January 2011 - Reports
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Notts County 1 Manchester City 1  Just Not Good Enough
Sunday 30th January 2011 : John Howe for GYKO at Meadow Lane

For a short while it looked as though Manchester City would be subjected to the kind of humiliation that was supposed to belong to a different era. Notts County, 59 places below them in the league ladder, led through a 59th-minute goal from an archetypal journeyman and the richest club on earth were staring at the possibility of becoming the story of the weekend for all the wrong reasons.

Edin Dzeko's first goal for his new club, 10 minutes from the end of normal time, came at a telling moment, considering the swarm of locusts that would have headed City's way had they not been able to score an equaliser against the 18th-placed side in League One. The £27m signing from Wolfsburg spared his employers a chastening experience and the two sides will replay on the weekend of the fifth round.

City's manager, Roberto Mancini, expressed his regret that the draw had added another game to an already cluttered fixture list but there was also an immense sense of relief on the part of the Premier League club after they had come so close to their lowest point under the ownership of the Abu Dhabi royal family. When the richest men on earth took control at Eastlands they can hardly have envisaged that, two and a half years on, their team would be floundering so badly against a side from English football's third tier. When Dzeko turned in the equaliser he did not do so in the midst of the all-out assault that might have been anticipated.

For any club with Notts County's resources, a second match will in one sense feel like a victory. In another, however, there was a sense of disappointment because City were looking vulnerable after Neal Bishop had flashed a header past Joe Hart from Alan Gow's corner.

All the ingredients were there for the FA Cup upset, not least a muddy and inhospitable pitch, its few patches of grass remaining after it staged two games involving Nottingham Rugby Club in a week. Bishop, a previously unremarkable midfielder who had played non-league football until the age of 26, with York City, Scarborough, Whitby Town and Spennymoor, would have been the classic FA Cup hero.

City had dominated long spells of the match, with the midfield trio of Patrick Vieira, Gareth Barry and Yaya Touré controlling the tempo. Yet there was little creativity, with Carlos Tevez, Adam Johnson and Mario Balotelli missing through injury and David Silva on the bench. There were only four players in the starting line-up who would be guaranteed to make Mancini's best XI and in that 21-minute spell when City were staring at an ignominious exit from the competition, it did seem as though the Italian may have been guilty of underestimating his opponents in his desire to rest players.

Mancini said that his side had not deserved to lose – "We played in their half for the first 45 minutes," he said – but he must have been alarmed by his team's inability to get behind the home defence. The Brazilian striker Jô is surely running out of chances to establish himself and Dzeko generally had a difficult time against the young Notts County centre-half Krystian Pearce. "He needs time to understand English football," Mancini said. "He needs another four or five games."

Mancini had replaced Jô with Silva shortly after the goal and the Spaniard was involved in the equaliser. Micah Richards sprinted away on the right, latching on to Silva's pass, and the full-back delivered the best cross of the match for Dzeko to turn in a volley from inside the six-yard area.

For the most part County defended stoutly and in the first 20 minutes of the second half they were the better team, pressing forward, increasingly adventurous.

"We tired," their manager, Paul Ince, said. "I was watching the clock and I've never seen a clock move so slowly. I looked at 75 minutes and I swear it wasn't even moving. They're a lot fitter than us and once they got the equaliser I thought we might capitulate. But we didn't. We stopped them playing and I think we should get a lot of credit for that.

Teams

Notts County Nelson, Darby, Edwards, Pearce, Harley, Westcarr, Ravenhill, Bishop, Martin, Hughes, Gow (Hawley 70).

Subs Not Used: Burch, Lee, Thompson, Gobern, Spicer, Burgess.

Booked: Edwards, Bishop.

Goals: Bishop 59.

Man City Hart, Richards (Kompany 88), Boateng, Lescott, Zabaleta (Kolarov 77), Milner, Vieira, Barry, Toure Yaya, Dzeko, Jo (Silva 62).

Subs Not Used: Given, Toure, De Jong, Guidetti.

Booked: Milner.

Goals: Dzeko 80.

Att: 16,587

Ref: Chris Foy (Merseyside).

