April 2011 - Reports
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Blackburn Rovers 0 Manchester City 1    Dzeko Tames Rovers
Monday 25th April 2011 : GYKO at Ewood Park

Edin Dzeko's first Premier League goal allowed Manchester City to open up a four-point gap on Tottenham in the fight for fourth place, leaving Blackburn one precarious point above the relegation positions in the process.

After coming on as a substitute in the 73rd minute Dzeko scored with virtually his first touch of the ball a minute later and, if these points help secure City a top-four finish, they will consider it £27m well spent. Dzeko has been a slow starter in the Premier League, though his decisive reaction when a David Silva shot arrived at his feet in front of goal put his fellow City strikers to shame. The visitors outplayed Blackburn for much of the game but struggled to find the finishing touch to their superiority in other parts of the pitch.

"It was an important goal for us, and for Edin," Roberto Mancini, the City manager, said. "We played good football in the first half and had to fight in the second but we showed we can win in a different way." City's first away win of 2011 prompted speculation they may finish even higher than fourth, though Mancini was characteristically cautious. "Anything is possible if Arsenal and Chelsea slip up but we must concentrate now on beating West Ham in our next game," he said.

This was a 10th successive league game without a win for Blackburn, who competed gamely and were unlucky on occasions, though had City's early profligacy to thank for still being in contention at all in the second half. They now have a must-win home game against Bolton on Saturday, when another poor result could see their freefall take them all the way into the bottom three.

In addition to promising Steve Kean his job is safe whatever happens, the Blackburn owners have now urged the supporters to be patient and see where the club is in a year's time, a dangerous thing to say unless you are completely sure the answer will not be Millwall or Doncaster. "We feel a bit hard done by," Kean said. "We didn't create too many clear chances but we could have had a penalty and I think their goal might have been offside. If we play like that I don't think we will lose a second home game on the bounce."

City spent the first 20 minutes slicing Blackburn open with almost surgical precision, with Silva and Adam Johnson finding time and space to do as they pleased and the home side finding it difficult to break out of their own half. It was greatly to the credit of the home back line that the score stayed level for so long, though Rovers certainly lived dangerously. Silva thumped a firm shot against a post as early as the third minute from Pablo Zabaleta's overlap and cross, a Gareth Barry header from a corner was stopped on the line by Michel Salgado and Johnson sent a dipping volley narrowly over.

Once Rovers had weathered the initial storm they made a few forward forays of their own through Brett Emerton and Benjani Mwaruwari before Jason Roberts had a penalty appeal turned down, probably correctly as it appeared the striker deliberately tumbled over Vincent Kompany's leg. Mario Balotelli was notionally leading City's attack, though the Italian was well looked after by Chris Samba and had a quiet first half, slipping in front of goal when his one opportunity arrived seconds before half-time.

He had brightened up just before then and a timely interception from Phil Jones was needed to prevent him running clear on goal. Jones himself provided one of the highlights of the first half with a buccaneering run almost the length of the pitch to the City goal-line before Samba, his fellow central defender, came close to opening the scoring with a header just the wrong side of the post.

Yaya Touré began the second half by seeing a close-range header tipped over by Paul Robinson, from a diagonal ball to the far post by Silva. Olsson put a shot into the side netting as Blackburn continued to manufacture opportunities, doing his best when the ball came through to him late but probably wishing Roberts had buried a free header rather than making inconclusive contact.

Blackburn almost came back to claim a draw when Phil Jones headed narrowly over from Rubén Rochina's late free-kick, yet there was still time for Touré to waste a great chance when he had only an out-of-position Robinson to beat but surrendered possession with a heavy touch

Teams

Blackburn Robinson, Salgado, Samba, Phil Jones,Givet (Diouf 85), Emerton, Dunn (Rochina 63), Jermaine Jones, Olsson, Mwaruwari (Kalinic 71), Roberts.

Subs Not Used: Bunn, Formica, Pedersen, Hanley.

Booked: Jermaine Jones, Emerton.

Man City Hart, Zabaleta, Kompany, Lescott, Kolarov, De Jong, Barry, Adam Johnson (Dzeko 72), Toure Yaya, Silva (Boyata 90), Balotelli (Vieira 83).

