Fallen City tries to rebuild walls
Manchester City defender Micah Richards has come out fighting amid his side's recent stumble - although he admits off-field distractions are to blame for their fading title challenge.
Only two months ago all seemed well at the Etihad Stadium with City looking set for a first top-flight crown in 44 years, as they sat top of the Premier League, five points clear of Manchester United.
However, the wheels have come off spectacularly of late, City going into last night’s match against West Brom eight behind United having won just once in five league games.
And the problems on the pitch have been supplemented by those off it, with walking-headline Mario Balotelli courting yet more bad publicity to overshadow the return of sulking striker Carlos Tevez.
Richards, though, insists City stand united behind under-fire boss Robert Mancini, the centre-back claiming the atmosphere is just as good as any time in his decade at the club.
“The team spirit is as good as ever at City. I should know. I have been in that dressing room for years,” he said before conceding the volume of press City have been receiving has taken its toll.
“If I pick up a paper four times in a week, three of those I will see a story about City that we could do without. When you are trying to focus on one thing - winning the league - then it’s hard. We don’t need it.
“There are certain things around our club that wouldn’t happen at other clubs. Well, they might but if they did nobody would know. If something happens with us, it’s in the paper every day and that can make it seem like it’s a constant battle.
“Things happen at every club. But at City we don’t help ourselves. We are the only club who have a training ground that allows the paparazzi to take pictures of training over the fence. Why is that?
“Everyone has done a fantastic job so far. To be even competing with United is great but at our club certain things always seem to happen. Do these things cause us to lose a game? No, but they certainly don’t help us to win any.”
Meanwhile, United could give City tips on building spirit after a team-bonding trip to one of golf’s most famous golf courses was credited for their recent success.
“They’ve done well, the lads, the little trip we had to St Andrews was fantastic,” manager Sir Alex Ferguson said. “I didn’t play and I’m glad because there are some bandits at our club. There’s no chance you can win. The players loved it.
“On the Friday about half a dozen of them had nine holes. It helped with the unity of the players - it was a good moment. It makes you realise when players stay together, they become a team very easily.”