October 2011 - Reports
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Manchester City 3 Wolverhampton 1   Sheep in Wolves Clothing
Saturday 29th October 2011 : GYKO at the Etihad

After the joy of six comes the glee of three. Unlike the destruction of Manchester United, this was not a result that will be transferred straight to DVD, although it was a rather harder earned victory. By its end, the lead over Manchester United had been extended on goal difference while Chelsea lay nine points adrift.

Nevertheless, Vincent Kompany's hauling down of Kevin Doyle meant that Roberto Mancini will be without his captain for the next game.

Given that it was their first home game since the great enemy had been shattered in their own lair, the gloating was kept to a minimum. The half-dozen goals at Old Trafford were played on the big screens before kick-off but the only prominent banner mentioning six was the longstanding one declaring that "On the sixth day God created Manchester City", which, if true, is evidence of a divine sense of humour.

Having scored five in the Carling Cup at Molineux on Wednesday, there was a natural expectation this would be another command performance, another victory parade. However, for a side that had come to Manchester portrayed as sheep in Wolves' clothing, they had fought unexpectedly hard.

At half-time, Mick McCarthy said he could taste the frustration in the throats of the home supporters. No side since Birmingham last November has come to Eastlands in the Premier League and kept a clean sheet. Wolves were displaying the subtlety and negativity of a nightclub bouncer with a baseball bat in his fist.

"I thought rather a lot was made of that match against Manchester United, because they played for 44 minutes with 10 men and that is very hard," said the Wolves manager. "But at half-time, I heard the crowd and I thought there was a lot of anxiety and frustration. For a side coming here to generate that kind of atmosphere is a good sign."

If McCarthy nursed hopes of a successful fighting retreat, they were gone six minutes after the interval. That was probably predictable, although that it would be through a rank goalkeeping error was not.

Wayne Hennessy had made his first save, tipping a drive from Samir Nasri into the crowd, when the scoreboard registered one minute and 14 seconds and had denied Edin Dzeko in the kind of one-on-one the Bosnian had exploited in the surreal closing moments at Old Trafford. An outstretched boot, a well-timed tackle and the kind of unsophisticated shoulder charge McCarthy would have recognised from his own days at City had kept Wolves afloat and that kind of attitude just might have lasted.

Under those circumstances, a routine clearance ought to have presented few problems but Hennessy dawdled and when he did try to punt the ball forward, it collided with Sergio Agüero's legs and rebounded to Dzeko who chipped into an empty net. In all competitions there is nobody with more goals and none would be quite as gift-wrapped.

"Wayne was fabulous; he has been all season," said McCarthy. "There are no recriminations but what annoys me is that we had been doing fine and we gave the opposition the lead. Then there is another mistake and we are 2-0 down."

This time Hennessy managed to block David Silva's shot after Agüero had pulled the ball back but the rebound fell to Aleksandar Kolarov, who bundled his way between David Edwards and Richard Stearman the two covering defenders, and forced the rebound home.

That ought to have been that but Wolves continued to niggle away; sometimes with the kind of tactics that brought to mind Arsène Wenger's comments that there are some teams that would not look out of place on a rugby field. Sometimes they genuinely hurt City and when Adlène Guedioura delivered a shot from outside the box, Joe Hart could only parry it towards Doyle. Given what happened, Kompany should probably have let him score instead of dragging him down. What followed was inevitable and likely – the red card and a penalty converted by Stephen Hunt.

Just as he had last Saturday, McCarthy made a double substitution but while Swansea had crumbled at Molineux, City are made of rather more expensive, vastly more experienced material.

Mario Balotelli, who had been rewarded for his efforts at Old Trafford with a place on the bench here, broke away and fed Adam Johnson, whose shot displayed the kind of qualities entirely lacking in McCarthy's side. On Wednesday night in the Black Country, Johnson had reportedly refused to board the City bus because he felt Mancini's attitude towards him was so unremittingly harsh. Now he seemed keener to be with his team-mates.

Teams:

Man City Hart, Richards, Kompany, Lescott, Kolarov, Silva, Toure Yaya, Barry, Nasri (Balotelli 70), Aguero (Savic 76), Dzeko (Johnson 63).

Subs Not Used: Pantilimon, Zabaleta, Milner, De Jong.

Sent Off: Kompany (74).