Subs Not Used: Taylor, Milner, Wright-Phillips, Jo.

Booked: Barry, Balotelli, De Jong.

Goals: Dzeko 75.

Att: 23,529

Ref: Andre Marriner (W Midlands).
 

Manchester City 1 Manchester United 0  The Pendulum has swung
Saturday 16th April 2011 : GYKO at Wembley      

Whatever happens now in the FA Cup final, and whatever the banner at Old Trafford may say, it is no longer quite true to suggest Manchester City have not won anything for the past 35 years. They won their biggest match of the season here and, although their conquered neighbours will be reluctant to admit it, one of Manchester United's biggest matches of the season too. City denied their rivals the chance of another treble and, while that may not quite count as knocking them off their perch, it is an important beginning.

It would be typical of City to lose to either Bolton or Stoke in the final, yet they will always have this happy memory. It was a match they had to win to retain any sort of local pride, not to mention wider credibility after all the money that has been spent, and in the end they won it surprisingly convincingly. A rested Ryan Giggs never started the game and Paul Scholes did not finish it, but this was emphatically City's day. There is to be no reprise of 1999 after all.

"I am very happy for our supporters, because they deserve this," Roberto Mancini said. "It is important to start winning trophies, and I stand by my claim that if we win the FA Cup this year we can try for the title next season. This could be a turning point for us, but it is important to remember there is another game to win. I think we can go on from this to win the FA Cup and secure a top-four finish." Sir Alex Ferguson declined to comment to the written press, either on the demise of his treble hopes or the dismissal of Scholes. He was apparently on the verge of appearing in the press conference room, but changed his mind on discovering Mancini was still speaking.

Pre-match rumours of a weakened United side proved unfounded as Ferguson named something close to his strongest available team. Javier Hernández had to be content with a place on the bench, with Dimitar Berbatov leading the attack on his own in similar fashion to the home league game against Fulham last week, the first occasion United had to manage without the suspended Wayne Rooney. For his part, Mancini left Edin Dzeko on the bench and went with a front three comprising Adam Johnson, Mario Balotelli and David Silva. The formation was no surprise and neither was the absence of Carlos Tevez, but what City fans were anxious to see was how aggressively their side would attack after the limp surrender at Liverpool on Monday night.

They were still waiting to find out after 15 minutes of typically stodgy semi-final fare from both sides, when United suddenly burst into action and came close to taking the lead with an intricately worked passing move. Only Joe Hart's reactions denied Berbatov in the end, but the way Michael Carrick, Scholes and Park Ji‑sung played the striker clear on goal with a series of short, precise passes through the middle was almost Brazilian in its slick audacity. United nearly caught City out from the resultant throw-in, too, and were grateful Aleksandar Kolarov stayed alert at the far post to prevent Berbatov sliding home Nani's low cross.

Nemanja Vidic flashed a header wide from a corner as United began to rack up the goal attempts midway through the first half. By that point in the game City had had none worthy of the name, unless they were intending to count a floated ball forward from Gareth Barry that went straight to Edwin van der Sar when it was intended for Balotelli. The first proper City threat arrived just past the half-hour mark, when Silva's cross from the right picked out Balotelli near the penalty spot, only for the ball to stick under his feet. Had the Italian managed to get a shot in he might have scored, but when Gareth Barry took over the Englishman was obliged to shoot from a narrower angle and could only find the side-netting.

All the same, City were inspired to produce their best spell of the first half. Balotelli forced a save from Edwin van der Sar with a powerful effort from 30 yards out, then, from a Johnson corner, Joleon Lescott volleyed over at the far post from a position where a recognised forward ought to have at least hit the target. City were thus able to claim a rough parity of attacking ambition by the time the interval arrived, in fact with a late near miss from Vincent Kompany and a good block from Vidic being required to stop a promising Yaya Toure run they probably shaded the first period. They had started with sensible rather than excessive caution, and with United possibly tiring after their midweek exertions against Chelsea, City played their way into the game and finished the first half looking the more purposeful.

