A more exciting month than August: twelve goals scored, rather than six, eight goals conceded, rather than none. In one sense less successful - three wins from four rather than four - but despite all this it was a thrill, almost a triumph, and another step on our road to success. The derby stands out - dramatic but not, ultimately, disastrous - but then there were three wins, two of which were quite special.
Arsenal (h) 4-2 (thoughts, ratings, reax, more reax)
Manchester United (a) 3-4 (thoughts, ratings, reax)
Fulham (h) 2-1 (thoughts)
West Ham United (h) 3-1 (thoughts, ratings, reax)
Player of the Month
People underestimate the importance of our January 2009 signings. They forget that we were in the relegation zone last Christmas, that we were a team without spine, without guts, without the nous to turn our occasional bouts of nice football into goals, wins and points. We did not become Chelsea overnight, but we did become strong enough to finish as high as tenth (don't scoff - we were eighteenth after seventeen games) and reach the quarter-finals of the UEFA Cup. It's no exaggeration to say that those signings transformed our season, and that they represented - in a way that the signing of Robinho did not - Mark Hughes' using the ADUG money to impose his own vision: determination, experience, a winning mentality - on the club.
In the summer people continued to ignore the importance of these signings. The presumption was that prodigious summer spending would sideline the importance of those additions - that, Given aside, they may be swept aside in a new bout of spending. That Craig Bellamy was now fifth out of five forwards and that Nigel de Jong would never play, in particular. Rather, all four have continued to play a central role in the side's progress in 2009/10. And it is those last two - Bellamy and de Jong - who many did not fancy to play much this year, who are the only two candidates for TLDORC September Player of the Year. On the fringes in August, both played every game in September, driving the time on with their characteristic grit and energy. If one of the pair didn't play for City, the other would be known as our angriest, toughest, fightingest, winningest player. The presence of both makes the title up for grabs.
First de Jong: brought in to shut down Fàbregas et al against Arsenal, he was immaculate. Hassling, harrying, never giving them in inch, he helped to prevent Arsenal for turning their possession into chances with his anticipation and aggression. His tackling combines the precision and ferocity of a boxer and his distribution - cautious by contrast - relieves pressure on our defence. He was arguably even better in the first half at Old Trafford, before failing to prevent our second half swamping. Another solid performance followed against Fulham, before returning to his bullying best against West Ham on Monday. Henry Winter aptly described him as a 'upmarket threshing machine.' It was certainly his best ever month as a City player.
But now Craig Bellamy. Having forced his way in ahead of Robinho for the trip to Fratton Park in August, he was selected again against Arsenal on the left wing. He was tireless, covering the entire flank and slamming home our go-ahead goal at 2-1. He later slid through Wright-Phillips for our fourth. Given a similar left wing job at Old Trafford, he did even better. Aside from his traditional hard defensive work he produced two equalising goals of the highest quality, firing into the far corner from twenty yards for 2-2 before dashing past Rio Ferdinand and Ben Foster for 3-3. Energetic again on Monday he gave West Ham's defence no let up, not making the score sheet but responsible for the freekick which Tévez headed in.
It's a tough call. I was very close to giving it to Nigel de Jong on the basis of Bellamy's conduct in the derby. Slapping a restrained fan was rather unpleasant to see, not only in itself but also because of the bad press it brought to the club. When thinking about this award I nearly disqualified Bellamy and gave it to de Jong by default. But, ultimately, this is for Player, rather than Club Ambassador of the Month. And Craig Bellamy has been so good in August - three goals and three assists in four games - turning the game against Arsenal and almost single-handedly winning us a point at Old Trafford, that I have awarded him TLDORC Player of September. And, for the sustained successful contribution of him and Nigel de Jong, Hughes' decisions last January continue to be vindicated.
Performance of the Month
It can only be Bellamy against United: two goals of the very highest class, the sort that if Fernando Torres scored would lead to story after story telling us how he's the best striker in the world (a position I hold, for what it's worth.) Again, I could have denied this to Bellamy on the grounds of the slap, but I'd already bottled that decision once so may as well do so again. As above, Nigel de Jong was exceptional against Arsenal and West Ham too.
Goal of the Month
It's a Bellamy hat-trick: his first (our second) at Old Trafford, when he picked the ball up on the left, drifted inside, and hammered the ball into the far top corner of the net, leaving Ben Foster no chance.