again next year which is the aim,” Bruce continued.
City made six changes from the team which kicked off in the FA Cup against Middlesbrough as Joe Hart, Martin Demichelis, Gael Clichy, Fernandinho, Samir Nasri and Edin Dzeko returned.
The players losing out were Willy Caballero, Dedryk Boyata, Aleksandar Kolarov, Milner, Jesus Navas and Stevan Jovetic.
Hull made a bright start which belied their lowly league standing and could easily have stolen ahead early in the game.
Michael Dawson saw a header drift narrowly wide and then Ahmed Elmohamady planted a far-post header against the crossbar from a Robbie Brady cross.
And it was no real surprise when Hull took a 35th minute lead through Meyler after Demichelis was initially caught out.
David Livermore was denied by a super save from Joe Hart, seconds later Gaston Ramirez struck the upright and Meyler fired in the rebound.
City, who failed to create a meaningful opening in the first period, brought on Navas for Fernando Reges at the restart.
It wasn’t until nine minutes into the second period that City carved out their first clear-cut chance when Dzeko’s volley was brilliantly kept out by keeper Allan McGregor.
City then had a penalty shout waved aside by referee Jon Moss following a clumsy challenge by Alex Bruce on David Silva.
Pellegrini also brought on Milner and Jovetic to try and make that elusive breakthrough, but it continued to be a deeply frustrating afternoon for the Blues.
City thought they had equalised in the 89th minute when Aguero struck the crossbar from six yards when you would have expected him to score.
The breakthrough finally came in the second of four minutes of added team when Tom Huddlestone fouled Aguero and Milner curled a delightful free kick over the defensive wall and beyond McGregor’s fingertips as City snatched a draw from the jaws of defeat at the death.