January 2012 - Reports
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Liverpool 2 Manchester City 2   A Tale of Two Penalties
Wednesday 25th January 2012 : Dylan Hough for GYKO at Anfield

Liverpool have booked their first trip to Wembley since 1996 and, after waiting so long, they will be eager to see how the old place has changed. Kenny Dalglish's team deserve their place in the final because over both legs they played with the greater urgency and determination, culminating in Craig Bellamy's decisive goal against his former club and a nostalgic form of jubilation at the final whistle.

For Bellamy it was an evening he will cherish, given the way his time at City ended so acrimoniously. He will have relished making his point to Roberto Mancini, the manager who marginalised and sold him, and the reward is considerable, with a final on 26 February against the Cardiff City team where he decamped last season.

For Liverpool, though, the story goes much further. Sixty different teams have visited Wembley since it was reopened in 2007 and, for a club with Liverpool's past, it has been longer than they would care to remember since they last ventured south for what was once a near-annual excursion. They will be the clear favourites to beat the Championship's third-placed team and win their first trophy of Dalglish's second spell in charge. City will go back to thinking about the Premier League and clearing their minds after a gruelling run of fixtures while missing key players.

This was a night when Vincent Kompany's absence was felt acutely and his replacement, Stefan Savic, was substituted at half-time. Mancini complained afterwards about refereeing decisions but was not willing to expand the argument to say that, over the two games, his team deserved to go through.

The truth was the team 19 points worse off in the league, with 35 fewer goals scored, played with the greater tempo. Liverpool never panicked after Nigel de Jong had opened the scoring, quickly equalised through Steven Gerrard's penalty and held their nerve after Edin Dzeko had made it 2-1 midway through the second half. Bellamy's winner arrived seven minutes later, exchanging passes with Glen Johnson inside the penalty area and placing his shot past Joe Hart.

Mancini's grievances were focused on two moments in the first half. First he argued City should have had a penalty for Charlie Adam's challenge on Dzeko. His annoyance was exacerbated in the 39th minute when Daniel Agger's shot was blocked by Micah Richards's flailing arms and the referee, Phil Dowd, pointed to the spot. The ball had actually struck Richards on his knee first, ricocheting against his hands from close range.

Mancini has become increasingly exasperated with refereeing standards since the turn of the year but the manager will have other concerns, too. Liverpool played with drive and purpose. They seemed determined to get the 3-1 defeat at Bolton Wanderers on Saturday out of their system, playing with far greater tempo, quicker to the ball and much more decisive in possession. City, in contrast, flickered only in short bursts and Mancini's decision to abandon their usual 4-2-3-1 system was a bad one. A semi-final at Anfield is no place to experiment with a three-man defence playing together for the first time. Savic, once again, looked raw and vulnerable and the new system lasted only until half-time before Mancini reverted to his usual formation.

De Jong's goal arrived after 32 minutes and, at that stage, it was tempting to wonder whether this would become the now familiar Anfield story of lots of pressure from the home side but wasteful finishing. José Enrique ought to have scored after four minutes after Aleksandar Kolarov's miscued clearance and, when the shot was blocked by Joe Hart, Stewart Downing's follow-up effort smacked of a player with sapped confidence. David Silva started to become increasingly influential and De Jong's goal was a beauty, curling his shot into the top left-hand corner of Pepe Reina's net from 20 yards.

This was the point of the match when Liverpool demonstrated a togetherness and competitive spirit that was missing at Bolton. There was never once the sense of a team feeling sorry for themselves. Gerrard buried his penalty past Hart and Liverpool were as dominant at the start of the second half as they had been the first. Hart made several outstanding saves, the pick of them being to divert Martin Skrtel's shot over the crossbar, and City had seldom threatened until Kolarov surged along the left wing and whipped in a low, penetrative cross for Dzeko to score at the far post

The stage was set for Bellamy to have the final say and, afterwards, Dalglish could not resist wondering whether City had any more outcasts they wanted to send 40 miles along the M62.

Teams:

Liverpool Reina, Johnson, Skrtel, Agger, Jose Enrique, Henderson, Adam, Downing, Gerrard, Bellamy (Kelly 88), Kuyt (Carroll 90).

