February 2011 - Reports
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Manchester City 1 Fulham 1  Depressing Stuff
Sunday 27th February 2011 : GYKO at the COMSTAD

For Manchester City, this was an afternoon of intense frustration, Mark Hughes's return coinciding with arguably one of their least accomplished performances at home all season. Roberto Mancini's side looked flat and lethargic, and the Italian's frustrations could be accurately gauged by the flashpoint at the final whistle when he and Hughes barely struggled to conceal their disdain for one another.

It was a childish spat, but symptomatic of the bad feeling that exists between the two since Mancini replaced Hughes 14 months ago. Mancini was the agitator, deliberately looking in the other direction as he half-heartedly offered his hand.

"It's probably my fault but I'm a little bit old-fashioned," Hughes said, explaining why he had angrily thrown Mancini's hand away. "I always think if you offer your hand, it should be with sincerity. I didn't think Roberto acknowledged the efforts of my team, and how well we'd done, by the manner in which he offered his hand. Call me old-fashioned, but that was my take on it."

In truth, both men came out of the confrontation badly. When it was put to Mancini that Hughes had gestured he wanted eye contact he admitted it had been a deliberate snub, referring to their handshake at the end of City's 4-1 win at Craven Cottage in November. "In London, he did the same to me," he said. Tit-for-tat, in other words. "Yes, but it's not important. The result is important, not these stupid things. I think he should be happy he had a draw against us." Told of this, Hughes replied: "I don't recall doing that. I think he's incorrect."

Mancini's anger was not just confined to the man whose job he inherited. The City manager was unusually critical of his players as he reflected on their failure to build on Mario Balotelli's goal and an inability to regain control after Damien Duff had equalised early in the second half.

In particular, he was unhappy with Balotelli, who went from scoring a splendid goal to angering the crowd with erratic attempts to score from 40 yards. "It was a good goal but I am not happy. He should play better. Strikers should play for the team, not just for Balotelli, for [Carlos] Tevez, for [Edin] Dzeko. The strikers didn't work well. They didn't move, they were too still. They should always play with the team."

The criticism was justified, although in fairness to Balotelli it would be wrong to make him the scapegoat. Tevez was unusually subdued and Dzeko was substituted in a jaded performance. With David Silva nursing a twisted ankle, this was a team missing their inventive hub and the lack of spark was alarming considering this was the first of possibly five games in 11 days. "We were really tired," Mancini said. "I'm disappointed with the result but I knew this was an option when you play every two or three days."

This was certainly a more satisfying afternoon for Hughes than the fixture at Craven Cottage. Fulham played with spirit and togetherness and did not lose their composure when Balotelli invigorated an otherwise prosaic first half by taking Tevez's short pass, shifting the ball past Danny Murphy and thumping a precise right-foot drive into the bottom corner of Mark Schwarzer's goal.

"We restricted a very good side to very few opportunities," Hughes said. "The key was keeping Carlos Tevez quiet because he is the catalyst for everything they do. The only disappointment was that we didn't go on to get the three points after dictating the game for long periods."

Of the two managers, Mancini was the more animated figure on the touchline, visibly disturbed by his team's inability to impose themselves even after taking the lead. Fulham had been marginally the better side in the first half, and they levelled the match three minutes after the restart with a splendidly worked goal, Brede Hangeland setting Andrew Johnson scampering down the right, spinning past Aleksandar Kolarov. Johnson fired in a low and hard centre and Duff, on the run, turned it past Joe Hart with an emphatic first-time finish.

After that the best chance fell to Tevez, running clear on to Balotelli's deft pass only for Schwarzer to scramble his shot wide. Fulham, though, also had opportunities, Duff making it a difficult afternoon for Kolarov, Johnson busy and elusive and Clint Dempsey prominently involved. Kolarov was substituted to spare him Duff's trickery and on the other flank, Jérôme Boateng scarcely ingratiated himself to an increasingly agitated crowd by pulling out of a 50-50 challenge with Carlos Salcido, six inches smaller. By the final whistle there was more bad feeling, both in the stands and on the touchline.

