March 2008 - Reports
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Birmingham City 3 Manchester City 1    Tale of two poor Cities
Saturday 29th March 2008 : Davis Geary for GYKO at St Andrews

Above all else in a relegation scrap you need grace under fire. Alex McLeish's charges are starting to take a lead from their manager. They could easily have gone on to lose this game when pegged back to 2-1 and reduced to 10 men before the hour. But, like their manager, they refused to buckle.

McLeish has impressed over the past month with mature handling of the Martin Taylor/Eduardo affair, where he has keenly defended his player from the barbs of some of the biggest names in football. But yesterday he delivered on the pitch. He promised that his team, angry at their defeat to Reading last Saturday, would get a result this week. They did just that.

There was always the niggling feeling that this match would be low on skill quotient. It was, but then it was also high on busyness, with Mikael Forssell and Sebastian Larsson buzzing around as if their lives depended on it. There was also a fair degree of first-half dizziness and Benjani set the tone in the 10th minute. Elano slid a delightful, defence-splitting pass into the Birmingham area, but the Zimbabwean placed his effort against the post with the goal gaping.

Elano was to prove himself just as useful at the other end five minutes later, blocking Radhi Jaidi's header from Larsson's corner on the line. Two more Larsson crosses caused bother. First, Sun Jihai shinned a clearance just over his own crossbar and then Richard Dunne lobbed the Swede's cross on to the roof of his net.

But anything City could put high over the bar, so could Gary McSheffrey. Still struggling to look like a Premier League player, McSheffrey trickled a shot past the post with embarrassing apathy early on, but his worst was yet to come. Larsson's deep cross spun off the head of Dunne, only for McSheffrey to hoof a volley so high over the bar it would have shamed a Sunday League player.

It was left to Franck Queudrue to show the way to goal. Just past the half-hour he tested Hart with an audacious overhead kick before, minutes later, playing a raking ball through the City midfield to release Mauro Zarate, who showed Dunne a clean pair of heels and deftly lifted the ball over the advancing Joe Hart.

The Argentinean doubled Birmingham's lead nine minutes into the second half. McSheffrey began his second-half redemption by cushioning Forssell's header for Zarate to drill past Hart.

But then the game swung back to City two minutes later when Rob Styles made two important decisions while 40 yards behind play. He first, correctly, awarded a penalty when Queudrue brought down Benjani. He then, wrongly, dismissed the Frenchman when he was not last man. Elano coolly despatched the spot kick when the fuss died down.

City had the initiative for 15 minutes before Styles evened things up ridiculously  adjudging that Jihai bundled McSheffrey off the ball when both players quite fairly met with a decent shoulder charge. The midfielder slammed the penalty past Hart and delivering a precious four-point gap for McLeish.

Birmingham: Maik Taylor, Kelly, Jaidi, Queudrue, Murphy, Larsson, Muamba, Johnson, McSheffrey, Forssell (Parnaby 70), Zarate (O'Connor 90).
Subs Not Used: Doyle, Jerome, Nafti.

Sent Off: Queudrue (57).

Goals: Zarate 40, 54, McSheffrey 77 pen.

Man City: Hart, Jihai, Onuoha, Dunne, Garrido, Vassell (Caicedo 59), Gelson, Hamann (Geovanni 72), Ireland, Elano, Mwaruwari (Mpenza 81).
Subs Not Used: Isaksson, Corluka.

Booked: Caicedo, Geovanni.

Goals: Elano 59 pen.

Att: 22,962

Ref: Rob Styles (Hampshire).

Bolton Wanderers 0 Manchester City 0      Snore Draw
Saturday 22nd March 2008 : Stuart Shaw for GYKO at the Reebok

Struggling Bolton were forced to settle for a point after Manchester City refused to bow to pressure at the Reebok Stadium. The Trotters, battling to escape the relegation zone, produced a typically aggressive and energetic display as they searched for a crucial Barclays Premier League win.

The hosts produced a number of chances with Gretar Steinsson hitting the post and Kevin Davies having a late header cleared off the line but City held firm throughout. Gary Megson's side made their intentions clear from the start with El- Hadji Diouf firing a shot from the edge of the area straight at Joe Hart in the first minute. Diouf started brightly and sent in crosses that Nedum Onuhoa and Vedran Corluka, the second from just in front of the lurking Davies, had to clear.