Aston Villa 1 Manchester City 0    Too Slow Too Casual
Saturday 22nd January 2011 : Paul Richards for GYKO at Villa Park

Darren Bent may not be everyone's idea of a £24m player but he got his Aston Villa career off to a dream start with a goal after 18 minutes that earned three precious points for Gérard Houllier's strugglers and dashed the visitors' hopes of returning to joint top with Manchester United.

Bent did not do an awful lot more than score the winner, and neither were Villa transformed into an attacking force to be reckoned with by his arrival, although this was a game they might not have won a week ago. Their confidence was visibly lifted, even if they did have to endure a siege situation in the final 10 minutes, when City piled on the pressure but kept inventing new ways to miss the target. The equaliser never came, Edin Dzeko had a more disappointing afternoon than on his debut a week ago, and City were far less inventive and incisive than they had been against Wolves.

City only had themselves to blame for Bent's opening goal. They had just broken up a Villa attack and Kolo Touré had all the time in the world to weigh up his options with no one anywhere near him in the centre of his own half. From that position he executed an extremely poor pass that immediately put David Silva under pressure on halfway, Stewart Downing regained possession and swiftly moved the ball forward, and when Joe Hart could only palm out Ashley Young's low curling shot the man of the moment was on hand to tuck away the loose ball. Not the greatest goal Bent will ever score, but an ideal way to start life as Villa's record signing.

Brad Friedel made a good stop from a Vincent Kompany header to prevent City equalising almost immediately from an Aleksandar Kolarov corner. The left-back was City's liveliest attacking player in the first half, which perhaps tells its own story, although as the interval approached the visitors were putting Friedel's goal under all the pressure, with Villa increasingly penned in their own half.

Edin Dzeko, last week's big money signing, is yet to open his goal account for City and was unable to reach Kolarov's cross from the left after Yaya Touré had split open the Villa defence. The Bosnian unselfishly tried to set up Carlos Tevez a few minutes later, only for James Collins to make an important intervention, and Gareth Barry – booed throughout – was close with a header from Jérôme Boateng's cross.

Villa's interval lead was therefore by courtesy of their only decent attempt of the first half, although that is exactly why clubs spend fortunes on strikers who can make the most of limited chances. At least the home side managed to give Hart something to think about just before the break, when he was required to stop long shots from Young and Downing. Both efforts were well struck, but both went much too close to the goalkeeper.

Dzeko headed narrowly over from a corner early in the second half before Roberto Mancini put the labouring Barry out of his misery, replacing him with Adam Johnson. In what struck the amused crowd as adding insult to injury Barry had just spoiled a Yaya Touré run by straying offside before receiving the pass, and turned to see a flag raised on one side of the pitch and his number being held up on the other.

City were again doing most of the attacking yet Villa managed to create a few half chances around the hour mark. First a back pass from Kompany forced an error from Hart, but Marc Albrighton could not shoot quickly enough when an attempted clearance came straight to him. Young was unlucky with a cross that rolled across the face of goal and a shot that brought a diving save from Hart, before Albrighton squandered a promising position by overhitting a first time cross with Bent and Gabriel Agbonlahor waiting unmarked in the middle.

In the closing stages Nigel de Jong saw a pile-driving shot deflected on to a post, Kompany had a similar effort diverted to safety by Carlos Cuéllar, and just when Johnson sent over a cross that looked perfect for Dzeko the striker sent his header the wrong side of the post. It was a day to remember for the new big spenders, one to forget for the old ones.

Teams:

Aston Villa Friedel, Cuellar, Collins, Dunne, Clark,Albrighton, Petrov (Reo-Coker 88), Downing, Agbonlahor,Ashley Young, Bent.

Subs Not Used: Marshall, Pires, Delfouneso, Bannan, Herd, Baker.

Booked: Clark.

Goals: Bent 18.

Man City Hart, Boateng, Toure, Kompany, Kolarov, De Jong,Barry (Adam Johnson 57), Silva, Toure Yaya, Tevez, Dzeko.

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

Booked: Kolarov.

Att: 37,315

Ref: Howard Webb (S Yorkshire).