Teams

Man City Hart, Boateng, K Toure, Lescott, Kolarov (Milner 77), Y Toure, Barry, Zabaleta, Tevez, Balotelli, Dzeko (Vieira 60).

Subs Not Used: Taylor, Wright-Phillips, Jo, Wabara, Guidetti.

Booked: Balotelli.

Goals: Balotelli 26.

Fulham Schwarzer, Baird, Hughes, Hangeland, Salcido, Duff, Etuhu, Murphy, Dempsey, Johnson (Gudjohnsen 79), Dembele.

Subs Not Used: Stockdale, Kelly, Gera, Kakuta, Greening, Davies.

Booked: Johnson, Murphy.

Goals: Duff 48.

Att: 43,077

Ref: Peter Walton (Northamptonshire).
 

Manchester City 3 Aris Thessaloniki 0   Big Fat Greek Win
Thursday 24th February 2011 : GYKO at the COMSTAD

DOWNLOAD THE ARIS AWAY MATCH PROGRAMME                                        

Suddenly it feels like a trick of the imagination that Roberto Mancini has been accused this season of undue conservatism. Edin Dzeko, Mario Balotelli, David Silva and Carlos Tevez were all shoehorned into Manchester City's attack for the first time and, after a successful night of experimentation, Mancini's men moved into the last 16 with something to spare.

They did not quite manage to silence the unrelenting Aris support – the kitrini made a lasting impression as perhaps the most voluble and choreographed away fans ever to visit this stadium – but they were superior in every other department. They have scored 19 goals in their last five home games and can look forward to a tie against Dynamo Kyiv courtesy of an early double from Dzeko and a deflected Yaya Touré strike with a quarter of an hour to play.

A seventh successive home win was not entirely without complications, Vincent Kompany being forced off after damaging his hip in the first half. Kompany joins an injury list already featuring Adam Johnson, James Milner, Nigel de Jong and Micah Richards, and will undergo tests in the morning to ascertain the seriousness of the problem. "I hope it's not serious and that he can play against Fulham on Sunday," Mancini said.

This was the only downside for City and, for Dzeko in particular, it was a night of huge satisfaction. These were not his first goals for his new employers but it was the first time he has bristled with confidence. His finishing was clinical, the relationship with Tevez blossoming, and the Bosnian is now displaying the kind of prolific centre-forward play that persuaded City to pay £27m for his services.

It was a good night, in other words, for the City chairman, Khaldoon al-Mubarak, to fly in from Abu Dhabi for his first match in two months. City played with width and penetration and their attacking quartet had an elusive quality, Dzeko remaining the focal point but Tevez, Balotelli and Silva interchanging positions, driving forward from all angles.

"The problem is when we don't have the ball but I think it can work sometimes," Mancini said. "Maybe not often, but sometimes. We were excellent in that first half."

Aris were moderate opponents, and there were times when the gap between the sides felt more like a chasm. In terms of Greeks bearing gifts, the tone was set in the seventh minute when the centre-half Nikolaos Lazaridis made a hash at clearing Aleksandar Kolarov's long ball and suddenly Dzeko was clear. His first touch was a little loose but, steadying himself, the second was a low, right-foot shot, across the goalkeeper and just inside the far post.

Within five minutes the night had become an exercise in damage limitation for City's opponents. This time the move originated on the left, Silva playing a ball infield to Tevez and the Argentinean picking out Dzeko, running through the inside-right channel. Dzeko worked the ball on to his left foot and, applying just the right measure of curl, sent a firm and precise left-foot shot into the same corner of the goal.