Senegal international Diouf hit his target when he delivered a corner to the near post after seven minutes but Gretar Steinsson's header rebounded off the post. Ivan Campo also tried his luck from distance but shot well over as Bolton maintained their positive early impression.

City's first chance came from a 17th-minute corner when Ricardo Gardner headed away Stephen Ireland's powerful long-range shot.

Yet Bolton, recognising the seriousness of their situation, continued to force the pace and captain Kevin Nolan typified their urgency. Nolan, returning after missing the midweek defeat at Manchester United with a back injury, held off Gelson Fernandes to force his way into the box and shoot but Michael Johnson blocked.

Nolan was then booked after 33 minutes for catching Corluka on the shin with a late challenge after the City man had cleared. It was the kind of rash diving tackle that has attracted much criticism at the top level this season and Corluka required treatment before continuing.

Bolton continued to force the pace and Diouf again shot at Hart from distance in a replica of an earlier attempt at goal. The hosts suffered a blow in the last minute of the first half when Gardner was carried off on a stretcher after landing awkwardly under a challenge from Darius Vassell.

He was replaced at the start of the second period, just as it began to snow, by Joey O' Brien.

Bolton seemed even tougher in their approach as the game resumed with none of their players shying away from challenges, particularly Nolan and Davies.

One mistimed tackle allowed City to break as referee Andre Marriner played advantage after Danny Guthrie caught Benjani Mwaruwari.

Petrov raced clear down the left but a sliding Ireland was unable to meet his low cross into the box.

Benjani also broke into the area and substitute Elano shot after O'Brien inadvertently passed to him in an effort to clear but Ali Al Habsi saved.

Campo looked far from happy when Megson decided to replace him in the 63rd minute, the Spaniard leaving the field slowly and then trudging off down the tunnel. Diouf showed his strength to set up the next Bolton attack with Davies charging forward into the City half. He looked up to play in Matt Taylor but Elano got back to intercept.

Bolton then won a corner after Steinsson's shot was deflected and City were grateful Javier Garrido was standing in the way as Davies got a header in on target. Diouf then went through on goal from a Davies flick-on but Hart flung himself at the ball and saved with his legs as the former Liverpool striker tried to lift it over him. Taylor also shot wide as Bolton again failed to make the most of openings in the City defence.

City had a chance late on as Felipe Caceido had a shot blocked on the line but Marriner blew for an infringement in the box.

Benjani might also have snatched the game for City with just two minutes remaining but headed over from Corluka's cross.

Davies almost had the final say in injury time as he met a Stelios Giannakopolus corner but Petrov, placed at the far post, cleared his header off the line.

Bolton: Al Habsi, Steinsson, Cahill, Andrew O'Brien, Gardner (Joey O'Brien 46), Diouf, Nolan, Campo (McCann 63), Guthrie, Taylor (Giannakopoulos 83), Davies.
Subs Not Used: Walker, Rasiak.

Booked: Nolan.

Man City: Hart, Corluka, Onuoha, Dunne, Garrido, Ireland (Elano 58), Gelson, Johnson, Petrov, Vassell (Caicedo 58), Mwaruwari.
Subs Not Used: Isaksson, Jihai, Castillo.

Att: 22,633

Ref: Andre Marriner (W Midlands).

Manchester City 2 Tottenham 1      At last, City beat Spurs
Sunday 16th March 2008 : Rob White for GYKO at the COMSTAD

Sven-Goran Eriksson is due to meet Thaksin Shinawatra today to give a progress report on Manchester City's season and at one point yesterday it was easy to imagine their tête-à-tête being construed in some quarters as crisis talks. The team were losing, the crowd was restless and the atmosphere was reminiscent of the bad old days when Stuart Pearce complained that this stadium had the acoustics of a library.

But then something changed. Just before the hour, Stephen Ireland turned in City's first goal in 374 minutes of play and suddenly Eriksson's men were invigorated. The supporters rediscovered their voice and Nedum Onuoha rose superbly to head Elano's corner past Paul Robinson for the first goal of his City career.

The game had been turned upside-down and the fans behind Joe Hart's goal turned to the directors' box, where the former prime minister of Thailand was seated amid a posse of bodyguards wearing dark suits and 007 earpieces. "Thaksin, Thaksin, give us a wave," they requested and the Thai crook, with his unconvincing smile, rose to take the acclaim.