Booked: Barry, Dzeko.

Goals: Dzeko 52, Kolarov 67, Johnson 90.

Wolverhampton Hennessey, Stearman, Johnson, Berra, Ward, Hunt (Jarvis 85), O'Hara, Guedioura (Ebanks-Blake 85), Henry, Edwards (Hammill 68), Doyle.

Subs Not Used: De Vries, Elokobi, Craddock, Vokes.

Booked: Doyle.

Goals: Hunt 75 pen.

Att: 47, 142

Ref: Stuart Attwell (Warwickshire).

Wolverhampton 2 Manchester City 5    Taming the Wolves
Wednesday 26th October 2011 : Stuart Grimshaw for GYKO at Molineux

Manchester City are fast turning into English football's great entertainers. It is a title that would have been impossible to imagine attributing to Roberto Mancini's side last season but how else can we think of a team that has now scored 45 goals in 15 matches this term and registered 21 in their last 450 minutes of football. They are staggering statistics by anyone's standards and help to explain why Carlos Tevez's brooding presence in the background is of so little concern.

The bad news for a weakened Wolverhampton Wanderers side swept aside by City's reserves is that their first team must confront the real thing at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday. It is a frightening prospect at the moment. Although Nenad Milijas put Wolves ahead here, City reacted as if affronted, scoring three goals in four minutes before the interval to take the game away from Mick McCarthy's side with the same ruthlessness that characterised their performance at Old Trafford.

Mancini left out the entire starting XI from Sunday but it is measure of the strength in depth in his squad that the absence of Mario Balotelli and Sergio Agüero barely resonated on a night when Edin Dzeko scored twice to take his tally for the season to 11. Yet it was Adam Johnson who did most to catch the eye in a £100m reserve team, the England international scoring City's equaliser and having a hand in the two other goals before the interval.

It was an impressive response from Johnson considering that he did not even make the substitutes' bench against Manchester United, although Mancini continues to demand more from the winger. "I think sometimes he thinks: 'OK, this game I scored one goal, I did one assist and that's enough,'" City's manager said. "He needs to think in a different way: 'OK, I scored one goal, I did one assist, I shall try to score another goal and another assist and after I run back to defend.' Because he can do this if he wants.

"My opinion is that he has everything to become one of the top wingers. I think you can improve when you are 30 or 31 years old. Adam is young, this is his third season in the Premier League, he has everything and it disappoints me when Adam plays every game and doesn't put everything on the pitch. Tonight he played well but, for example, on the second goal that Wolves scored, he didn't follow his opponent."

Johnson did, however, score a splendid goal, curling the ball home from the edge of the penalty area, after Milijas had given Wolves a deserved lead with a rising left-footed shot from Sam Vokes's centre. Wolves, who never surrendered despite the avalanche of goals conceded either side of half-time, had actually started much more brightly than City and should have had a penalty moments before their breakthrough, when Aleksandar Kolarov clearly handled Milijas's free-kick.

Yet in the blink of an eye the game was effectively over as City opened Wolves up in quick succession prior to half-time. Two minutes after Johnson equalised, the former Middlesbrough player threaded a superb pass that invited Samir Nasri to run inside Matt Doherty and arrow a low drive beyond Dorus De Vries. Wolves were still reeling from that blow when the visitors added a third barely 60 seconds later, Dzeko prodding the ball over the line after Luca Scapuzzi, a 20-year-old Italian, was denied by the Wolves keeper.

Stephen Hunt should have got a goal back at the start of the second half but City were so relentless going forward that it is difficult to imagine that they would have been kept at bay for long had the Irishman reduced the deficit. Indeed, within two minutes of Hunt's miss, City added a fourth when Scapuzzi's shot from two yards went in off De Vries after the keeper was unable to hold Nasri's shot. Dzeko's second and City's fifth came at the end of a flowing move, before Jamie O'Hara grabbed a merited second for Wolves.

"I was pleased with our performance – that sounds crazy, doesn't it, when you've got beat five?" said Mick McCarthy, the Wolves manager, who had made nine changes from the side that drew with Swansea on Saturday. "We started well and deserved the lead and the fact that we couldn't hang on to it was nothing to do with us defending badly, so that made a pleasant change. It was just a great finish when it came out to Adam Johnson. City won't be made to work harder than they were tonight, that's for sure."