The early onslaught subsided a little thereafter, though City retained an air of complete superiority and Dzeko will feel he should have completed a hat-trick late in the first half, Silva's pass splitting the Greek defence to leave him clear only for the goalkeeper, Michail Sifakis, to claw the ball away from his feet.

The second half was not so frenetic – "so-so", to use Mancini's description, with City no longer attacking with the same drive. Even so, there was only one brief flurry when Aris came out of the defensive shell that had frustrated Mancini's team nine days earlier in Thessaloniki. City were comfortable and it was probably only to be expected that they would ease off, with three more home games to come in the next nine days.

Nonetheless Balotelli had struck a post before Touré tried his luck with a long-range effort that took a decisive touch off Ricardo Faty to find the bottom corner.

Teams

Man City Hart, Boateng, Kompany (Zabaleta 35), Lescott, Kolarov, Silva (Wright-Phillips 80), Toure Yaya, Barry, Tevez (Vieira 79), Dzeko, Balotelli.

Subs Not Used: Taylor, Jo, Toure, Wabara.

Booked: Kolarov.

Goals: Dzeko 7, 12, Toure Yaya 75.

Aris Salonika Sifakis, Vangeli, Guiaro, Lazaridis, Michel, Prittas, Faty, Neto (Kaznaferis 79), Toja, Bobadilla (Koke 61), Sakata (Mendrinos 46).

Subs Not Used: Juanma, Oriol, Cesarec.

Booked: Vangeli, Neto, Prittas.

Att: 36,748

Ref: Pavel Kralovec (Czech Republic).

Manchester City 5 Notts County 0   City go Goal Mad
Sunday 20th February 2011 : GYKO at the COMSTAD

Manchester City took their time to demonstrate the gulf between the two clubs but, once they worked up a head of steam, it left the 18th-placed side in League One grateful to be spared further punishment. Roberto Mancini's men can look forward to a fifth-round tie at home to Aston Villa and a possible quarter-final against Everton or Reading, courtesy of two headers from Patrick Vieira and a late onslaught that brought goals from Carlos Tevez, Edin Dzeko and Micah Richards in the final six minutes.

Tevez has now scored 50 times in his 73 appearances for the club, giving the Argentinian legitimate credentials to be recognised as the outstanding striker in their history. On a wider scale, however, the greater satisfaction for City may originate from the 89th-minute header with which Dzeko made it 4-0. The Bosnian subsequently wasted a one-on-one with the goalkeeper, Stuart Nelson, but his first home goal for his new employers should soothe his confidence after Mancini's criticism of his performance in the Europa League against Aris Thessaloniki last Tuesday. "In Greece he missed three or four chances, so it was important for him to score," Mancini said.

There were fleeting signs that Dzeko may have the beginnings of a partnership flourishing with Tevez, the two strikers creating each other's goals. On the flipside there was another show of petulance from Mario Balotelli, annoyed to be substituted after a clash of heads with the centre-half, Krystian Pearce, as Vieira scored his second goal, in the 57th minute.

Balotelli – who was taken to hospital after the match when he complained of feeling dizzy and nauseous but was later given the all-clear – had looked rusty in his first start since late December and could be seen reaching for the troublesome knee that has disrupted his first season in Manchester. His ­reaction to his withdrawal, gesturing angrily and throwing his snood to the ground as he went down the tunnel, was strange given that Mancini said afterwards he had pre-arranged with the player to take him off after an hour.

"He was unhappy, sure," Mancini said. "I'd expect him to be. But that was our plan [to substitute him] and we had told him. We have games coming up every three or four days and we want him 100%."

Mancini was smiling and his response when asked about Balotelli holding his knee offered another glimpse into the complex mind of this emotional young Italian. "He does this in training, too," the manager said. "He shoots and scores, he doesn't touch his knee; he shoots and doesn't score, he touches the knee."