Subs Not Used: Doni, Maxi, Coates, Carragher, Shelvey.

Booked: Gerrard, Jose Enrique.

Goals: Gerrard 41 pen, Bellamy 74.

Man City Hart, Richards, Savic (Aguero 46), Lescott, Kolarov, De Jong (Johnson 78), Barry, Zabaleta, Silva, Nasri, Dzeko.

Subs Not Used: Pantilimon, Milner, Hargreaves, Clichy, Rekik.

Booked: Kolarov.

Goals: De Jong 31, Dzeko 67.

Agg (3-2)

Att: 44, 590

Ref: Phil Dowd (Staffordshire).

Manchester City 3 Tottenham 2   Mario Time
Sunday 22nd January 2012 : GYKO at the Etihad

Mario Balotelli's injury-time penalty saw Manchester City beat Tottenham 3-2 in the Barclays Premier League. But there could be a nasty sting in the tail for the Italian after he seemed to catch Scott Parker in the face with a needless kick. Not that any disciplinary problems will bother City's supporters as they celebrated what could be a priceless victory in the title race.

After a goalless first half, the Blues were in control when Samir Nasri and Joleon Lescott struck. But Jermain Defoe profited from Stefan Savic's mistake almost immediately before Gareth Bale levelled with a magnificent curling shot.

Spurs seemed more likely winners after that. But when Defoe could only turn an injury-time Bale cross narrowly wide as he slid in at the far-post, it gave Balotelli a chance to win the match after he had been fouled by Ledley King. It maintained City's 100 per cent home record this season and piles the pressure on their rivals, who are all playing catch-up.

Knowing they would be eight points behind if they lost and with personal knowledge of the havoc City are capable of causing following that humiliating 5-1 defeat in August, Tottenham had good cause to make it a tight affair.

Bale threatened on a couple of occasions, and should have made more of the position he found himself in when he checked inside James Milner's sliding tackle. But Tottenham did not force Joe Hart into a meaningful save in the opening 45 minutes, Scott Parker and Younes Kaboul both firing well wide with long-range efforts.

It took City some time to get going, and even then they were only a sporadic threat. However, in Sergio Aguero they had the game's most obvious first goal scorer. The club record £38million front-man has looked tired in recent games as he attempted to shoulder the goal scoring burden. Here though, he excelled. Having had Edin Dzeko nick the ball off his foot when he was lining up a shot at Wigan on Monday, the South American must have been dismayed when the same team-mate got in the way of his efforts to turn home David Silva's cutback.

Aguero's best opportunity came not long afterwards. In attempting to pass their way out of a tight spot by the touchline, Spurs only ended up getting themselves into trouble as Micah Richards thundered into Parker to seize possession. Richards strode on into the box, then squared for Aguero, whose shot was superbly turned away by Friedel.

Of the millions of pounds splashed out last summer - and with more set to follow in the last nine days of this transfer window - the signing of a 40-year-old American may turn out to be the most astute.

Silva also fired across the face of Friedel's goal - but it was in the second half that the action started in earnest.

In truth, though it ended with a spectacular equaliser from Bale, City boss Roberto Mancini would have been disappointed with the four-goal burst in the space of 10 minutes because it saw his side toss away a winning position.

City took the lead thanks to Silva's brilliant through-ball, which coincided perfectly with Nasri's dash from the left touchline that went completely unchecked even though it took him through the heart of the visitors' defence. The former Arsenal man has his critics but the shot which beat Friedel was blistering and gave the American no chance.

On their next attack, City doubled their advantage as Lescott first stood on Nasri's corner, then, from barely a yard, somehow sent the ball trundling over the line as he fell.

It should have been all over. That it wasn't was due to Savic's bizarre attempt to reach Hart with a 50-yard back header that succeeded only in letting in Defoe, who rounded Hart, then turned the ball into an empty net.

Bale's blockbuster came five minutes later, one of those goals a keeper can only shrug their shoulders at being beaten by, the Welshman's brilliant first-time curling effort from Aaron Lennon's square pass finding the roof of Hart's net.

The goal frenzy triggered the arrival of Balotelli, who had already been shown the yellow card when he tangled with Parker, the initial contact accidental, the second far less easy to excuse.