Mancini admitted that City are benefiting from playing "maybe a different style", perhaps alluding to his decision to take the handbrake off the team this season, although some things never change. There were unconfirmed reports afterwards that Balotelli, who was an unused substitute, had reacted unhappily when one of the City backroom staff asked him to do some running after the game. "Mario? No, no, no," said Mancini, denying there had been an incident.

Teams

Wolverhampton De Vries, Doherty, Craddock, Elokobi, Ward, Edwards (Henry 67), Guedioura, Milijas (Hammill 65), Hunt, Vokes, Doyle (O'Hara 65).

Subs Not Used: Hennessey, Ebanks-Blake, Johnson, Berra.

Booked: Craddock, Hunt.

Goals: Milijas 18, O'Hara 65.

Man City Pantilimon, Zabaleta, Savic, Toure, Kolarov, De Jong, Razak (Milner 85), Scapuzzi (Rekik 73), Nasri (Suarez 67), Johnson, Dzeko.

Subs Not Used: Taylor, Bridge, Onuoha, Balotelli.

Booked: Savic.

Goals: Johnson 37, Nasri 39, Dzeko 40, De Vries 50 og, Dzeko 64.

Att: 12,436

Ref: Neil Swarbrick (Lancashire).
 

Manchester United 1 Manchester City 6 (six)     Blue Murder at OT
Sunday 23rd October 2011 : Karl Philips for GYKO at the Theatre of broken Dreams

"Why Always Me?" read the lament on Mario Balotelli's T-shirt. "Why Always Them?" Manchester City fans have complained about United for generations.

Not any more. The second-best side in Europe after their Champions League final defeat to Barcelona, United now face a struggle to be seen as the No1 team in their own metropolis after their noisy neighbours made a grab for power with this stunning 6-1 victory.

"There's a lot of embarrassment in the dressing room and rightly so," Sir Alex Ferguson said after City moved five points clear of them in the Premier League, with 33 goals in nine games. With a little help from an Abu Dhabi multibillionaire, the downtrodden have shaken off their chains. City overran United through the brilliance of David Silva and the icy finishing of Balotelli and Edin Dzeko.

First Balotelli ignited his own house by launching fireworks through his bathroom window, then he threw a match on the old order, vindicating Roberto Mancini's decision to start him with City's first two goals. United's most optimistic followers will dismiss this as a freakish result caused partly by the dismissal of Jonny Evans on 46 minutes for a last-man foul on Balotelli. But it went much deeper. City were regal: skilful and strong in equal parts as they ran in three late goals inside four minutes to turn a win into a massacre.

Not since 1968, arguably, has there been so much individual talent on show in a Manchester derby. The additions of Silva, Sergio Agüero and Samir Nasri to a powerful but sometimes mechanical City side have transformed England's highest league and jeopardised United's dominance. Long gone are the days when City's disciples took refuge in fatalism and humour. Now they watch Silva bamboozle the best opponents, salute rigorous defending and applaud Balotelli as he lifts his jersey to reveal a comedy T-shirt.

Why always him? The red cards, frivolous back heels, motoring incidents, dart throwing and pyrotechnic mishaps may have something to do with it. A persecution complex was no hindrance to him, though, in the home of England's champions. Two minutes before he scored, Balotelli had answered back to Mancini, who was unhappy with his movement. His next act was to capitalise on some typically slick City interplay as he slid the first of City's half-dozen past David de Gea, the goalkeeper in United's worst Premier League defeat.

Never in his long reign has Ferguson conceded that "3-1 or 4-1" would have been a mercy. He described himself as "shattered" and said: "I can't believe it. It was incredibly disappointing. The sending off was the killer blow. After that they just kept on attacking. We showed a bit of inexperience at the back. At 3-1 or 4-1 we should have settled for that. Our two-full backs were playing as wingers and left us two on three at the back. That was suicidal."

This defeat, Ferguson said, would "leave an impact on the players", who have taken a switchback ride since winning the club's 19th English title in May. Deprived of the ball for most of Barcelona's dazzling Champions League win, they added Ashley Young, Phil Jones and De Gea in the summer, started brightly, whacked Arsenal 8-2 at the end of August and then walked into this ambush: the first six-goal concession at home in the top flight since 1930.