That apart, it was a slow-burning day of satisfaction for City once they had resisted a spirited opening half-hour from Paul Ince's team. Fifty-nine places below their hosts in the order of English football, Notts played with spirit and togetherness. They will look back to that moment, with the game scoreless, when Karl Hawley curled a wonderful shot against the post. "With a little bit of luck we could have made it 1-0 but the width of the post denied us," Ince said. "We felt we were the better side. It had felt like a home game at times."

Yet their challenge faded once Vieira opened the scoring, heading in David Silva's corner courtesy of a deflection off Pearce's hand. Notts's inability to deal with crosses was recurring and, although Mancini acknowledged afterwards it had been a lethargic first-half display, City controlled the rhythm of the game after taking the lead and there was never a sense they might give up the lead.

Even so, the late capitulation was not in keeping with the rest of the game. "It was never a 5-0," Ince said. Notts even had a flurry to get back in the game at 2-0, with Joe Hart keeping out Alain Gow's 78th-minute volley. This was Hart's 17th clean sheet since taking over from Shay Given in August and a miserable season for the Republic of Ireland international has been compounded by another shoulder injury; he sees a specialist this week to determine whether he needs an operation.

On the pitch it was probably not a fluke that City's improvement coincided with Tevez's introduction as a second-half substitute. The club's leading scorer immediately gave the side a more penetrative edge. He made it 3-0 when he ran on to Dzeko's pass, accelerated away from his marker and rounded Nelson before sliding the ball in. Dzeko's header came from a Tevez cross and, as Notts failed to deal with another corner, Richards hooked in the fifth to make it a rout.

Teams

Man City Hart, Richards, Toure, Lescott, Kolarov,Balotelli (Tevez 60), Vieira, Toure Yaya (Barry 81),Silva (Jo 86), Zabaleta, Dzeko.

Subs Not Used: Taylor, Kompany, Boateng, Nimely.

Booked: Balotelli.

Goals: Vieira 37, 58, Tevez 84, Dzeko 89, Richards 90.

Notts County Nelson, Darby (Thompson 60), Edwards,Pearce (Chilvers 90), Harley, Hawley, Ravenhill, Bishop,Westcarr, Gow, Hughes (Gobern 80).

Subs Not Used: Burch, Lee, Smith, Spicer.

Booked: Hawley.

Att: 27,276

Ref: Mike Jones (Cheshire).

Aris Salonica 0 Manchester City 0   City avoid Greek Tragedy
15th February 2011 : Gavin Brooke for GYKO at Kleanthis Vikelidis Stadium         DOWNLOAD THE MATCH PROGRAMME

It was an ordinary match played in an extraordinary din and, for Manchester City, an opportunity missed, perhaps. Roberto Mancini's team will be confident of progressing when the sides meet at Eastlands next week but they could conceivably be in a much stronger position had they shown greater ambition and fluency in attack.

Instead there were only fleeting moments when they threatened to turn down the volume of a raucous crowd, with Mancini unusually forthright in his criticisms. The Italian spoke of the pitch being partly to blame but he was also unhappy with Edin Dzeko, the £27m signing from Wolfsburg, who was substituted six minutes from the end.

"I expect more from him. He's a new player and I think he has the same problem as Fernando Torres at Chelsea because when you sign for a new team in January you don't know your new team-mates, you don't know the system and it's not easy. But he needs to improve and it's important he improves quickly."

City's best two chances had both fallen to the Bosnian – one a poor connection with his shot after 16 minutes, the other a twisting header in the second half that brought a one-handed save from the goalkeeper Michalis Sifakis.

"Dzeko had a chance and he should score," Mancini said. "It was a difficult game because the pitch was not good and Aris played with 10 men behind the ball. Maybe it would have been different if we had scored when we had that first chance."

Dzeko, in fairness, looked fitter and more energetic than in previous matches, although his touch was erratic and his partnership with Carlos Tevez, playing just behind the taller man, is still very much a work in progress. It was rare for Tevez to be so peripheral, although Mancini defended the Argentinian, arguing that the problem was the supply line and questioning the contribution of Shaun Wright-Phillips.