Manchester City 4 Leicester City 2   City go into the fourth round
Tuesday 18th January 2011 : GYKO at the COMSTAD

Sven-Goran Eriksson's return to Eastlands produced a night of pride and frustration. His side could find dignity in defeat after they subjected Manchester City to a nerve-shredding finale but the Premier League's second-placed team still advanced to the fourth round and a tie against Notts County that Roberto Mancini will hope will be much more straightforward.

Carlos Tevez, Patrick Vieira and Adam Johnson put the home side into a 3-1 lead at half-time and it looked like Eriksson's first game back at his old club could become something of an ordeal. Yet at times this was a careless performance from Mancini's men. Tevez squandered a chance to make it 4-1 in the second half, missing his second penalty in succession, and when Lloyd Dyer made it 3-2 with eight minutes of normal time to play there was the first sense of alarm in the stands. The home team had some difficult moments before they found the relief of Aleksandar Kolarov's left-foot strike in the final minute of normal time.

"In the last 10 minutes I don't know what happened," Mancini said. "Maybe we thought the game was finished. I don't like winning 4-3 or 4-2. For the crowd, it might be good to see but I prefer 4-0 or 4-1. It's concentration, and I think we have to improve."

Eriksson said he was "rather proud". The team 13th in the Championship played with little trepidation and there were times when they threatened to make it a difficult evening for their opponents. "I told my players we playing one of the best sides in Europe," the former England manager said, "and, over the two games, we have scored four goals against them and had a chance right until the final few minutes."

Yet Eriksson's side also learned that you cannot defend so generously at the highest level. "We conceded goals a little too easily, which has been our problem all season," the Swede said.

"I guess that's the difference between a top Premier League club and a team playing where we are."

The tone was set in the build-up to the opening goal, when Yuki Abe and Jack Hobbs let Tevez advance and the Argentinean punished them with a searing right-foot drive, taking his shot early and beating the goalkeeper, Chris Weale, with another addition to his growing portfolio of outstanding goals. Tevez has 16 goals this season and this was possibly the best of the lot, struck with power and precision to find the top right-hand corner of the net.

Leicester's response was swift although the referee, Mark Halsey, was generous in the extreme when he awarded the penalty from which Paul Gallagher made it 1-1. Neither Joleon Lescott nor Vieira appeared to make any contact with Dyer as he cut between them.

At that point Leicester were playing with drive and ambition but they were undone by two goals in three minutes. First, Vieira turned in a rebound after the defender Souleymane Bamba had blocked David Silva's shot on the line. Then Silva's defence-splitting pass sent Johnson clear and the winger beat the advancing Weale with a confident finish.

Mancini was entitled to think his side would see out the game comfortably. Tevez, however, may need to fine-tune his penalty-taking technique. In the 57th minute he had the chance to soothe any lingering nerves, when he ran clear from Kolarov's pass and again exposed the high line of Leicester's defence, only for Hobbs to hack him down. The centre-half was fortunate not to be shown a red card – a point Mancini made on the touchline – but Tevez aimed his penalty low and hard, straight down the middle, and Weale saved with his feet.

Mancini's impression of Halsey's refereeing was not improved by the official playing an inadvertent part in the build-up to Dyer's goal, Abe benefiting from a ricochet to send the striker running between Lescott and Vincent Kompany. Dyer slipped his shot beyond Joe Hart.

Suddenly Leicester's 6,000 boisterous fans turned up the volume but their team left themselves vulnerable to the counterattack as they set about trying to create an equaliser and, from 20 yards, Kolarov made them pay with for his first goal for his club.

Teams:

Man City Hart, Zabaleta, Lescott, Kompany, Kolarov, Toure Yaya (Jo 78), Vieira, Milner, Adam Johnson, Tevez, Silva (Barry 64).

Subs Not Used: Given, Toure, De Jong, Boyata, Nimely.

Booked: Vieira.

Goals: Tevez 15, Vieira 37, Adam Johnson 38, Kolarov 90.

Leicester Weale, Naughton, Hobbs, Bamba, Berner, Gallagher (Moussa 30), Wellens (Oakley 46), Abe, Andy King, Dyer, Howard (Waghorn 68).

Subs Not Used: Logan, Neilson, Teixeira, N'Guessan.

Booked: Dyer.

Goals: Gallagher 19 pen, Dyer 83.

Att: 27,755

Ref: Mark Halsey (Lancashire).

