But for the absurd acrobatics of Joe Hart, a dodgy handball call as full time approached and a cool spot kick from Mario Balotelli, Manchester City would already be making travel and lodging reservations for Europa League play.
City will gladly take the point from its Champions League fixture with Borussia Dortmund. Only City's most optimistic fans, though, could view this match as anything but a point stolen, not earned.
Coupled with City's defeat-from-the-jaws-of-victory loss to Real Madrid in their Champions League opener, the draw with Dortmund sounds claxons of alarm throughout the blue side of Manchester.
For the second consecutive time in Champions League play, City looked flat and a half-step slow for the vast majority of 90 minutes. Inexcusable, considering the points lost at Real Madrid and considering that this match was played at the Etihad.
City again failed to keep a clean sheet, despite the sterling play of Hart. For all of its threatening play (10 shots on goal, 22 total), Dortmund only marked the scoresheet after—stop me if you have heard this one before—an embarrassingly poor back-pass from Jack Rodwell was picked off by Marco Reus and slashed into the top corner over Hart's right shoulder, despite the keeper getting a mitt on it.
True, Rodwell only came on after Javi Garcia came off due to injury. But Roberto Mancini's selection of Rodwell instead of James Milner to replace Garcia very nearly cost City the point it ultimately took.
Until today, Rodwell's play this season could charitably have been called hit-or-miss. After this gaffe, though, it is hard to imagine Rodwell seeing the pitch in a game of this magnitude again any time soon.
After Reus' tally, City had a little less than 30 minutes to find an equalizer, which would have been fine except Dortmund continued to clog the midfield while hitting on enough through balls forward to create the majority of scoring chances.
Compounding City's problems was the essentially invisible play of both Yaya Toure and David Silva. Toure's issues stemmed from a need to track back and stanch counter-attacks. As for why Silva no longer seems able or willing to properly serve a striker in sky blue, your guess is as good as anyone's.
City's offense did come to life as regulation time wound down, and while the penalty that was given for a handball was harsh, City was probably due a break given the decisions it has not received—especially at home—in recent days.
And Mancini's decision to bring Balotelli on in the 81st minute, probably motivated at least in part by the hope that City might win a penalty, proved brilliant when "Balo" answered Roman Weidenfeller's psychological whispers with a trademark stutter-step strike from the spot.
So, yes, the draw sure beats losing, as far as City was concerned. Even though it left City winless in Champions League play this season and with but one win in all competitions in their last six games.
There can be no argument, though, that if City continues to give away points on the road and struggles to score goals at home, its second consecutive Champions League foray will end as swiftly and disappointingly as the first one did.
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