For Ferguson's squad to recover they will need to somehow frame this setback as a freakish product of their own recklessness in chasing a lost game against first-rate counter attackers. But the match also highlighted United's weaknesses, especially an absence of artistry and ingenuity in midfield, where Anderson plodded and Nani, often a match-winner, was anonymous.

At the back United were ripped apart, especially on their left-hand side, where James Milner, Micah Richards and especially Silva caused havoc as United's team shape fell apart. "Sheikh Mansour, m'lord," City fans chanted, like a rugby crowd. And: "The city is ours," followed by a fruity exhortation to United's followers to "go back to London". These old taunts assumed a fresh sharpness coming from a wedge of fans who used to think of trips to Old Trafford as a survival exercise. United will be more dynamic in midfield when Tom Cleverley returns and less limp when Ferguson has had his say at the inquest. But they will not want a second helping of the queasiness they felt when Barcelona taught them a lesson at Wembley. Playing the fall guys to the best team of their age is pretty much unavoidable in present circumstances. This is different.

This was United being usurped on their own manor. How, they will ask, did City get so good?

United's board will brace itself for a regurgitation of ominous statistics, principally the one showing the £473m the Glazer family have drained in bank interest, fees and charges. The juxtaposition of two ownership models now favours City. In one, debt is loaded on the club to pay. In the other, money pours in as gift, as extravagance.

This season has brought a vital change in the outside view of City, who occupy the commanding heights despite having to deal with Carlos Tevez's apparent wildcat strike in Munich. The neutral can watch Silva, Nasri and Agüero for sheer entertainment value. This was the trick Sheikh Mansour needed to pull off: to draw converts to an idea beyond and above mere power and money.

With their mohicans (Balotelli, Micah Richards), physical might (Yaya Touré, Vincent Kompany), industry and creativity, City have cuffed away the charge that they had yet to face anyone serious in this Premier League campaign. They have established a precedent against top-four opposition they will need to maintain when the final third of the season tests their togetherness and cunning.

United, on the other hand, have faced down threats over the last 15 years from Arsène Wenger's Arsenal, Roman Abramovich's Chelsea and a resurgent Liverpool. This one is so close they can smell it, across town. It is inescapable on the streets and in the daily life of Manchester. Stand well back, and enjoy.


Teams:

Man Utd De Gea, Smalling, Ferdinand, Evans, Evra, Nani (Hernandez 65), Fletcher, Anderson (Jones 66), Young, Rooney, Welbeck.

Subs Not Used: Lindegaard, Berbatov, Park, Fabio Da Silva, Valencia.

Sent Off: Evans (47).

Booked: Anderson, Evra, Smalling, Welbeck.

Goals: Fletcher 81.

Man City Hart, Richards, Kompany, Lescott, Clichy, Toure Yaya, Barry, Milner (Kolarov 89), Silva, Balotelli (Dzeko 70), Aguero (Nasri 75).

Subs Not Used: Pantilimon, Zabaleta, Toure, De Jong.

Booked: Balotelli, Kompany, Richards.

Goals: Balotelli 22, 60, Aguero 69, Silva 90, Dzeko 90, 90.

Att: 75, 487

Ref: Mark Clattenburg (Tyne & Wear).

Manchester City 2 Villarreal 1   First European CL Win for City
Tuesday 18th October 2011 : GYKO at the Etihad

Sergio Aguero finally ignited Manchester City's stuttering Champions League campaign with a dramatic late winner against Villarreal. The Argentinian playmaker tapped home in the third minute of injury time just as the Spanish side looked to have frustrated Roberto Mancini's men at the Etihad Stadium.

Villarreal had stunned City by taking a fourth-minute lead through Cani but a Carlos Marchena own goal hauled City back into contention just before the break. For much of the second half City were laboured but fit-again Aguero, who came off the bench on the hour, glossed over a poor 90 minutes by snatching his side's first win in Group A.

City recovered from the shock of conceding early to dominate first-half possession but, despite the constant probing of David Silva, lacked their usual Premier League swagger. The manner of their equaliser was fortunate and the goal failed to provide the spark they needed until Aguero saved the day. It had seemed the return of Silva, Samir Nasri and Edin Dzeko, all rested at the weekend, had failed to find the winning formula in Europe. And after the well-documented problems with substitutions in the loss to Bayern Munich last month, manager Mancini also appeared to upset another player by taking Adam Johnson off late in the first half.