Manchester City 4 Wolverhampton 3  Wolves go down fighting
Saturday 15th January 2011 : GYKO at the COMSTAD

Edin Dzeko did not manage to score on his debut, but he showed plenty of promise and will have a much clearer idea now of what Manchester City are all about. His new side played like strangers in the first half, went a goal behind, then just about enjoyed the better of a seven-goal share-out to climb to the top of the Premier League table.

Accommodating their £27m signing, however, meant David Silva and James Milner were among those missing out, which in turn meant City's bench alone was worth a nine-figure sum. The entire Wolves squad only coast a fraction of that, of course, not that anyone would have guessed in the first half hour.

The visitors gave City a passing lesson from the start, easily finding their way through the back line and its two defensive shields and making the home side's attempts to get forward look clumsy. It was no great surprise when Wolves went in front in the 12th minute, the only mystery was how they failed to add to their lead before City got back on terms. Nenad Milijas, a constructive midfield influence all afternoon, scored the opening goal after a comedy of errors in the City defence. Matt Jarvis's cross from the right was first deflected off Gareth Barry, then Kolo Touré's attempted clearance struck Vincent Kompany, and though Joe Hart managed a point-blank save to keep out Milijas's first effort he was unable to prevent the Serbian's follow-up.

The former Red Star Belgrade player then headed a decent chance straight at Hart, before excellent interplay between Stephen Hunt and Steven Fletcher on the left set up a perfect shooting opportunity for Jarvis, only for the winger to see Aleksandar Kolarov fling himself in the way of a goalbound effort. By this stage Dzeko must have been wondering what sort of team he had joined, particularly when he found Carlos Tevez with an astute pass and saw the City captain waste a good position with a heavy first touch.

City did manage to get more into the game as the interval approached, Adam Johnson bringing a save from Wayne Hennessey and Tevez going close with a pot shot from distance, and eventually drew level from a corner earned when a Dzeko shot was blocked. The cross came through to Kolo Touré at the far post, and Wolves seemed to put more faith in putting men on the line than closing down the shot. Touré had time to hit a low shot so firmly it found the net through Hunt, Hennessey and David Jones.

The second half was a completely different story once City went ahead a couple of minutes after the restart, and it was a different trio of Wolves players left flat-footed as Tevez went on a Diego Maradona-type surge to score. Picking up the ball from a throw-in Tevez burst into the area and between Christophe Berra and Hunt, before slaloming past Richard Stearman to slot a low shot beyond Hennessey. It was quite a goal, and there was more to come. Seven minutes later Dzeko took a Tevez pass and came up with an inspired through ball of his own to allow Yaya Touré to run on and score. Tevez headed in off the underside of the bar from Pablo Zabaleta's cross to make it four, before Joleon Lescott climbed all over Kevin Doyle to concede a penalty from which the Wolves striker pulled a goal back.

City withdrew Tevez and Johnson to milk the crowd's applause before the close, then ended up hanging on nervily after Yaya Touré missed a golden opportunity to wrap up the points and Ronald Zubar brought Wolves right back in touch with a header from a Hunt corner. Had the same player managed to convert an earlier chance rather than striking the bar City might have had to settle for a draw. Not many teams reach the top of the table by conceding three goals at home, but given time Dzeko will probably get used to it.

Teams

Man City Hart, Zabaleta, Toure (Lescott 51), Kompany, Kolarov, De Jong, Barry, Adam Johnson (Silva 84), Toure Yaya, Tevez (Milner 81), Dzeko.

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

Goals: Toure 40, Tevez 49, Toure Yaya 54, Tevez 66.

Wolverhampton Hennessey, Zubar, Stearman, Berra, Ward (Mouyokolo 70), Hunt, Milijas, David Jones, Jarvis (Mujangi Bia 79), Doyle, Fletcher (Henry 69).

Subs Not Used: Hahnemann, Vokes, Davis, Doherty.

Goals: Milijas 12, Doyle 68 pen, Zubar 86.