"Shaun should do better than that," he said of a player who submitted a written transfer request in the final days of the transfer window. "We had only one cross throughout the second half and it was from Gareth Barry. With Dzeko playing, we should have crossed it more. Maybe Carlos was quieter than usual but we cannot always rely on Carlos to score once or twice in every game."

The pitch, as Mancini stated, was not conducive to flowing football, although it was still disappointing that City's front players took so long to adapt. David Silva showed some neat touches without being able to find the killer pass and the fit-again Mario Balotelli was unable to influence the match when he came on as a 77th-minute substitute in his first appearance since 28 December.

The noise was guttural, choreographed and unrelenting and the atmosphere is undoubtedly a factor why the Greeks boast such a formidable record on this ground, with no defeats now in 26 European games stretching back 43 years.

On that basis City are entitled to regard this as a satisfactory result as they aim to book a meeting in the last 16 against Besiktas or Dynamo Kiev.

"It will be different at our ground because the pitch is much better. We will have a good pitch to play with the ball on the floor," Mancini said.

"Nil-nil is dangerous, though. It's a good result but not a perfect result. Everything is open."

Nonetheless it would still represent a major surprise were Mancini's men not to progress. Aris were ordinary opponents, lacking width and penetration.

There were times when City were careless with the ball and lacked cohesion but, on the balance of play, Mancini was entitled to talk about his side being the more adventurous. Joe Hart's only noteworthy save came in the 63rd minute when the right-winger Neto fired in a diagonal shot from long distance.

Several City players complained after the match that they had been targeted by a laser pen shone from the crowd, although the club are not planning to make an official complaint.

Teams

Aris Salonika Sifakis, Vangeli, Guiaro, Lazaridis, Michel,Neto (Castillo 88), Prittas, Faty, Sakata, Toja,Bobadilla (Cesarec 72).

Subs Not Used: Vellidis, Oriol, Kaznaferis, Mendrinos,

Cesnauskis.

Man City Hart, Richards, Boateng, Toure, Kolarov, Barry,Toure Yaya, Wright-Phillips (Balotelli 77), Tevez, Silva,Dzeko (Zabaleta 84).

Subs Not Used: Given, Kompany, Lescott, Vieira, Jo.

Booked: Dzeko.

Att: 21,000

Ref: Alberto Undiano Mallenco (Spain).

Stretford United 2 Manchester City 1   Bad Day at the Orifice
12th February 2011 : Nobody for GYKO at OT

A sensational winner from Wayne Rooney gave a generally low-wattage Manchester derby a flamboyant highlight it did not really deserve. Sir Alex Ferguson was correct in saying it would be the only thing anyone wanted to talk about after the game, though, in reality, there was not a great deal of competition. Before Rooney brought the house down with a perfectly executed overhead volley, this eagerly awaited meeting had been characterised by caution from both teams.

With United leaving out their leading scorer and City their new £27m striker, it appeared both sides were more concerned to get the game out of the way than strengthen positions at the top of the table, but results are all that ever matter in most derbies and an hour of low-tempo football was quickly forgotten when Rooney's acrobatics sent his side eight points ahead of their neighbours. Roberto Mancini admitted the gap might be too much for City to make up, though Ferguson was not so sure. "They are in the top four with a big strong squad," the United manager said. "They will win more games than you think."

Generosity was the least City deserved after going close to claiming a point. "I thought we could go on to win from 1-1," Mancini said. "Then one fantastic goal changed everything."

That might be slightly overstating the City case, though there was no doubt the goal was fantastic. Meeting Nani's cross in mid-air, with his back to goal, Rooney gave Joe Hart no chance with the sort of finish most people can only attempt in their dreams, then celebrated as if, this time, even he believed he was back.

"I think it might have been the best goal I've ever scored," he said. "I'm pleased with the win, it was important after last week's result to keep that gap between ourselves and City."