City had gone into the game as clear favourites but it was La Liga's 13th-placed side who made the perfect start. The game had barely begun when when Silva played Nigel de Jong into trouble outside his own area and Jonathan de Guzman nipped in to steal possession. Former Manchester United striker Giuseppe Rossi, a constant menace, lashed a shot at goal that Joe Hart could only parry and Cani reacted quickly to poke home.

Villarreal were lifted by that first goal in this season's group stages and Joleon Lescott needed to break up another promising attack. After that sloppy start, City finally began to find some life after Aleksandar Kolarov, scorer of the equaliser against Napoli earlier in the competition, fired wide from distance. Kolarov then found space on the left to clip in a cross for Nasri on the edge of the box but the Frenchman volleyed narrowly over.

Kolarov went for goal direct from a free-kick but goalkeeper Diego Lopez palmed his curling effort away. With Silva influential, City looked to maintain the pressure but, after a good spell, found Villarreal difficult to penetrate. Nasri did find a way through after exchanging passes with Silva but fired a low cross straight through the area. Yaya Toure pounced on a mistake to surge forward but shot way off target and a Kolarov cross proved too strong for Pablo Zabaleta.

Mancini surprisingly made a change five minutes before the break by sending on Gareth Barry for Johnson, who was not injured and shook his head as he left the field. Although the change itself made little difference to City's overall play, Barry was involved in the build-up as the hosts pulled level three minutes later. Kolarov made another incisive run and his low cross took a slight deflection before a sliding Marchena diverted it into his own goal attempting to clear. City almost snatched the lead before the break when Silva played in Dzeko but Lopez reacted quickly to save.

City were almost caught napping at the restart as Rossi robbed Vincent Kompany and blasted a shot wide after a dangerous run. The hosts responded as Silva spread the ball wide for Zabaleta and his cross dropped nicely for an onside Dzeko but the Bosnian failed to make clean contact and Lopez saved.

City thought they had claimed the lead after 54 minutes when Kolarov smashed in a shot off the underside of the bar but the flag was raised for offside. Villarreal gave City another scare just before the hour when former West Brom midfielder Borja Valero found space to shoot but missed the target. Cristian Zapata also stretched City on the counter-attack but did not trouble Hart.

With City looking leaden-footed, Mancini made a second substitution with Aguero replacing De Jong.  Rossi, who had caused City a number of problems with his pace, threatened again but was booked on the edge of the area for diving after minimal contact with Kompany. Kolarov got another chance from a free-kick but, from a similar position to where he scored against Napoli, this time shot the wrong side of the post.

City fans had been handed out sheets of paper to form a mosaic prior to kick-off but their frustration was evident when Valero was pelted with a paper ball taking a corner late on.

Dzeko had a chance in the closing minutes but his frustrating evening only continued as he headed well wide. Zabaleta had an even better opportunity but headed tamely at Lopez. Just as time looked to be up, Zabaleta crossed and Aguero tapped in to spark jubilant scenes. Alls well that ends well and this couldn't have ended better, roll on the return

Teams

Man City Hart, Zabaleta, Kompany, Lescott, Kolarov, De Jong (Aguero 62), Toure Yaya, Johnson (Barry 40), Silva, Nasri (Milner 81), Dzeko.

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

Goals: Marchena 43 og, Aguero 90.

Villarreal Diego Lopez, Zapata, Marchena, Rodriguez, Catala, Valero, Bruno, Perez (Wakaso 80), De Guzman (Gullon 88), Cani (Mario 82), Rossi.

Subs Not Used: Cesar, Musacchio, Bordas, Joselu.

Booked: Catala, Rossi, Mario.

Goals: Cani 4.

Att: 42, 236

Ref: Pavel Kralovec (Czech Republic).
 

Manchester City 4 Aston Villa 1   City go Top
Saturday 15th October : GYKO at the Etihad

Seen through the cold glare of Sir Alex Ferguson's eyes, Manchester United's games against Liverpool may be bigger occasions but the ones against City will go further to deciding the destination of the championship.

It is 12 months since anyone last took a point at Old Trafford, but Manchester City will go there next Sunday with a little clear sky blue water between themselves and their neighbours. Since Carlos Tevez's frustrations exploded in Munich, Manchester City have played twice and scored eight times.