That he should remain on the pitch was a matter for Spurs to reflect on as the Italian coolly converted his penalty to delight the City fans.

Teams

Man City Hart, Richards, Savic, Lescott, Clichy, Barry, Milner, Silva, Aguero, Nasri, Dzeko (Balotelli 65).

Subs Not Used: Pantilimon, Zabaleta, Johnson, Kolarov, Onuoha,

De Jong.

Booked: Clichy, Balotelli.

Goals: Nasri 56, Lescott 59, Balotelli 90 pen.

Tottenham Friedel, Walker, Kaboul, King, Assou-Ekotto, Lennon (Pienaar 88), Parker, Modric, Bale, Van der Vaart (Livermore 67), Defoe.

Subs Not Used: Cudicini, Pavlyuchenko, Bassong, Dawson, Kranjcar.

Booked: Parker.

Goals: Defoe 60, Bale 65.

Att: 47,422

Ref: Howard Webb (S Yorkshire).

Wigan Athletic 0 Manchester City 1     2nd class away day return
Monday 16th January 2012 : Alan Johnson for GYKO at the DW Stadium

Edin Dzeko broke an 11-match scoring drought to send Manchester City three points clear in the Barclays Premier League title race. The giant Bosnian netted his 14th club goal of the season as he steered David Silva's free-kick into the bottom corner. It was enough to overcome a spirited Wigan side, although the visitors did have chances to make life a little more comfortable against the basement boys, with Dzeko taking the best chance off the toe of Sergio Aguero.

And Blues boss Roberto Mancini ended the game in animated conversation with the fourth official after Martin Atkinson's inexplicable failure to show Maynor Figueroa a red card for deliberate handball as he denied Aguero a clear run on goal two minutes from time.

Wigan's adherence to the passing game is very laudable but there are times when their supporters would were prefer a bit of old-fashioned English-style long ball. Although the Latics were back-pedalling for most of the half, there were enough occasions when they did work themselves into decent positions yet failed to deliver a cross or a pass that might have put their opponents under pressure, leaving their supporters distinctly agitated. As it turned out, James McArthur had their best chance, a snap-shot from the edge of the area, which Joe Hart gathered at the second attempt.

Silva returned to the City side for Monday night's match at the DW Stadium. The diminutive Spain international is behind so much of the Blues' most inventive play and with Yaya Toure amongst the five senior figures missing on Monday evening and Samir Nasri struggling for top form, there was more reliance on him than usual. Silva had a couple of shots blocked, almost sent Aguero through and supplied the free-kick for Dzeko's goal. Having not found the net since November 5, the Bosnian was in need of one of those fireworks Mario Balotelli had set off in his house. To that end, he could not have wished for more accommodating opponents.

Wigan failed to get close enough to Dzeko and as Gary Caldwell and Antolin Alcaraz floundered, Dzeko found the bottom corner with a precise header. Aguero brought a fine one-handed save out of Ali Al Habsi as the opening period drew to a close and, despite the closeness of the scoreline, the suspicion remained that City would cruise clear after the restart.

Yet Wigan remained spirited opposition and with plenty of team-mates in support, McArthur could have picked a better option than a long-range shot from an acute angle that fizzed disappointingly wide.

It was not long before City were back on the offensive, although how they had not increased their advantage by the hour mark was a bit of a mystery. First of all, Al Habsi made a magnificent double save to deny Dzeko and Silva, clawing the Bosnian's curling effort away from the top corner, then repelling the midfielder, who had aimed low from barely seven yards. What followed next was infuriating for Aguero, who weaved his way past three Wigan defenders and seemed to have the simplest of tasks to find the net. Instead, Dzeko whipped the ball off his toe and went for goal himself. But his shot was so weak Al Habsi was able to make a comfortable save.

It meant Roberto Martinez was able to introduce Ben Watson and Franco Di Santo midway through the second period still harbouring hopes of snatching something from the game. And how close they came too as Hugo Rodallega rolled a pass to James McCarthy on his left and the midfielder forced Hart into his best save of the match. It was not turning into the cruise many had predicted and the jitters even seemed to get to the normally unflappable Hart, who made a save he did not need to as McCarthy's shot was flying wide.

The introduction of Nigel de Jong for Nasri and Nedum Onuoha for Silva were further signs of City entering preservation mode.