Last week's surprise 2-1 defeat away to Wolves was described as "pathetic" by Ferguson in the match programme, but he got the response he was looking for here.

Nani put in another impressive shift, scoring one goal and making another, Ryan Giggs again looked as though he could go on forever, and Chris Smalling, in for the injured Rio Ferdinand, played easily his most assured and fault-free game for United alongside Nemanja Vidic in defence.

City played their part too, with David Silva threatening throughout, even if Carlos Tevez was disappointingly ineffective. Far from parking the bus as had been feared, the visitors had the chance to get the derby off to a sensational start after four minutes.

A neat reverse pass from Tevez played in Silva, eyeball to eyeball, with Edwin van der Sar in the six-yard box, and though the goalkeeper did what he could to narrow the angles, Silva should still have done better than trickle a shot the wrong side of a post.

After that, the game settled into a contest of attrition, with United rarely getting forward in numbers to support their lone striker and City showing more enterprise in attack, but constantly losing the ball on the edge of the penalty area when intricate passing moves broke down.

While never approaching the previous Manchester derby for mind-numbing tedium, the game was drifting uneventfully towards half-time when United made a route-one breakthrough. Joleon Lescott beat Rooney to Van der Sar's long clearance upfield, but only knocked the ball into the path of Giggs, who conjured a goal threat from almost nothing with an alert first-time pass to Nani. Bringing the ball down expertly, certainly more expertly than Pablo Zabaleta seemed to have been anticipating, Nani held off the defender to slip a low shot beyond Hart's left hand.

City brought on Shaun Wright-Phillips, then Edin Dzeko, in the second half and both substitutions improved them. Their equalising goal was credited to Silva, but he did not know too much about it, the ball hitting his backside to deflect Dzeko's shot from a Wright-Phillips cross out of Van der Sar's reach.

City were briefly back in with a shout, but United responded by sending on Dimitar Berbatov and immediately began to attack with increased confidence as more options opened up ahead. A terrific run by Nani took him slaloming past Zabaleta and then Vincent Kompany, but ended with a wild shot, before the winger produced the cross from the right from which Rooney hit one of the goals of the season.

Teams:

Man Utd Van der Sar, O'Shea, Smalling, Vidic, Evra, Fletcher, Scholes (Carrick 79), Anderson (Berbatov 67), Nani, Rooney, Giggs.

Subs Not Used: Lindegaard, Brown, Owen, Hernandez, Rafael Da Silva.

Booked: Scholes, Giggs.

Goals: Nani 41, Rooney 78.

Man City Hart, Richards, Kompany, Lescott, Zabaleta, Milner (Dzeko 60), Barry, Toure Yaya, Kolarov (Wright-Phillips 53), Silva, Tevez.

Subs Not Used: Given, Boateng, Vieira, Jo, Toure.

Booked: Kompany, Milner.

Goals: Silva 65.

Att: 75,322

Ref: Andre Marriner (W Midlands).

Manchester City 3 West Brom 0   Tevez Birthday Hat Trick
Saturday 5th February 2011 : GYKO at the COMSTAD

This was a welcome to Manchester that West Bromwich Albion are already trying to forget. Roberto Mancini's cadre lit up Eastlands as £350m-plus of thoroughbred playing personnel ought to and the chief host-from-hell was Carlos Tevez.

On the afternoon of his 27th birthday El Apache handed himself the present of a first-half hat-trick that should have been a quintuple. The two missed chances after five and 43 minutes bookended the three the Argentinian did convert. Those allowed Tevez to pull out the familiar spread-armed goal celebration that has now delighted City fans 18 times in the league this campaign and so infuriated the red half of Manchester when it loomed down from that billboard two summers ago.

West Brom began and finished the afternoon all over the place yet the news for City's fellow top-four competitors is that Joe Hart appears shaky and his defence can be got at by pinging in the kind of aerial balls under which Kolo Touré and Vincent Kompany twice faltered during the opening half.

