Manchester City's slapstick history keeps fans on edge in title race
The mentality of Manchester City fans is something that could fascinate psychologists for eternity. Growing up following a club that is so adept at bounding down the most nonsensical path imaginable, not only not trying to stop it but actively steering the car over the cliff edge, has led to the sort of conditioning that makes some worry their lead at the top of the Premier League might not be enough.
Only the sort of fans who watched their club waste time to secure a 2-2 draw with Liverpool that wasn't enough to avoid relegation in 1996 or who saw Jamie Pollock score one of the most spectacular own goals of all time to help send the team down to the third tier -- its lowest ever position -- could worry about being caught this season.
Outsiders will never know or understand that terror. Neutrals look at City's position, 12 points clear of Manchester United, having lost once all season and having won 20 of their 23 league games, as an opportunity to build one of the best top flight campaigns football has seen.
City fans believe it to present them the chance to go down in history as the side that blew one of the biggest Premier League leads ever. Only they could be history's greatest bottlers, confined to the top spot of those straight-to-DVD shows that count down the most embarrassing sporting moments.
Of course, football fans are superstitious sorts. They like routine and lucky charms because it gives them comfort and makes them believe they have an element of control over something that is far beyond their reach. There is a part of City's followers being self-deprecating because of how badly things have gone for them in the past from relatively good positions, but there is also the fear of being left embarrassed.
If City do fail from this position, at least they can say they had never counted their chickens too early or that they had seen the inevitable crash happening.
It means that proof the Premier League leaders are fallible -- a 4-3 defeat at Liverpool on Sunday -- backed up by their failure to capture Arsenal's Alexis Sanchez, despite it looking like a done deal for the last six months, has been met with concern that the wheels could be about to fall off the season.
This isn't something Manchester United or Chelsea fans have feared when they've been watching their teams dominate a campaign and open up a sizeable lead at the top of the table. It's a quirk of following City -- and one Pep Guardiola will be doing his best to destroy.
It could be an impossible fight for the manager, though. It's possibly a mentality that will never go away, no matter how good City become and how regularly they're able to win titles. Perhaps supporters will always be worried that their time in the sun is coming to an end, scared of the pride before a fall.
As the manager prepares to bounce back from defeat at Anfield with the visit of Newcastle to the Etihad on Saturday evening, he'll have to take into account that there will be nerves inside the stands. If there's even a hint of City starting the game badly, supporters will be on edge. There's already a worried buzz if the home side haven't scored before half time in matches -- that will be amplified by the events of the last week.
What will be putting supporters more at ease is that they couldn't be up against a better side to help them bounce back from defeat. Newcastle haven't beaten City in the Premier League in their last 20 meetings, a run that dates back to the Stuart Pearce era at Eastlands in 2005. More recently, City have won 13 of their last 14 games against the Magpies.
With Guardiola looking for a reaction from Sunday's defeat and a hit-and-miss Newcastle side lining up against them, it could be the perfect game for his team to show they aren't the City of old and they don't wilt under pressure. They've been showing it all season so far, barring the blip at Liverpool, so there's no reason to think Saturday evening will be any different.
Even when performing badly in defeat at Anfield -- and it was City's worst performance of the season -- they continued to play how Guardiola instructs and it almost helped them steal what would have been an undeserved point had they found a late equaliser. This is a tight-knit group of players and a team that has total belief in its style putting on a show of some of the best football in Europe right now.
There's no need for City fans to worry about how this season could be next in line to the haunting images of Pollock hanging his head as he trudged back to the halfway line or Steve Lomas shielding the ball by the corner flag.
David Mooney is ESPN FC's Manchester City blogger. Twitter: @DavidMooney