Balotelli also began the second half looking sharp, although it was Yaya Touré who finally opened the scoring when United made a series of defensive errors. First Van der Sar put his own defenders under pressure with a weak clearance, then Carrick surrendered possession to Touré to make the situation worse. Suddenly gathering momentum as United's cover evaporated, Touré held off Vidic before rolling a low shot beneath Van der Sar.

With United barely venturing out of their own half, City relaxed to the extent of making a few trick passes as the hour came up, although what they really needed was another goal. While Balotelli playing with confidence verging on impudence is a sight to behold, his tendency to waste good positions with too nonchalant a pass would have been better saved for less fraught situations. Johnson almost forced an own goal from Van der Sar and Lescott headed wide from a Silva cross before United reminded their opponents that they were still in the game.

When Pablo Zabaleta was booked for bringing down Park the break in play was utilised to send on Hernandez for the disappointing Antonia Valencia, then from the free kick just outside the area Nani forced a fingertip save from Hart, who just managed to divert the ball onto his crossbar and out to safety.What settled City's nerves in the end was United going down to 10 men, with Scholes all too predictably seeing straight red for a lunging challenge that raked Zabaleta's thigh. In fairness the ball was there to be won and neither player was holding back, but whereas Zabaleta succeeded in reaching the ball Scholes played only the man. Berbatov was sacrificed for a replacement midfielder in Anderson, a switch that seemed to reduce further the likelihood of United getting back on terms, although not every City supporter would have been happy to see Shaun Wright-Phillips take over from Johnson for the last 11 minutes. Mancini was possibly not banking on an extra five minutes of stoppage time, although, despite the substitute infuriating as only he can on a couple of occasions when he could have made the game safe, City managed to see it out.

Man City: Hart, Zabaleta, Kompany, Lescott, Kolarov, Silva (Vieira 86), De Jong, Barry, Yaya Toure, Adam Johnson (Wright-Phillips 79), Balotelli. Subs not used: Taylor, Boyata, Milner, Dzeko, Jo. Booked: Zabaleta, Balotelli, De Jong, Kompany.

Goals: Yaya Toure 52.

Man Utd: Van der Sar, O'Shea (Fabio Da Silva 84), Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra, Valencia (Hernandez 65), Scholes, Carrick, Park,Nani, Berbatov (Anderson 74). Subs not used: Kuszczak, Owen, Smalling, Gibson. Sent off: Scholes (72).

Att: 86,549

Ref: Mike Dean (Wirral)

Liverpool 3 Manchester City 0    Roller Coaster Dips Again
Monday 11th April 2011 : Alan Ainscow for GYKO at Anfield

Sir Alex Ferguson and Manchester United can rarely have found a Liverpool home victory as satisfying as this. Manchester City were taken apart at Anfield, and that does not begin to cover the extent of their problems on a night when their designs on the FA Cup and investment for the Champions League were made to appear decidedly fragile by Kenny Dalglish's rampant team.

Roberto Mancini could not have envisaged a worse warm-up for Saturday's FA Cup semi-final with their local rivals at Wembley. Carlos Tevez limped off early with a suspected hamstring injury and, as has so often been the case this season, all of City's inspiration and guile went with him. They have at least been able to rely on stout defending throughout the campaign but even that asset was devastated as Andy Carroll scored the first two goals of his Liverpool career and formed a partnership with Luis Suárez that eclipsed the visitors' equally expensive attack in every respect. Dirk Kuyt got in the act as Liverpool made the contest safe inside 35 minutes.

City have now gone six Premier League away games without a win in 2011 and whether they will venture among the European elite next season is now open to question with Tottenham three points behind with a game in hand.

The two clubs' preparations could not have contrasted more greatly, with Liverpool bereft of defenders following defeat at Roy Hodgson's West Bromwich Albion and City having rested players for their rout of Sunderland. Yet the difference in their responses was even more profound. Liverpool were outstanding, City woeful. Whereas the home side compensated for absentees with spirit, ingenuity and individual excellence, the visitors were laboured, lethargic and devoid of imagination. All Sheikh Mansour has purchased on this performance is a squad high in stature, low in quality. City were anything but a team with designs on the Champions League and FA Cup.