Ref: Lee Mason (Lancashire).    Att: 46672

Leicester City 2 Manchester City 2  Sven back at the COMSTAD
Sunday 9th January 2011 : Len Peterson for GYKO at the Walker Stadium

This will be remembered as the day when the master decided it was never too late to teach his favourite pupil a lesson. Thirty league positions and several hundred million pounds separate Leicester City and Manchester City but there was little evidence of that chasm during an absorbing contest that ended with Sven Goran-Eriksson forcing Roberto Mancini to welcome him back to Eastlands for a replay in nine days' time.

It was no more than Eriksson's courageous Leicester side deserved after an impressive performance in which the wonderfully named Sol Bamba was outstanding on his debut. Bamba, who was a member of Eriksson's Ivory Coast World Cup squad and joined Leicester from Hibernian at the start of the month, scored after 46 seconds and wreaked havoc throughout with his threat from set pieces, the central defender having two efforts cleared off the line and another saved by Joe Hart.

The Manchester City goalkeeper's contribution here, however, will be recalled for all the wrong reasons after he handed Leicester an equaliser in the second half. Paul Gallagher's in-swinging centre bounced awkwardly in front of Hart but a goalkeeper of his calibre would have expected to deal with the ball with the minimum of fuss. Instead it dropped invitingly at Andy King's feet and the midfielder pounced to register his 10th and most important goal of the season so far.

In keeping with a match that ebbed and flowed from the start there were still chances for both teams to seize victory. Bamba towered above the visitors' defence to connect with Gallagher's corner only for James Milner, who had earlier registered his first City goal to level the match at 1-1, to nod off the line. Two minutes later Chris Weale smothered at Nigel de Jong's feet and in stoppage time the Leicester keeper and the remarkable Bamba both denied Carlos Tevez his second goal of the afternoon.

Mancini had no complaints with the outcome but he suggested his players were guilty of underestimating their opponents. "I think Leicester played very well. They didn't deserve to lose this game," said Mancini, who picked a strong side despite making six changes from the team that drew at Arsenal on Wednesday. "For us it's an important lesson because now we understand that, if we want to win the FA Cup, we must always play at 100% because every game is difficult."

The City manager could see the funny side when the Leicester supporters jeered when he miscontrolled a ball in the technical area in the second half, but there were plenty of other occasions when he looked uncomfortable and anxious. Mancini knows Eriksson well after playing under him at Sampdoria and Lazio and also working as his coach but the Swede caught him off guard with his inclusion of Bamba. "We had a lot of problems because Bamba's very tall," said Mancini. "Next time we must pay attention."

His players were certainly caught napping when Bruno Berner flicked the ball on for Bamba to turn in Gallagher's early corner. Manchester City, who started off in a 4-4-2 formation that was changed to 4-5-1 when Mancini withdrew the disappointing Shaun Wright-Phillips at half-time, took a while to recover from that setback but an equaliser arrived in the 23rd minute when Milner exchanged passes with Tevez before driving at the Leicester defence and shooting beyond Weale.

Back came Leicester as Hart turned Yuki Abe's 25-yard drive behind before making a double save from Bamba from the corner that followed. Within three minutes Bamba was at it again, his header from yet another Gallagher set piece cleared by Wright-Phillips. Hart then saved from King, who had tried to chip the Manchester City keeper, before the visitors worked a short-corner routine on the stroke of half-time that culminated in Tevez turning the ball home with an improvised flick.

Hart's faux pas, which Mancini described as "unlucky", gave Leicester the equaliser that their bright start to the second half merited, as they began to pass the ball with more confidence. There was then a moment of potential controversy when De Jong, who came on for Wright-Phillips, appeared to stamp on Richie Wellens's hand but nothing was going to detract Eriksson from eulogising over his own players' efforts.

"I'm very proud of our players," said the Leicester manager, who will come up against Notts County, another of his former clubs, if he can spring a surprise in the replay at Eastlands. "We stood up to Manchester City, one of the best teams in the country, and I couldn't see a big difference between the teams. I think we matched them for 90 minutes. We were at them all the time and when we got the ball we kept it against a very good team for a long time. The performance of all the players was brilliant."

Teams

Leicester Weale, Naughton, Hobbs, Bamba, Berner (Neilson 90), Abe, Wellens, King, Dyer (Waghorn 79), Vassell (Howard 83), Gallagher.

Subs Not Used: Teixeira, Oakley, Logan, Moussa.

Goals: Bamba 1, King 64.