No side is ever entirely united, there are fault lines in every dressing room. But Roberto Mancini's players have demonstrated that they are not men put off their stride by the exiling of last season's captain and leading scorer.

Aston Villa have a dreadful record in the blue half of Manchester. This was their first league defeat of the season but their 11th in their past dozen games at Eastlands or Maine Road and they could scarcely have been swept away by a more emphatic scoreline. When Shay Given, who like Richard Dunne and Stephen Ireland endured a wretched return to his former club, collided with Mario Balotelli and Micah Richards, he lifted his shirt to reveal the Italian's studs marks reddening on his torso. However, Villa's wounds were more than skin deep.

"It does not matter if you are playing Manchester City or an amateur team, if you defend like this, you will lose games," Alex McLeish, the Villa manager, said. "People will see the scoreline and everyone will think City cut Aston Villa to ribbons. We weren't but what they will see is some horrendous defending."

Now that Wayne Rooney is suspended for the group stages of the European Championship – a phase England have only got through twice in the modern history of the competition – the limelight will shine ever more fiercely on Darren Bent and Gabriel Agbonlahor.

The first had no opportunities to speak of. Agbonlahor had a one-on-one that was well saved by Joe Hart while Villa's goal came from the boot of Stephen Warnock. When the left-back drove his shot in from the underside of Hart's crossbar, his team were three down and City were, temporarily, without a right-back through Richards's head injury.

If hope of a recovery flickered in McLeish's brain, it was extinguished a few minutes later when Adam Johnson and Gareth Barry fed James Milner who curled a beautiful side-footed shot beyond Given. It says something that the Villa keeper barely moved for two of City's goals.

It says something for the standards Mancini demands that Johnson's performance, which saw him play a part in each of the goals, was rated "so-so in the first half" by his manager.

The first was an astonishing effort; a corner from Johnson, headed on by Vincent Kompany. It fell between Richards, who seemed not to know what to do with it, and Balotelli who did, finishing emphatically with a bicycle kick.

"Mario was four or five times on the bench in the last month," Mancini said, "but this time he understood why and now has scored four goals in a row and worked for the team. But we know Mario can change at any moment."

Then it was Johnson's turn to score. Warnock missed his clearance from a long upfield punt by Yaya Touré, the ball fell to Johnson who turned and stabbed it past a stranded goalkeeper.

The third was even simpler and, to McLeish, even more wastefully stupid; a near-post header from an entirely unmarked Kompany that sent Johnson's corner straight into the net. It ensured Manchester City's supporters would go to Old Trafford top of the league, something they would not have expected since the dazzling days of Joe Mercer and Malcolm Allison.

Teams:

Man City Hart, Richards (Toure 66), Lescott, Kompany, Clichy, De Jong, Barry, Milner, Johnson (Hargreaves 77), Toure Yaya (Silva 66), Balotelli.

Subs Not Used: Pantilimon, Dzeko, Kolarov, Nasri.

Booked: Barry.

Goals: Balotelli 28, Johnson 47, Kompany 52, Milner 71.

Aston Villa Given, Hutton, Dunne, Clark, Warnock, Delph (Albrighton 76), Petrov, Ireland (N'Zogbia 55), Heskey (Bannan 63), Agbonlahor, Bent.

Subs Not Used: Guzan, Cuellar, Weimann, Herd.

Booked: Bannan.

Goals: Warnock 65.

Att: 47, 019

Ref: Anthony Taylor (Cheshire).

Blackburn Rovers 0 Manchester City 4  All Rover for Blackburn
Saturday 1st October : GYKO at Ewood Park


Mario Balotelli grabbed his chance to wipe out the memory of Manchester City's bad night against Bayern Munich as Roberto Mancini's men eased to a 4-0 victory at ailing Blackburn.

Balotelli drilled home City's second just before the hour and ran the home defence ragged in what was City's perfect riposte to the midweek controversy involving Carlos Tevez.

Adam Johnson's wonder-goal and late strikes from Samir Nasri and Stefan Savic wrapped up City's second half master-class leading furious Rovers fans to chant for the dismissal of boss Steve Kean.

Despite accepting Edin Dzeko's apology for his outburst at being substituted in midweek, Mancini had dropped the Bosnian to the bench and opted to give Balotelli his chance.