A collective effort earned its standing ovation from the Anfield majority at half-time, in salute of the finest 45-minute display of Dalglish's second reign, but no one epitomised Liverpool's superior level of performance and desire better than the debutant John Flanagan. The 18-year-old had not made even a substitute's appearance before being drafted into a depleted defence at right-back yet he settled superbly. Liverpool's understandable reticence to give Flanagan the ball proved unnecessarily protective. A sweeping cross-field pass to Fábio Aurélio would have soothed any nerves in the teenager and defensively he was faultless, crunching hard but fair into Gareth Barry and muscling aside Mario Balotelli as the Italian attempted to break through on goal.

Balotelli's presence on the pitch was indicative of City's evening. In the 13th minute their captain Carlos Tevez was dispossessed by Carroll and appeared to injury a thigh in the process. He was immediately withdrawn but not before his opponent had swept Liverpool into the lead with an unstoppable drive beyond Joe Hart. Carroll's tackle on Tevez allowed Raul Meireles to strike from distance, though only into Vincent Kompany. The rebound was returned with interest by the England striker as his low, left-foot drive beat Hart purely for pace and power, not precision, and Anfield erupted to acclaim Carroll's first goal since his £35m transfer from Newcastle.

Hart had already tipped a Luis Suárez shot on to the post before Liverpool took the lead with the Uruguayan, displaying a sublime touch and an unerring knack of finding space all over the pitch, sent through by Carroll's quick thinking. The England goalkeeper was beaten again 11 minutes before the interval when Meireles, Suárez and Aurélio had shots blocked inside the area. The latter's effort was deflected across the area by Kompany, who appeared a defender alone against the Liverpool tide, and Dirk Kuyt picked his spot into the far corner.

City were reeling, in complete disarray, and seconds later Carroll glanced his second of the night past a despairing Hart when he towered above Aleksandar Kolarov to meet Meireles' cross with a glancing header.

In contrast to the pedestrian Edin Dzeko and Balotelli, Carroll and Suárez looked a double-act of rich potential. They embarrassed their City counter-parts in terms of industry and threat. City's £25m Italian substitute suffered the ignominy of being withdrawn with seven minutes remaining, although with Tevez injured and the game long lost he may well have been protected with the semi-final in mind.

Mancini does not escape blame having resisted putting Adam Johnson against the untested Flanagan, and there was an angry reaction from James Milner when one of the few City players to offer endeavour was replaced on the hour.

Teams

Liverpool Reina, Flanagan, Carragher, Skrtel, Aurelio, Kuyt,Lucas, Spearing, Meireles, Suarez, Carroll (Ngog 90).

Subs Not Used: Gulacsi, Cole, Maxi, Wilson, Shelvey, Robinson.

Booked: Aurelio.

Goals: Carroll 13, Kuyt 34, Carroll 35.

Man City Hart, Boyata, Kompany, Lescott, Kolarov, Barry,Toure Yaya, Milner (Silva 59), Tevez (Balotelli 16),Adam Johnson, Dzeko, Balotelli (De Jong 83).

Subs Not Used: Taylor, Zabaleta, Wright-Phillips, McGivern.

Att: 44,776

Ref: Mark Halsey (Lancashire).
 

Manchester City 5 Sunderland 0   Machum 'ave it!!!
Sunday 3rd April 2011 : GYKO at the COMSTAD

Manchester City have climbed above Chelsea into third position and, in the process, they will have given Sir Alex Ferguson plenty to ponder. The Manchester United manager had crossed this divided city to see his team's FA Cup semi-final opponents and it coincided with a confident, vibrant display from a City side registering their most emphatic win of the season.

Roberto Mancini's team were superior in every department. They chased and they harried and, in the key areas, they had a touch of class that made it an ordeal for their opponents. The pressure on the Sunderland goal was almost unrelenting and there was a sorry look about Steve Bruce's team, like a side already counting down the days to the summer. They have now taken only one point out of the past 21 and, tellingly, have won only once since Darren Bent's defection to Aston Villa in January.