Wigan continued to be the architects of their own downfall though, gifting a chance to Dzeko, which Al Habsi turned away, then costing themselves a decent attacking chance when Caldwell rolled a two-yard pass to Stam straight out of play. And, though they worked hard to fashion another opportunity, Wigan could not find a talking point to match Figueroa's deliberate handball as he got the bounce of a De Jong clearance all wrong and, knowing he was the last man, stuck up a hand to prevent Aguero bursting clear.

Teams:

Wigan Al Habsi, Alcaraz, Caldwell, Figueroa, Stam, McCarthy, Gomez (McManaman 81), McArthur (Watson 68), Crusat (Di Santo 68), Rodallega, Moses.

Subs Not Used: Pollitt, Gohouri, Boyce, Sammon.

Booked: McArthur, McCarthy, Figueroa.

Man City Hart, Zabaleta, Savic, Lescott, Clichy, Milner, Barry, Silva (Onuoha 81), Aguero (Johnson 90), Nasri (De Jong 74), Dzeko.

Subs Not Used: Pantilimon, Kolarov, Hargreaves, Rekik.

Booked: Zabaleta, De Jong, Milner.

Goals: Dzeko 22.

Att: 16, 026

Ref: Martin Atkinson (W Yorkshire).
 

Manchester City 0 Liverpool 1  City pay the Penalty Again
Tuesday 10th January 2012

After going through the whole of 2011 without losing on their own ground, Manchester City have now been beaten twice in the space of four days and are beginning to look conspicuously thin around the edges. Steven Gerrard's 13th-minute penalty puts Liverpool in a position of strength going into the second leg of this Carling Cup semi-final and it will need a significant improvement from the Premier League leaders to prevent Kenny Dalglish's team confirming a date at Wembley.

The two sides renew acquaintances at Anfield in a fortnight and Liverpool, the seven-time winners, should be greatly encouraged about the way they matched and, at times, outdid a side that have managed 56 league goals compared to their own tally of 24. Dalglish's men deserved their lead, threatened more goals and then eventually settled for a backs-to-the-wall operation during a second half in which the home side's possession was not accompanied by the wit or gumption to break down their opponents.

Liverpool's great strength so far this season has been their defence and here we saw all those qualities of industry and organisation.

City looked laboured, playing with little of their usual fluency and, though Glen Johnson's studs-up challenge on Joleon Lescott dominated a lot of Roberto Mancini's post-match analysis, the truth is it was a sideshow to the real story of a team who were always a good notch or two below their usual level.

This was City's fourth defeat in eight games and the first time they have not scored at home in 14 months. Mancini had warned this kind of performance might come as they waded through a hectic fixture schedule deprived of key players. A lot of energy and emotion was spent in Sunday's FA Cup defeat to Manchester United and they badly missed their captain, Vincent Kompany, as well as two of their other mandatory first-team picks, David Silva and Yaya Touré.

Liverpool, in contrast, began the game as if affronted by the memories of their 3-0 league defeat here last week. They were quick to the ball, strong in the challenge and, once they had established the lead, they played with know-how and composure. If Johnson's challenge risked a red card, it should not be overlooked that this was in stoppage time and, as such, would almost certainly not have affected the result.

Mancini's anger stemmed largely from what he perceives as double standards at a time when Kompany was watching from the stand after his own red card against United, a decision the City manager maintains is the worst he has seen in 30 years in football.

Perhaps in hindsight he might regret not moving Micah Richards across from the right side of defence to partner Lescott in the centre and bring in Pablo Zabaleta at full-back. Instead, Stefan Savic was given the responsibility of replacing Kompany and, though Richards was excellent as an overlapping right-back, overall it was a gamble that backfired.

Savic gave away the penalty with a challenge on Daniel Agger that was raw and mistimed, catching him just above the knee, and it was not his only mistake of a difficult evening.

Even before then, there were three separate moments when Liverpool were kept out only by Joe Hart's goalkeeping. The pick of those saves, diving full length to turn away a deflected Stewart Downing volley, was truly exceptional. It was rare, however, to see City so vulnerable and it was in this flurry of Liverpool attacking that eventually led to Savic's inexperience showing and Gerrard driving his penalty into the bottom corner.

