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Onuoha bides his time

06 Apr 2010 11:51:47

City nut Nedum Onuoha is hoping to stage a big finish to the most frustrating season of his career. The lifelong Blue got an unexpected recall to the team for the 6-1 thrashing of Burnley on Saturday, his first league start under Roberto Mancini. But his place will come under immediate pressure for Sunday's home game with Birmingham, as Micah Richards is expected to recover from the knee injury which ruled him out of the trip to Turf Moor. Things looked very different for Onuoha a year ago. He was being singled out as City's best defender, was on the verge of agreeing a new five-year deal and looking forward to representing England in the European Under-21 Championships. But then he looked on in dismay as Mark Hughes went out and bought Joleon Lescott and Kolo Toure for a combined £38m, which meant he spent the first five games of the season watching from the subs bench. Untimely injuries have since disrupted the rest of his season, while the successful transition of Vincent Kompany to centre-half, and the emergence of teenager Dedryck Boyata has seen "The Chief" slide further down the pecking order. Summer As his beloved Blues enter the final stretch of the season, Onuoha has made just 10 appearances, half of them as a substitute. That kind of statistic is bound to start any young, talented, ambitious player thinking about a summer move, even if you are tied to the club by emotional bonds as well as professional ones. Everton and Aston Villa would be very interested if Onuoha was to become available, but the Nigeria-born, Miles Platting-bred defender is refusing to even contemplate his future at the moment. He wants simply to keep his place, and help boost City into the Champions League, which would bring some relief at the end of a season which, on a personal level, he wants to forget. "It's been disappointing, because I have been available ever since the new manager came in, but I have not played any games due to other people being ahead of me," said Onuoha, who finally got his call when Richards damaged a knee in training last week, and with Pablo Zabaleta suspended. "There is nothing you can do about that other than keep your head down and keep working, and the opportunity finally came, against Burnley. It wasn't one I was expecting, but I was ready when it did come." Onuoha was not even in the reckoning when City suffered a left-back crisis, with Wayne Bridge and Lescott suffering injuries at the same time. Different He has played in that position in the past, but manager Roberto Mancini, in naming his options, talked about Javier Garrido, Zabaleta and even rookie Greg Cunningham, without mentioning the England Under-21 man. Zabaleta has made a City career out of his adaptability, recently playing in three different positions in a single match, and filling in both full-back positions as well as playing across the midfield. But Onuoha, who sees himself as a centre-back, believes the "all-rounder" tag can be a curse. "You can see my versatility as an asset but it can also be a problem, because players with one position tend to play more games in that position. But for someone like me, you can be the second-choice centre-back and the second-choice right-back. I would rather command just the one position." The recall at Burnley was a pleasant surprise, and Onuoha said he relishes the chance to test himself in the pressure cooker which is the chase for fourth place. "This has been one of the most difficult seasons for me, particularly after what happened last year, when I was in the team," he said. "We weren't as successful then as we are now, but I was probably enjoying the football more, and the pressure of going into every game now needing to win is something I want to feel myself." And he vowed not to even start thinking about his future until the dust has settled on what promises to be an exciting grandstand finish to the Champions League qualification race. "Until we get there it's not something I can stress about too much, because I just need to be ready for every game should I be selected," he said. "I'd love to play in the remaining six games, but it's out of my hands." Onuoha was delighted to get his chance at Burnley, and did not disappoint with a solid performance at right-back in difficult conditions. And he said he was not surprised at the Blues piling up their biggest top-flight away win for 72 years, despite the constant criticism that Mancini is too defensive. "We could go into the next game and not score, and people would be saying the same things, but I remember saying to people a few weeks ago that I was surprised we had not gone out and absolutely battered a team. "That moment came on Saturday, and it was something that had been coming for a long while." Result Team-mate Vincent Kompany said the thought that referee Alan Wiley might call the game off as the deluge turned the pitch into a swamp had not crossed his mind. Onuoha said: "It was weird in the second half, because I thought the ref might try to call it off, and that would have been the worst result possible. "You just have to give it every chance, and change the way you play because you can't pass the ball more than five yards. It's a case of playing to the pitch, and we did that. "I really enjoyed the game and it made it interesting in the second half. Five minutes into the half I slid to block a shot and didn't stop for about 15 yards! I saw Gareth Barry looking at me laughing!"| Submit Comments| Comments (12)| PrintWhat's this? Emaildel.icio.usDiggredditFacebookStumbleUponNewsvineGoogle BookmarksNetscapeTechnoratiWindows LiveYahoo! MyWebMa.gnolia


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