They have also failed to score in their past four games and their performance here was encapsulated by the moment of tragicomedy that led to City's fifth goal when Lee Cattermole, from a position on the left touchline, played the ball into his own penalty area for Yaya Touré to run clear and clip his shot past the goalkeeper Simon Mignolet. It was a goal that came wrapped in red and white ribbons.

By that point, the game had already become an exercise in damage limitation for Sunderland. In truth, it had probably been that way by the time we reached the opening quarter of an hour, with City already 2-0 ahead courtesy of Adam Johnson's adroit finish and a Carlos Tevez penalty for his 22nd goal of the season.

The second half was an even more chastening experience for Sunderland. David Silva turned in the third before the substitute Patrick Vieira made it 4-0, an alert linesman correctly ruling that he had prodded Aleksandar Kolarov's low centre just over the line. An already embarrassing day for Sunderland was then exacerbated by Cattermole's ignominious part in Touré's goal and, after that, it was almost a surprise there were no further goals.

By the end there was a deep sense of irony about the home crowd's chorus of "Boring, Boring City". There have been many times this season when Mancini has stood accused of undue conservatism but, when he lets the handbrake off, this is a team that can attack from all directions. In football, getting a reputation is easier than losing one, but here's something to consider: City have now scored nine more league goals than the Tottenham Hotspur side lauded for their attacking qualities and Harry Redknapp's sense of adventure.

Sunderland, in stark contrast, have become the first Premier League side not to scorein four successive games this season and, in total, they have managed only 37 goals in 34 league and cup-ties. They were a dishevelled side, scarcely recognisable from the team that had played with verve and togetherness earlier in the season.

Cattermole's error will linger in the memory but he was far from alone. Jordan Henderson, looking nothing like the coveted £20m-rated player who has appeared on the radar of so many big clubs, was substituted after a laboured display. Phil Bardsley lasted only until half-time, though he had the excuse of playing with a knee injury, and Bruce was unsparing in his criticisms. "We had two or three players who performed OK. The rest, I have no excuses for. From start to finish, it was brutal."

Bardsley had been guilty of giving away the penalty from which Tevez scored his first goal in eight games – the longest barren run during his two seasons at Eastlands – and was "found out", to quote Bruce, for the opening goal as well, Johnson exchanging passes with Touré on the right before driving his shot past Mignolet.

It was a triumph in attacking, pass-and‑move football from City, eager to capitalise on a weekend when Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham had all drawn, and with the chairman, Khaldoon Al Mubarak, visiting from Abu Dhabi. "He's happy," Mancini said. "It's been an important weekend."

There was also plenty for Mancini to admire in terms of Mario Balotelli's performance. The Italian was prominently involved, his blocked shot allowing Silva to score the third from the rebound, and the equally pleasing aspect was his demeanour.

The glowering Balotelli of previous weeks and months had been replaced by a footballer with a new sense of purpose and discipline. He was smiling at the final whistle, even though Mignolet, at full stretch, had denied him a spectacular goal from the last kick of the match.

"Mario was perfect," Mancini said. "It's not important he didn't score. He worked for the team, he didn't speak to the referee or the opponents. Perfect."

Teams:

Man City Hart, Boyata (McGivern 70), Kompany, Lescott,Kolarov, Toure Yaya, De Jong, Silva (Wright-Phillips 78),Adam Johnson (Vieira 66), Tevez, Balotelli.

Subs Not Used: Taylor, Milner, Dzeko, Barry.

Booked: Kolarov, Vieira.

Goals: Adam Johnson 9, Tevez 15 pen, Silva 63, Vieira 67,

Toure Yaya 73.

Sunderland Mignolet, Bardsley (Elmohamady 46), Turner, Mensah,Ferdinand, Cattermole, Henderson (Zenden 59),Muntari (Colback 72), Sessegnon, Gyan, Welbeck.

Subs Not Used: Gordon, Malbranque, Adams, Lynch.

Booked: Bardsley, Mensah, Turner.

Att: 44,197

Ref: Howard Webb (S Yorkshire).

 

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