Liverpool lost Jay Spearing to a tight hamstring in the first half but their momentum was not badly disrupted. Charlie Adam came into a midfield in which Steven Gerrard and Jordan Henderson were excellent. They restricted their hosts to only one clear chance in the first half, when James Milner turned Richards's cross over the crossbar. There were some anxious moments for Dalglish's men after the break, when Mancini experimented with a three-man defence, but Pepe Reina was excellent in the few moments when he was exposed, blocking a leaping header from Richards and doing enough to put off Sergio Agüero after the Argentinian had intercepted Martin Kelly's back pass.

As for Mario Balotelli, the striker lasted only 39 minutes before being withdrawn. Shortly before, he had allowed a simple pass to run over his foot and go for a throw-in. Mancini said his player was still struggling with an ankle injury but it was tempting to wonder if there was more to it and there was something very deliberate about the way the two men ignored each other on the touchline.

City huffed and puffed but the late onslaught that might have been expected never really materialised. Liverpool held out fairly comfortably, and will almost certainly reach the final unless City can rediscover some of the old stardust

.
Teams:

Man City Hart, Richards, Lescott, Savic, Clichy, Milner, Barry, De Jong (Kolarov 72), Johnson (Dzeko 66), Aguero, Balotelli (Nasri 39).

Subs Not Used: Pantilimon, Zabaleta, Hargreaves, Onuoha.

Booked: Nasri.

Liverpool Reina, Kelly, Skrtel, Agger, Johnson, Downing (Jose Enrique 59), Spearing (Adam 23), Henderson, Bellamy (Carragher 79), Gerrard, Carroll.

Subs Not Used: Doni, Coates, Kuyt, Shelvey.

Booked: Carragher.

Goals: Gerrard 13 pen.

Att: 36, 017

Ref: Lee Mason (Lancashire).

Manchester City 2 Manchester Utd 3   City Foyled
Sunday 8th Jan 2012 : GYKO at the Etihad

Wayne Rooney scored twice and Manchester United held off a dramatic fightback from 10-man Manchester City to win a pulsating FA Cup derby at the Etihad Stadium.

United thrillingly led 3-0 after a remarkable first half in which Rooney headed two goals, Danny Welbeck added another and City captain Vincent Kompany was sent off.

City hit back after the break with goals through Aleksandar Kolarov and Sergio Aguero, but United, for whom Paul Scholes came out of retirement to make a substitute appearance, held on to end City's cup defence in the third round.

The game, played on a greasy surface in continual drizzle, more than lived up to all the pre-match hype.

At one stage it seemed United were on course to avenge their 6-1 thrashing last October in the most incredible fashion but City's recovery left them struggling to settle for a narrow win.

Nevertheless, it was Premier League leaders City's first home defeat since December 2010 and reminded them that United remain in the way of their bid for domestic dominance.

The afternoon began unbelievably enough as United announced prior to kick-off that 37-year-old Scholes had rejoined the playing staff to help them through their injury problems and would be on the bench, having retired at the end of last season.

Yet what followed was even more dramatic as Rooney, after speculation over his own future, made an emphatic statement and United, initially, were ruthless in taking advantage of Kompany's dismissal.

There was little hint of that as City pressed United's reorganised defence in the opening minutes. Chris Smalling slotted in at centre-back alongside Rio Ferdinand while Phil Jones was moved to right-back. Anders Lindegaard, again preferred to David de Gea in goal, was almost caught out by Sergio Aguero as he delayed a clearance but escaped with a goal kick.

The game exploded into life as United took the lead against the run of play in the 10th minute. Antonio Valencia found space on the right as the visitors counter-attacked and delivered a cross for Rooney, who had laid the ball off to the winger, to power home a superb header off the underside of the bar. The England striker showed great technique as he rose above the City defence and then ran away to celebrate clutching the United badge on his shirt.

City were then dealt an immediate blow to their hopes of making a quick replay as Kompany was sent off for a challenge on Nani. Kompany clearly won the ball but referee Chris Foy showed a straight red card for the offence of lunging forward with both feet. City were angry with the decision but recovered their composure and Aguero brought a fine save from Lindegaard from distance.