Man City Hart, Boateng, Toure, Lescott, Kolarov, Wright-Phillips (De Jong 46), Milner, Vieira, Adam Johnson, Jo (Zabaleta 73), Tevez.

Subs Not Used: Given, Santa Cruz, Boyata, Nimely, Ibrahim.

Goals: Milner 23, Tevez 45.

Att: 31,200

Ref: Mike Dean (Wirral).

Arsenal 0 Manchester City 0       City make their point
Wednesday 5th January 2011 : Jed Thomas at the Emirates Stadium for GYKO

Arsenal must sense another season of exasperation after a fluent and authoritative display that could not quite overcome opponents who were dogged and a little lucky when their post was struck twice. Manchester City are now two points behind the leaders Manchester United after playing two matches more. While Arsenal are also in hot pursuit this was a maddening experience for them. Composure was lost by both teams in the 90th minute when Bacary Sagna and Pablo Zabaleta bumped heads tamely during a dispute and were both sent off by the referee Mike Jones.

The reservations about Arsenal concern the occasional lack of cold-blooded efficiency since it is already so obvious that they possess burning talent. Whatever City had in mind, they were forced to put on a defensive performance throughout the first-half. It did not help that David Silva was missing through injury, but he might have had an enforced absence for at least a while since Arsène Wenger's side attacked with such incisive finesse for half-an-hour.

It would do City too much credit to say they had withstood the pressure when the woodwork provided key resistance. Robin van Persie, in the ninth minute, and Cesc Fábregas, 20 minutes later, both struck the post. The speed in the Arsenal ranks is great and the control with which possession is kept seems to accentuate it. City, all the same, did not succumb readily Regardless of the opulent budget, this is a line-up with much pragmatism in it.

That trait had to be complemented by luck in that first 45 minutes. A bid for the Premier League title must still feel like a novelty to City. As recently as two seasons ago they finished tenth. Nowadays they are a concern to the established elite and not just for the sort of budget that is about to bring in the Bosnia forward Edin Dzeko for £27m. The image of the club as wastrels has begun to look outdated now there is a severity under Roberto Mancini.

They are a side for others to worry about and Arsenal are just one club whose hopes of taking the title now are a little better than they will be if City continue with further recruitment of leading footballers. Wenger does not lack for talent, but his side has an ingrained habit of handicapping itself. In a match such as this you can sense the team willing itself to overcome inhibitions born of the disappointments.

Arsenal were still far too slick for City in those first 45 minutes and that comes through a rapport built up over a period, even if it is rather young line-up. When Wenger's team last played at home, however, they exposed the crumbling nature of Chelsea as the reigning champions could not cope with the swiftness and accuracy attacked in a 3-1 win.

City are different. Unlike Chelsea, they are coming to the fore and the away league games have suited them so well that they had scored 19 times in them before this contest. Only Arsenal have surpassed that, by a single goal. Whenever Mancini presents his side as rank outsiders for the title the only thing that can stop Sheikh Mansour from asking what, in that case, the point has been in spending so much is the knowledge that the manager is just deflecting attention. Even so, City had kept a dangerously low profile here in a first half when Arsenal would have deserved to lead by a goal or two. The previous away win for City against these opponents had come in 1975 and history was proving resistant to change.

If the whirl of Arsenal attacking was not quite at the same pace as it had been early in the night, it still made opponents grimace. All Wenger's man lacked was a trace of the cold-bloodedness to be a fraction more precise at the critical moment. City, though, still had to be content with confirming the endurance that is in them.

With an hour gone, Mancini can still have had only the most tentative hope that his side would ever impose itself. He had to settle for relief in the 61st minute when Joe Hart was tipping a 25-yarder from Van Persie over the bar. All that could have shaken Arsenal was the dread that they would be punished for not capitalising on their domination.

City, having endured such a barrage, ought to have been encouraged. They were at least in the opposition's half more often, but their opponents, with Andrey Arshavin on for Theo Walcott, could hope for scope on the counterattack. It was a struggle whose intensity seldom dipped.

Teams

Arsenal Fabianski, Sagna, Djourou, Koscielny, Clichy, Song, Wilshere (Bendtner 81), Fabregas, Nasri, Walcott (Arshavin 68), van Persie.