Before those came the first of the Tevez misses. When Aleksandar Kolarov – who is beginning to appear worth his £19m price – flipped up the ball Tevez's right boot struck Boaz Myhill's right post. That was the first scare for the visitors.

Mancini had been in self-flagellation mode ahead of kick-off, stating that as manager he was culpable for the defeat by Aston Villa and the draw at Birmingham City that had been City's return in their previous two league matches. Edin Dzeko was the Italian's fall-guy for these results, relegated to the bench following an anodyne display at St Andrew's. "He needs more time to understand English football," Mancini said.

What the £27m striker could fully comprehend from his seat was how tricky it may be to land a regular starting berth if his colleagues perform like this and when he did enter proceedings in the second half the 24-year-old laboured.

Not so Kolarov, who was among City's leading performers. Early on, one left-foot shot caused Myhill to tip over for a corner and it was the Serb who won the first of Tevez's two penalties by inducing Steven Reid, the West Brom right‑back, to foul him.

Up stepped City's main man and that was 1-0. After 22 minutes Tevez had the second. A one-two with David Silva that featured a sublime return from the Spaniard took Tevez into the area. A swift pivot mugged Jonas Olsson and left the defender on his backside before Myhill was again collecting the ball from his net.

Six minutes before the break the keeper was forced into yet another repeat. Jerome Thomas flapped at the ball with no City player putting him under pressure and Martin Atkinson pointed to the spot. Tevez this time dinked the finish above the diving Myhill.

Before this City's vulnerability under the high ball had come from two corners – first Olsson had a free header that Hart tipped over the bar and then Paul Scharner was again left unmolested to steer an effort wide.

Mancini had spoken of the requirement to keep a clean sheet, which his team had not managed since Arsenal were held at the Emirates a month ago. While he will be heartened to finally break this run his defence continues to be a concern. In the second half Marc-Antoine Fortuné was allowed to slip through on goal but could only hit the sidenetting before Nicky Shorey's 70th-minute free-kick caused Hart to save sharply to his left.

David Platt was sent to speak for Mancini, who had apparently lost his voice. City's coach said: "It was one of those games where you didn't need half-time. You come off at full-time disappointed not to have got more goals playing how we did in the first half. The message was to focus again but human nature means you take your foot off the pedal."

While Roberto Di Matteo is staring at a run of one victory from 10 games – "we just need a win to get ourselves going," he said – next up for City are Manchester United at Old Trafford on Saturday. "A very, very difficult game no doubt about it," Platt said. United may feel the same.

Teams:

Man City Hart, Boateng, Kompany, Toure, Kolarov, Zabaleta, Toure Yaya (Dzeko 63), Barry, Milner,Tevez (Wright-Phillips 86), Silva (Razak 90).

Subs Not Used: Given, Lescott, Vieira, Jo.

Booked: Zabaleta.

Goals: Tevez 17 pen, 22, 39 pen.

West Brom Myhill, Reid, Scharner, Olsson, Shorey, Morrison, Mulumbu, Brunt (Jara 69), Fortune, Odemwingie (Tchoyi 87),Thomas (Vela 46).

Subs Not Used: Carson, Pablo, Tamas, Cox.

Booked: Morrison, Reid.

Att: 46,846

Ref: Martin Atkinson (W Yorkshire).

Birmingham City 2 Manchester City 2    City pay the penalty
Wednesday 2nd February 2011 : Harry Derbyshire for GYKO at St Andrews

will view fun with even more suspicion following an enjoyable match that saw them twice surrender a lead to bold Birmingham. It was emblematic of the excitement that Aleksandar Kolarov might have won the match with the last kick of the ball but his free-kick flew fractionally wide, unlike the set piece he had converted in the first half.