David Silva then had a shot deflected wide and Aguero fired into the side-netting but United remained a threat on the break and took control after 30 minutes. Nani was denied shooting space on the edge of the box but he fed the ball wide to Patrice Evra, who crossed low. Samir Nasri attempted to clear but did not make firm contact and Welbeck hooked in his seventh goal of the season on the volley.

Things got worse for City as they conceded a penalty six minutes before half-time when Kolarov brought down Welbeck.

Costel Pantilimon, playing in place of the rested Joe Hart, saved Rooney's spot-kick but was unable to deny the United forward as he followed up to head in the rebound. It seemed the best City could achieve in the second half was damage limitation, but they gave themselves hope as Kolarov pulled one back after 48 minutes.

Evra was booked for felling Micah Richards outside the area and Kolarov stepped up to bend a superb free-kick around the wall and into the net. Scholes came off the bench to make an unexpected 677th United appearance when he replaced Nani just before the hour.

United wanted another penalty moments later when Valencia went over as Kolarov challenged him just inside the box but Foy gave nothing.

City got themselves right back into the game after 65 minutes as Milner nicked the ball off Scholes following a throw-in and whipped the ball in for Aguero. The Argentinian shot straight at Lindegaard but the Dane could only parry and Aguero blasted in the loose ball.

Scholes got his first sight of goal when he struck a trademark long-range shot after 71 minutes but Pantilimon saved comfortably.

City sent on former United midfielder Owen Hargreaves in place of Nasri with eight minutes remaining. City appealed long, but in vain, for a penalty when a low ball from Kolarov took a ricochet and appeared to catch Jones' arm.

And City had United holding on as they pressed at every opportunity, but the ball would not fall for them in the box. Richards attempted a spectacular overhead kick but failed to make contact. Kolarov tested Lindegaard with a free-kick in injury time but United, hanging on grimly, scrambled the ball clear.

Teams:

Man City Pantilimon, Richards, Kompany, Lescott, Kolarov, Milner, De Jong, Johnson (Zabaleta 46), Silva (Savic 46), Nasri (Hargreaves 82), Aguero.

Subs Not Used: Hart, Clichy, Suarez, Razak.

Sent Off: Kompany (12).

Goals: Kolarov 48, Aguero 65.

Man Utd Lindegaard, Smalling, Jones, Ferdinand, Evra, Valencia, Carrick, Giggs, Nani (Scholes 59), Rooney, Welbeck (Anderson 75).

Subs Not Used: De Gea, Evans, Park, Hernandez, Rafael Da Silva.

Booked: Welbeck, Nani, Evra, Ferdinand.

Goals: Rooney 10, Welbeck 30, Rooney 40.

Att: 46, 808

Ref: Chris Foy (Merseyside).

Manchester City 3 Liverpool 0   Normal Service Resumed
Tuesday 3rd January 2012 : GYKO at the Etihad

Normal service was resumed for 10-man Manchester City as they once again put daylight between themselves and rivals Manchester United at the top of the Barclays Premier League table with victory over Liverpool at the Etihad Stadium.
After just one point and no goals from two matches, they were given an easy ride on their way to opening up a three-point cushion over their neighbours, who will try to reduce the gap again at Newcastle tomorrow.

Despite their recent wobble Roberto Mancini's side are still a formidable force, especially at home, and they extended their 100% home league record this season to 10 matches and made it 55 points out of a possible 57 in at the Etihad Stadium in the last year and three days.

It was only the second time this season Liverpool had conceded more than one in a league match - and their worst result since losing 4-0 at Tottenham in September - but it could easily have been more. Sergio Aguero and Yaya Toure did the damage in the first half after benefiting from defensive lapses and even after Gareth Barry was sent off, City added a third with James Milner's penalty.

Mancini's side were fortunate to escape from Anfield with a 1-1 draw in November but this encounter was not even close as they recorded only their second win in 14 matches against the Merseysiders. Prior to kick-off Liverpool confirmed they would not be appealing Luis Suarez's eight-match suspension for racially abusing Manchester United defender Patrice Evra. If this is what life is like without the Uruguay international then the Reds could be in for a difficult six weeks, although the quality of opposition will rarely be matched.