Subs Not Used: Szczesny, Rosicky, Denilson, Squillaci, Chamakh.

Sent Off: Sagna (90).

Man City Hart, Richards, Kompany, Toure, Zabaleta, De Jong, Barry, Toure Yaya, Milner, Tevez (Boateng 90), Jo (Adam Johnson 64).

Subs Not Used: Given, Bridge, Wright-Phillips, Lescott, Vieira.

Sent Off: Zabaleta (90).

Booked: Barry, De Jong.

Att: 60,085

Ref: Mike Jones (Cheshire).

 

Manchester City 1 Blackpool 0   City Scrape Home
Saturday 1st January 2011 : GYKO at the COMSTAD

Manchester City found Blackpool to be accomplished opponents but probably deserved this victory given the number of chances they created. Adam Johnson's deflected shot keeps Roberto Mancini's side hanging on Manchester United's coattails at the top of the table and they could also reflect on Carlos Tevez's missed penalty a minute after the decisive goal.

Yet City were made to work hard for their third straight win and Tevez's carelessness from the spot meant there were plenty of anxious moments against a Blackpool side playing with confidence and drive. This was an open match, with numerous chances at both ends, and there were long spells, particularly in the second half, when Ian Holloway's team threatened to undermine City's title challenge.

Blackpool, once again, played in a manner that suggests they should achieve their main objective of surviving relegation with something to spare. They were quick to the ball, strong in the tackle and played with a sense of adventure that was refreshing for an away team playing one of the top four teams.

Their expansive system leaves them vulnerable at times in defence, however, and Mancini was entitled to wonder how his side had not managed more goals. Tevez, in particular, was let down by some erratic finishing and, with Mario Balotelli resting a sore knee, there were times when the Argentinean was isolated in attack, leaving Mancini even more animated than usual in the technical area – and perhaps a little angry, too, given the way he threw his gloves to the floor at the final whistle.

"We didn't take advantage of some good opportunities to get the second goal," his assistant, David Platt, said. "That would have given us more freedom to play. We were on a knife-edge that Blackpool could score the second goal and it became a bit nervous. Out of the two teams, we were probably the one that was pleased to hear the final whistle."

City may have to be more clinical if they are to take anything from Wednesday's game at Arsenal and, looking further ahead, keep up the pressure on United. They also lost David Silva to a knee injury, yet it still amounted to a satisfying afternoon, courtesy of Johnson's fifth goal of the season. Aleksandar Kolarov's corner was headed out by Gary Taylor-Fletcher and when Johnson fired a low 20-yard shot through a congested penalty area the ball flicked off Stephen Crainey to beat Richard Kingson for the game's decisive moment.

The inquest was still going on in the visitors' defence when Luke Varney brought down Yaya Touré inside the penalty area to give Tevez the chance to double the lead, only for City's leading scorer to scuff his effort wide.

A second goal at that stage would have given the game an entirely different complexion. Instead, Blackpool demonstrated why they have won five away matches this season, pressing numbers forward. Charlie Adam and David Vaughan were excellent in midfield and the substitute Matt Phillips excelling on the right side of attack, leading Mancini to withdraw a shaky Kolarov.

"We threw everything we had at them in the second half," Holloway said. "I put our centre-half up front and put on all our strikers. I don't think we could have been more positive. We gave away a horrific goal but, that apart, we gave them a good game. We were meant to be 'the worst team ever' but we've surprised a few people and we'll continue to surprise people."

Teams:

Man City Hart, Boateng, Kompany, Lescott, Kolarov (Zabaleta 58), De Jong, Barry, Adam Johnson, Toure Yaya (Vieira 85), Silva (Milner 64), Tevez.

Subs Not Used: Given, Richards, Wright-Phillips, Jo.

Goals: Adam Johnson 34.

Blackpool Kingson, Eardley, Cathcart, Evatt, Crainey,Sylvestre (Phillips 46), Vaughan, Adam, Varney (Carney 82),Campbell, Taylor-Fletcher (Ormerod 74).

Subs Not Used: Halstead, Southern, Baptiste, Edwards.

Att: 47,296

Ref: Mark Clattenburg (Tyne & Wear).

 

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