The only sombre moment of the night came with the bad head knock to Micah Richards before the interval when he collided with his team-mate Nigel de Jong. A neck brace was required before he was carried off and taken to hospital but there were early reports that he had regained consciousness and was recovering.

Where the match itself was concerned, the Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini could not get over the award of a penalty that Craig Gardner converted for the second Birmingham leveller in the 77h minute. The referee Kevin Friend judged that one veteran substitute, Patrick Vieira, had fouled another, Kevin Phillips "He dived," Mancini said flatly.

That was, at best, an exaggeration and Alex McLeish stood up for the forward. "Kevin was too quick for him," he said, "Kevin's not a diver. He's a true English gentleman." Mancini believed his side ought to have had a spot-kick of their own earlier when, in the 62nd minute, James Milner's cross came off the jutting arm of Stephen Carr.

Mancini has far more than that to upset him since City are now eight points behind the leaders Manchester United. The general level of his side is a worry. "I didn't like how we played," he said. "It's better that we wake up quickly. At this moment [the gap with United] is too much. We have to play better than we did this evening. It is impossible to win if you concede two goals in every game. We slept. Probably we are not working well in training."

The visitors have been unable to keep a clean sheet since 5 January. It looks imperative that Mancini's side beat United at Old Trafford on 12 February. "We will try," said the manager, "but if we play like this I don't think we can. If we play better and don't concede a goal it is possible."

The side was more flamboyant than usual. Edin Dzeko was, with Carlos Tevez, in a pleasing if rather old-fashioned partnership of strikers. The boldness worked initially. After two minutes David Silva, from the right, worked his way into the area and Tevez, with tenacity to complement his skill, resisted the challenge of Martin Jiranek to squeeze a shot into the corner of the net.

There was an unlikely openness to the contest and Birmingham levelled in the 23rd minute. Nikola Zigic may have got the faintest of touches on the whipped free-kick from the left by David Bentley that found the net. There are formalities to be completed before the new loan signing Obafemi Martins can work in this country again but there was still a threat to Birmingham's attack.

Even so, the visitors regained the lead with a brutal yet curling free-kick from Kolarov in the 39th minute following a foul by Gardner on Dzeko. Mancini's side ought to be cut out for eminence but, for all the fabulous wealth, they are a club who have relatively modest ambitions at present

Birmingham had a determination to take the play to their opponents. Whether because of that endeavour or simply out of a conservatism urged on them by Mancini, Manchester City paused to take stock early in the second half. Such a policy was not wholly convincing when McLeish's side had nothing to lose.

Kolo Touré had taken over Richards' role but he was not quite as equipped for the aerial approach from Birmingham that was increasingly marked. While the visitors would have understood that place of real safety was in the other half of the pitch, they could not settle there as soon as they would have liked. There was defending to be done.

A lull of sort was reached but the visitors were neglecting to use any panache by then. They did have breakaways in mind but Birmingham were not so naive as to let these visitors play as they wished.

If this showing is repeated the stress on Mancini will mount. There has been a calmness around the club, yet the task is to confirm that progress is taking place. This night at St Andrew's never hinted that Mancini's side are bound for glory.

Teams:

Birmingham Foster, Carr, Johnson, Jiranek, Ridgewell, Bentley, Ferguson, Bowyer (Beausejour 75), Gardner, Jerome (Phillips 70), Zigic.

Subs Not Used: Doyle, Larsson, Fahey, Hleb, Davies.

Goals: Zigic 23, Gardner 77 pen.

Man City Hart, Boateng, Richards (Toure 35), Kompany, Kolarov, Milner, De Jong (Vieira 46), Barry, Silva, Tevez, Dzeko.

Subs Not Used: Given, Zabaleta, Lescott, Jo, Guidetti.

Booked: De Jong, Kolarov.

Goals: Tevez 4, Kolarov 41.

Att: 24,379

Ref: Kevin Friend (Leicestershire).

 

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