In a battle between the league's top scorers and the meanest defence, something had to give but few would have predicted it would be the usually reliable Jose Reina. Having already denied Edin Dzeko at the foot of his right-hand post, the Spain international made a complete hash of judging Aguero's 25-yard dipping shot and the ball flew underneath his body.

That was in sharp contrast to counterpart Joe Hart's reactions in denying Stewart Downing moments earlier when his England team-mate threatened to score having been played in by Jordan Henderson.

The goal had a more positive effect on Liverpool, who enjoyed their best spell of possession, than it did City but Reina was almost exposed again when Dzeko's shot deflected off Glen Johnson but crept just wide of the post with the goalkeeper completely wrong-footed. While Liverpool were creating half-chances, with Hart pushing away Charlie Adam's low free-kick, City were more threatening thanks to the prompting of David Silva and Martin Skrtel was lucky to escape conceding a penalty when the ball bounced up on to his raised arm as Aguero tried to go past him.

Reina went some way to redeeming himself with a sharp save from Vincent Kompany's glancing header but was left helpless by Toure's powerful header off the underside of the crossbar from Silva's corner in the 34th minute. Kompany showed his value at the other end of the pitch just before the interval by blocking Dirk Kuyt's close-range shot from Andy Carroll's knockdown.

In the technical area Reds boss Kenny Dalglish, hood up on his coat, gave the impression of a man trying to remain anonymous. Unfortunately for him most of his team had been equally nondescript in the first half. Ten minutes into the second half Adam was replaced by Gerrard, who had been the catalyst for victory over Newcastle on Friday, and former City striker Craig Bellamy came on for Kuyt.

The substitutions produced the required lift but with City content to hold their lead and hit them on the break it remained a long way back for the Reds. Liverpool appeared to have gained the momentum when Barry, having been booked late in the first half, was sent off for a second caution after blocking Daniel Agger. But seconds later the result was wrapped up when they conceded possession inside City's half and Skrtel fouled Toure on the breakaway to allow Milner to make it 3-0 from the spot.

The hosts made their numerical disadvantage imperceptible and almost added a fourth when substitute Adam Johnson's shot beat Reina but rebounded off the post. Gerrard responded with a long-range drive and substitute Maxi Rodriguez from much closer in but, like Liverpool's performance, they failed to hit the mark. Even with the match won, City's concentration did not waver and Hart produced a point-blank block to deny Rodriguez.

The result highlighted the difference between title contenders and top-four hopefuls but worryingly for Liverpool they still have to face City twice more this month in the Carling Cup semi-final although the team selections could well be very different.

Teams:

Man City Hart, Richards, Kompany, Toure, Clichy, Toure Yaya, Barry, Aguero (Johnson 71), Silva (Lescott 76), Milner, Dzeko.

Subs Not Used: Pantilimon, Zabaleta, Kolarov, Savic, De Jong.

Sent Off: Barry (73).

Booked: Barry.

Goals: Aguero 10, Toure Yaya 33, Milner 75 pen.

Liverpool Reina, Johnson, Agger, Skrtel, Jose Enrique, Adam (Gerrard 57), Kuyt (Bellamy 57), Henderson, Spearing (Maxi 76), Downing, Carroll.

Subs Not Used: Doni, Carragher, Shelvey, Kelly.

Booked: Johnson.

Att: 47, 131

Ref: Mike Jones (Cheshire).
 

Sunderland 1 Manchester City 0     Blunderland
Sunday 1st January 2012 : Peter Hall for GYKO at The Stadium of Light?

Substitute Ji Dong-won blew the race for the Barclays Premier League title wide open once again as Manchester City wasted their chance to establish a three-point lead. The South Korea international came off the bench to launch 2012 in style on Wearside with an unlikely winner in the fourth minute of injury time, when he looked to be fractionally offside before slotting in.
His fellow substitute Micah Richards had hit the woodwork at the other end with just a minute of the 90 remaining, and with the Black Cats staging a valiant rearguard action. But a day after Manchester United and Chelsea both slipped up at home, City were unable to take advantage despite creating a host of chances as they were shut out for the second successive game. Sunderland goalkeeper Simon Mignolet kept out substitute Sergio Aguero's 59th-minute shot and striker Edin Dzeko saw a series of opportunities go begging on another frustrating afternoon for the leaders.