Not the first time the thought occurred that it is a strange set of circumstances that brings the supporters of this proud old club to serenade a man who, among other alleged wrongdoings, is due to stand trial in Bangkok on multimillion-pound corruption charges. This was the first time he had attended a game since being arrested in Thailand but it was a very public show of support from most of the supporters and, on the back of a stirring comeback, his talks with Eriksson promise to be far more relaxed than if, as had looked likely at half-time, Tottenham Hotspur had completed a league double over City for the fourth successive season.

Eriksson was certainly entitled to be happy because City had not won at home in the league since December 15 and, as he noted afterwards, the Premier League's statistics show there is only a 10% likelihood of winning a match after going a goal down. "It shows that our spirit and morale is still there," he said. "Plus it shows the players have not given up in terms of qualifying for Europe. We had taken only one point from our previous three games and if we had lost we would have been very far away. Now we are only far away. But today I am very pleased."

Much of that undoubtedly stemmed from relief because, with the notable exception of a 2-1 win at Manchester United, it has been a difficult 2008 for Eriksson. His team have abandoned all hope of reaching the Champions League and are now eyeing the Intertoto Cup, and few would have backed them to defeat Juande Ramos's team once Vedran Corluka's mistake had allowed Tottenham to take the lead through Robbie Keane's 21st goal of the season.

Eriksson took care not to criticise Corluka because, of all his foreign recruits, the Croatia international has arguably been the most impressive. That does not alter the fact, however, that Corluka was horribly to blame, completely misjudging an attempted interception to let Pascal Chimbonda amble forward, slide the ball into Keane's path and wait for his team-mate to do the rest.

Keane duly obliged with a stylish left-foot finish, yet this was not a day the Tottenham captain will remember with fondness. Ramos had shown his ruthless side at half-time by replacing Aaron Lennon with Tom Huddlestone and when he curtailed Keane's afternoon in the 67th minute it provoked a fit of pique. Keane had been one of Tottenham's brighter players and this was the seventh time in the last eight games he had been substituted. His response was to gesture angrily before stomping past Ramos and throwing a training top to the floor.

"I didn't see that," Ramos said. "But it's normal. Players want to play and they're disappointed when they are brought off. But it's a squad game. We have a big squad and from time to time we need to rest players who have had a lot of minutes."

He said all this with barely a flicker of concern on his face but his expression darkened when he was asked to analyse Tottenham's second-half performance. A gruelling Uefa Cup tie against PSV Eindhoven, with extra-time and penalties, undoubtedly contributed, but he also detected signs of complacency. "We were so much in command," he said of the first 45 minutes. "Maybe our players thought the game was won before it was."

His complaints extended to the match officials, and understandably so because Ireland was marginally offside when he turned in Elano's knockdown for the equaliser. The mistake was exacerbated late on when, from a free-kick, the flag was raised against Dimitar Berbatov, who seemed inactive as Onuoha, under pressure from Darren Bent, inadvertently turned the ball into his own net. "It should have been 2-1 to us," said Ramos. But by that stage Thaksin and his associates were toasting a win that stops the rot at City.

Man City: Hart, Corluka, Onuoha, Dunne, Garrido, Ireland, Gelson, Johnson, Castillo (Vassell 71), Elano (Caicedo 75), Mwaruwari (Jihai 88).
Subs Not Used: Isaksson, Geovanni.

Goals: Ireland 59, Onuoha 72.

Tottenham: Robinson, Hutton, Woodgate, Dawson, Chimbonda, Lennon (Huddlestone 46), Jenas, Zokora, Malbranque (O'Hara 67), Berbatov, Keane (Bent 67).
Subs Not Used: Cerny, Tainio.

Goals: Keane 32.

Att: 40,180

Ref: Mark Clattenburg (Tyne & Wear).

Reading 2 Manchester City 0           Slip Slidin' Away
Saturday March 8th 2008 : Stuart Collins for GYKO at the Madejski Stadium

Relegation battlers Reading boosted their hopes of beating the drop with a 2-0 Barclays Premier League win over Manchester City at Madejski Stadium.