It was an inspired decision with Balotelli looking by far the liveliest of City's attacking options, particularly when Sergio Aguero limped off injured on the half-hour.

Rovers had started solidly enough but it quickly became apparent they would have to guard against City's speed and sharpness, with Chris Samba cutting out a dangerous Vincent Kompany cross.

The visitors had their first real chance in the 10th minute when David Silva cut into the box from the left and his cross was parried by Paul Robinson into the path of Balotelli, who blazed over.

Rovers responded two minutes later with a swinging cross from Morten Gamst Pedersen on the left, which was aimed for the head of Samba before being cut out by Joleon Lescott.

Junior Hoilett's pace troubled the City rearguard in the 16th minute as he scampered over the half-way line and sent Yakubu on the left, but he was denied by a fine challenge by Milner.

For all their neat possession, Mancini's men were struggling to unduly threaten the Rovers defence, with Silva guilty of spooning a 25th minute half-chance high over the bar.

City's striking options, already diminished by the suspension of Tevez, were further hit when Aguero limped off with an apparent groin strain.

Nasri came on to replace Aguero, and his first act was to screw a low shot towards the Rovers goal which was deflected out for a corner by David Goodwillie.

City's inability to find the cutting final ball surfaced again in the 35th minute when a fine move involving Milner and Nasri petered out when Samba beat Balotelli to a clearance in the box.

Balotelli stepped up his game towards the end of the first half, flashing a curling 37th minute effort wide then zipping in front of Samba to shoot into the side-netting.

City looked sharper at the start of the second half, with Silva shooting across the face of goal moments after the restart, then Balotelli driving a right-foot shot against the post.

City finally broke the deadlock in the 56th minute when Johnson picked up a half-cleared Kolarov corner on the edge of the box and swung a superb left-foot shot into the top corner.

And City extended their lead three minutes later when Balotelli got the goal his performance deserved, stealing in front of Steven Nzonzi to prod home a cross from the left by Nasri.

Nasri swept home City's third in the 74th minute after good work from Silva in the box, sparking a furious reaction from sections of the home fans who chanted for Kean's dismissal.

Substitute Mauro Formica forced the first real save out of Joe Hart with 15 minutes left on the clock then Yakubu blazed high over the bar but it was all in vain.

City scored their fourth three minutes from time (pictured above) when Nasri sent in a corner from the left and substitute Stefan Savic bundled the ball home through a crowded box.

Teams

Blackburn Robinson, Lowe, Samba, Dann, Givet, Petrovic, Nzonzi, Pedersen, Goodwillie (Formica 61), Yakubu, Hoilett.

Subs Not Used: Bunn, Slew, Rochina, Vukcevic, Roberts, Hanley.

Booked: Givet.

Man City Hart, Zabaleta, Kompany, Lescott, Kolarov, Milner, Toure Yaya, Silva, Johnson (Savic 79), Aguero (Nasri 27), Balotelli (Dzeko 88).

Subs Not Used: Pantilimon, Barry, Clichy, De Jong.

Booked: Zabaleta.

Goals: Johnson 56, Balotelli 59, Nasri 73, Savic 87.

Att: 24, 760

Ref: Phil Dowd (Staffordshire).
 

Manchester City Fixtures & Results - 2011/12

 

I'm Not Really Here - Paul Lake

Paul Lake's career as a footballer was cut so short, so mangled by misfortune, we will never know how far the game would have taken him, but what we can say for certain is that the ability and drive were always there to let us believe it would have been a journey worth following.

There are not too many footballers who have nut-megged Gheorghe Hagi. Or given Paul Gascoigne, in his pomp, a run for his money. Gazza, gearing up for Italia 90, was in the crowd for one of Lake's first matches for England Under-21s and bounded over afterwards to congratulate him for his performance. "Don't get too good, mind," he told the younger man. "I'm not having you nicking my fucking place."

By that stage Lake was already being spoken about as a future England captain. At Manchester City, he was the most cherished young asset, the classic local boy done good, born a few months after they had last won the league, now living the dream of every schoolboy who has longed to play for the club he supports. Lake had been exceptional all through his youth. "I didn't quite know how, or why, I found football so easy. I just did, and that was that."