City manager Roberto Mancini, perhaps with one eye on Tuesday's home clash with Liverpool, had started with Aguero and David Silva on the bench and left Mario Balotelli out of the 18, but he was forced to bring on the star substitute pair in a desperate search for a winner. Yet, had either Nicklas Bendtner or Stephane Sessegnon taken the chances which fell their way either side of the break, Sunderland might have been in front long before they did actually take the lead.

Black Cats manager Martin O'Neill had gone into the game without a specialist full-back as injuries tore his defensive resources apart, and the situation was to get worse long before the half-time whistle sounded. Having already had to press midfielders Craig Gardner and Jack Colback into service at right-back and left-back respectively, he also had to draft in Mignolet for the first time since he fractured his nose and a eye-socket on October 29 as Keiren Westwood pulled out. O'Neill was forced into a further change with just 26 minutes gone when centre-back Wes Brown pulled up and was replaced by Matt Kilgallon, making his first senior appearance for the club since May 2010.

In the circumstances, O'Neill could hardly have been more pleased with the way his distinctly makeshift defence battled its way to the break without conceding. Had lone frontman Bendtner shown a little more composure, his side might have headed for the dressing room holding a lead. Sunderland broke at pace from a third-minute defensive corner and Sessegnon slid the perfect pass into the Dane's run to put him in on goal. Bendtner took the ball wide of goalkeeper Joe Hart, but crucially not wide enough and the England international was able to make an important block.

Hart had to make a smart save from James McClean's effort two minutes later, but as the half went on, it was a City side featuring six changes from the 0-0 draw at West Brom which began to dominate. It was not until the half-hour mark had passed that they really made their presence felt. Mignolet, who was wearing a protective face mask, made a point-blank 32nd-minute block to deny Dzeko, but was then grateful to see Gardner clear Samir Nasri's effort off the line seconds later.

Dzeko rattled the crossbar with a powerful drive 10 minutes before the break and then prompted a comfortable save from Mignolet from distance with two minutes of the half remaining. But it was the home side who went close in injury time when Gardner blasted just high and wide as the Black Cats surged forward.

Mancini had seen enough and replaced defensive midfielder Nigel de Jong with Aguero at the break, although it was McClean who went close to breaking the deadlock when his 47th-minute cross flew just over the angle of bar and post. Yaya Toure scuffed a volley wide seconds later after Mignolet had kicked Aleksandar Kolarov's cross away, and Pablo Zabaleta also failed to hit the target after being played into space by captain Vincent Kompany. Mancini responded by sending on Aguero for Samir Nasri, and the visitors squandered another promising opening within seconds when Dzeko skied a shot high over the bar from Adam Johnson's cross.

City might have taken the lead in controversial circumstances with 59 minutes played when referee Kevin Friend allowed play to continue after Sessegnon went to ground under Kolarov's challenge. Silva fed the ball to Dzeko, who dropped it off for Aguero to fire in a close-range effort which Mignolet managed to block. But Sunderland should have been in front with 64 minutes gone when Sessegnon cut inside from the right and found himself with just Hart to beat. The Benin international pushed his shot agonisingly wide of the far post with the outside of his right foot.

Richards went desperately close to a winner with a minute of normal time remaining when he headed the ball into the ground and saw it come back off the crossbar after Mignolet had parried Silva's shot. However, the drama was not over and when Sessegnon stabbed the ball into Ji's path, he calmly rounded Hart to snatch three precious points for the classic smash and grab.

Teams

Sunderland Mignolet, Gardner, O'Shea, Brown (Kilgallon 26), Colback, McClean, Cattermole, Vaughan (Elmohamady 82), Larsson, Bendtner (Ji 78), Sessegnon.

Subs Not Used: Carson, Meyler, Noble, Laing.

Booked: Larsson.

Goals: Ji 90.

Man City Hart, Zabaleta, Lescott, Kompany, Kolarov (Richards 67), Johnson, De Jong (Aguero 46), Toure Yaya, Barry, Nasri (Silva 55), Dzeko.

Subs Not Used: Pantilimon, Clichy, Savic, Milner.

Booked: De Jong.

Att: 40, 625

Ref: Kevin Friend (Leicestershire).
 


 


 

 

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