A second-half strike from Shane Long - with new assistant Republic of Ireland manager Liam Brady watching in the stands - and a late goal from substitute Dave Kitson proved enough for a second successive win by the Royals to move out of the bottom three.

City lost captain Richard Dunne to a leg injury, which needed stitches, and also had a strong penalty appeal turned down by referee Uriah Rennie.

Reading boss Steve Coppell kept faith with a winning team as the Royals looked to move out of the Barclays Premier League relegation zone against Manchester City this afternoon.

Victory at Middlesbrough last week with a goal from James Harper in stoppage time ended an eight-game losing run, and the Royals will move out of bottom three with a point at their Madejski Stadium.

City, meanwhile, were looking for a win to re-ignite their push for a top-six finish and European qualification. Manager Sven-Goran Eriksson was able to bring back Brazil midfielder Elano, fit again following a knee injury, but Martin Petrov was suspended. Stephen Ireland was on the bench, and would be hoping for a chance to impress watching Republic of Ireland assistant boss Liam Brady.

Reading made a bright start. John Oster broke into the right side of the penalty area, but his pass across the face of goal was just too far ahead of Kevin Doyle.

After 10 minutes, a free-kick from the left channel was floated into the City box - but captain Richard Dunne was on hand to boot the ball clear.

Benjani Mwaruwari found some space and skipped clear into the right side of the Reading box. But his final touch was too heavy, taking the ball into the hands of goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann.

Slowly the visitors began to settle into a rhythm. After 18 minutes, City midfielder Dietmar Hamann was cautioned for a late trip on Stephen Hunt.

A deep cross from John Oster then picked out the Reading man at the far post, but his looping header was safely collected by City goalkeeper Joe Hart.

City almost snatched the lead after 24 minutes.

A free-kick from the left touchline was sent over by Elano, and the ball bounced through to Vedran Corluka - who looked surprised at the chance and could only somehow guide it over the bar from five yards with his knee.

Benjani should have done better when he met Darius Vassell's cross at the far post, but headed tamely at the keeper.

City were forced into a change after 30 minutes when Dunne had to be taken off on a stretcher, replaced by Sun Jihai, after badly twisting and also cutting his knee following a challenge with Hunt.

Doyle - another Irishman hoping to impress - flicked on a corner from Hunt at the near post, but the ball flew behind.

Shane Long then also went close, this time with a backward header from Oster's left-wing free-kick.

Reading were enjoying a good spell as half-time approached.

Midfielder Marek Matejovsky drilled in a low, angled shot from the right edge of the penalty area, which Hart kept out with a fine reaction save.

Michael Johnson weaved into the Reading box, and looked to have been tripped by Royals skipper Ivar Ingimarsson - but referee Uriah Rennie was having none of it and booked the City man for what he saw as a dive.

At half-time, City revealed Dunne had received nine stitches in a shin wound and is now set for a spell on the sidelines.

Matejovsky had another chance to shoot from the edge of the area when the ball dropped to him following a corner but this time the Czech midfielder was way off target.

Slowly, City started to get a grip on the game. After 49 minutes, Gelson Fernandes let fly from 25 yards but his shot was straight at Hahnemann.

Elano was then given space on the left, and his low strike from distance was only just the wrong side of Hahnemann's right-hand post.

Reading, though, were still dangerous on the break, and Long just failed to connect with a deep ball from the right into the six-yard box.

As the hour mark passed, City sent on Ecuador forward Felipe Caicedo for Vassell.

The hosts continued to press and Doyle saw his angled drive from the right side of the area deflected into the side netting.

From the corner, Andre Bikey managed to get into space at the near post and slammed the ball goalwards, which Hart pushed onto the bar from point-blank range.

Reading, however, were soon in front.

A goal-kick was flicked on by Ireland forward Long out to the left after 62 minutes. Doyle chased the ball down and held off Michael Ball before cutting inside to the goal-line.

His pull-back was straight into the path of the on-rushing Long, who had continued his run and made no mistake with a cool finish from five yards.

City replaced Hamann with Nery Castillo as Eriksson looked to get back into the match.

Hart blocked a shot from Hunt as the Royals went in search of a goal to kill off the game.

The atmosphere inside the Madejski Stadium was tense as the match entered the final 10 minutes.

Long was given a rest when Reading sent on Dave Kitson.