But football can be brutal sometimes. I'm Not Really Here (Century, £14.99) is the raw, sometimes unsparing and frequently moving account of how Lake's career was shipwrecked and how a man with the world at his feet ended up as one of football's hard-luck stories.

The injury that footballers dread the most is the snapped cruciate knee ligament – and Lake ruptured the one in his right leg on three different occasions. His life became a dark journey, an endless slog of rehab, comebacks, breakdowns and callous disappointments until, finally, after almost years of battling with his own body the lights went out on his career and he was forced into early retirement. He was 27.

What people did not realise was that, by then, Lake was suffering from clinical depression, and it is this side of I'm Not Really Here that makes it far from the run-of-the-mill football autobiography. The police found him standing on a motorway bridge one day, leaning over the rails. He was not contemplating jumping but Lake's life was in meltdown, and if he had not sought professional help it was threatening to spiral even further out of control. He ended up in the Priory, so worried that word would get out he carried a spare cheque in his pocket so if he was recognised he could make up a story about being there for a charity presentation.

It is an epic, harrowing and gripping story of a man living, as the front cover confesses, "a life of two halves" and it is maybe because the book is ghosted by his wife, Joanne, that he is able to provide such an unflinching account of how dark and tormented the days became once that joy – the buzz, the adrenaline, the fix – of running out on a pitch was removed.

In his mid-20s, what should have been his peak years, Lake shut himself away from the world. He found the cinema a place of sanctuary, so he "could binge on Coke and popcorn and not have to speak to another human being for a couple of hours". Attending matches at Maine Road became a tribulation he could barely face. "Wouldn't mind your job, Lakey, being paid to do fuck all," someone guffawed at one game. The man who stuck the ball through Hagi's legs would make his excuses and slope off to the toilet for five minutes' respite, holding his head in his hands. A voice in his head would sneer: "Just look at you, you're a mess, a joke." After so long out of the side, he felt embarrassed about the annual ritual of the team photograph – "like a spare part, like I was gate crashing a private function".

Lake is 42 now, still prominently involved at the club as an ambassador for City in the Community, and can tell this story after coming out the other side. What is remarkable is that his love affair with the club never faded. Remarkable because Lake was, at different times, neglected, ignored and handled so badly that, after 15 operations, he would be entitled to have a grudge even worse than the knee he describes at one point as "like a stone in a beer can".

Lake's first marriage crumbled. He had to move back in with his parents because losing playing bonuses meant he could not keep up with his mortgage. Other players with cruciate injuries travelled to the United States for operations with specialists in that field but Peter Swales, City's chairman of the time, supposedly did not want to foot the bill. When Swales finally backed down, Lake recalls the words of the surgeon in Los Angeles. "If I'd seen you straight away, you'd have been back playing by now." After the surgery, City's physio flew back to Manchester in business class. Lake, on crutches, was booked out a few days later in the cheap seats with "my leg folded up like a concertina". He arrived in Manchester in tears and in agony, his knee so contorted he could barely make it through the terminal.

And yet Lake never comes across as embittered – or even close. This is not a book about settling old scores – Swales, perhaps unsurprisingly, is the only guy who gets a real coating, but only in passing – but the story of a man who fell hopelessly in love with the game of football and, in particular, Manchester City, and has had to live with the consequences.

And there were highs too. Plenty of them. Lake belonged to that exciting generation of players who won promotion under Mel Machin and provided one of Sir Alex Ferguson's lowest moments in what is known in Manchester as simply "the 5-1". The 20-year-old was interviewed on radio after that game and asked what was the secret for the win. "I ate raw meat for breakfast," he replied.

Lake could play at right-back, centre-half or in midfield. An all-rounder, he even had sporadic appearances as a second striker, and on the left. He was City's captain at 21 and called up to the England training camp for Italia 90. "I used to ask for £10m when clubs asked about him," Howard Kendall, City's then manager says, "but that was in the days when clubs couldn't afford that sort of money."

Where he would have ended up, we can only guess. If things had been different, if the treatment had been superior, or if Lake simply had better luck, it may have been very different. If, if, if. It could, though, have been one of the great football careers of the past two decades. Even so, Lake still left City supporters with enough memories for him to be revered as a club legend. Now he and Joanne have provided one of the outstanding football autobiographies of that time.

I'm Not Really Here is published on 4 August

 


 

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