The Reading substitute made sure of victory with a fine solo effort on 87 minutes, cutting in from the right before slotting into the bottom corner from 10 yards.

Reading: Hahnemann, Rosenior, Bikey, Ingimarsson, Shorey, Oster, Harper, Matejovsky (Cisse 79), Hunt, Doyle, Long (Kitson 82).
Subs Not Used: Federici, Sonko, Kebe.

Goals: Long 62, Kitson 88.

Man City: Hart, Garrido, Corluka, Dunne (Jihai 29), Ball, Hamann (Castillo 67), Gelson, Vassell (Caicedo 59), Elano, Johnson, Mwaruwari.
Subs Not Used: Schmeichel, Ireland.

Booked: Hamann, Johnson.

Att: 24,062

Ref: Uriah Rennie (S Yorkshire).


Manchester City 0 Wigan Athletic 0        Bore Draw
Saturday 1st March 2008 : Harry Bishop for GYKO at the COMSTAD

Manchester City's dream of bringing European football to Eastlands continues to fade after they were held at home by Wigan Athletic. It is City's inconsistent home form which is proving their undoing as they have now gone six league games at the City Of Manchester Stadium without a win.

What a contrast to earlier when they won their first nine home league games to occupy a Champions League spot for much of the early part of the season. But this was a poor performance and City's season is in danger of petering out into a damp squib as they slip down the table.

Battling Wigan, meanwhile, picked up another valuable point in their fight to stave off relegation.
They also maintained their excellent record against City, who have failed to beat them in their last six Premier League meetings.

City had the better of the handful of scoring chances in a dismal goalless opening half.

Wigan keeper Chris Kirkland made an excellent early save to keep out a header from Darius Vassell following a left-wing cross from Michael Ball.

Stephen Ireland then curled a shot narrowly over the crossbar before turning provider to put Benjani Mwaruwari clean through on goal with an inch-perfect pass.

Kirkland again came to Wigan's rescue by racing from his line to bravely block at the feet of Benjani and in the process sustained a chest injury which needed treatment.

Wigan only managed a couple of attempts at goal, but Marlon King and Emile Heskey failed to trouble keeper Joe Hart .

City lost Brazilian Elano, who limped of with a knee injury minutes after the restart and then, shortly after the hour-mark, manager Sven-Goran Eriksson took off Ireland.

But the introduction of Ecuador international Felipe Caicedo and Mexican Nery Castillo failed to inspire City, who continued to labour as they rarely threatened to break down a well-disciplined Wigan defence.

City had a great chance to make a breakthrough in the 71st minute when Caicedo and Vassell combined to open up the Wigan defence, only for Benjani to shoot wide from six yards when it looked as though he could not miss.

Yet in the closing stages, Wigan had two great chances to snatch victory.

Heskey's hard work set up Wilson Palacios and the Honduran was denied by a super save from Hart, the first time the City keeper had been troubled all afternoon.

Then Jason Koumas and Luis Antonio Valencia linked well to set up substitute Antoine Sibierski, only fro the ex-City player to see his goal-bound shot blocked by City captain Richard Dunne.

Manchester City manager Sven-Goran Eriksson said: "I thought we were dangerous right until the end but we couldn't score.

"We were a little bit unlucky and Benjani could have scored once or twice.

"I am concerned that we don't score goals at home and we find it hard to break teams down. We need to win soon."

Manchester City: Joe Hart, Nedum Onuoha, Vedran Corluka, Richard Dunne, Michael Ball, Stephen Ireland (Nery Castillo 63), Blumer Elano (Felipe Caicedo 49), Michael Johnson, Gelson Fernandes, Darius Vassell, Benjani Mwaruwari,

Subs not used: Andreas Isaksson, Javier Garrido, Dietmar Hamann

Wigan Athletic: Chris Kirkland, Mario Melchiot, Paul Scharner, Emmerson Boyce, Erik Edman, Wilson Roberto Palacios, Luis Antonio Valencia, Jason Koumas, Michael Brown, Emile Heskey, Marlon King (Antoine Sibierski 66),

Subs not used: Salomon Olembe, Titus Bramble, Marcus Bent, Mike Pollitt

Booked: Michael Brown 35

Referee: Steve Bennett

Attendance: 38261


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