‘Gritty, backs-to-the-wall, robust, stubborn and hard-working’ aren’t words you normally associate with Man City, but at Eastlands this afternoon, all those characteristics were shown in abundance by the Blues. A Pablo Zabaleta strike early in the second-half proved to be the winner, and although Richard Dunne was sent off almost immediately, City hung on for a memorable victory.
Blues boss Mark Hughes made a number of changes to the City side which started against Notts Forest in the FA Cup. Wayne Bridge made his debut at left-back, Nedum Onuoha was handed a rare opportunity in defence, Brazilian superstar Robinho returned after injury, whilst winger Shaun Wright-Phillips recovered from his injury to start. Argentinean defender Pablo Zabaleta was forced to start in central midfield alongside Vincent Kompany due to other injuries, which meant that Micah Richards was pushed to right-back, a position which many feel is his best.
Richards Dunne Onuoha Bridge
SWP Elano Robinho
Subs: Schmeichel, Garrido, Weiss, Fer******, Vassell, Jo(ke), Caicedo
Can I just add that the real reason City won the game was because the team that started against Wigan was exactly the same one that I played in the preview, except for SWP in for Garrido. If I had known that SWP was going to be fit, then that would have been the exact same team 🙂
Slovakian youngster Vladimir Weiss was named on the bench for the first time
The home side started the game strongly, with Robinho having a couple of fantastic chances to open the scoring. The first one came after 11 minutes when Elano played a glorious through-ball directly into Robinho’s path, but as the Brazilian bore down on goal, Wigan’s Austrian defender Paul Scharner got back and forced Robinho to put the shot wide. Moments later, Robinho was in on goal again after another pass from Elano. This time, he delicately lifted the ball over the oncoming Chris Kirkland, only to see error-prone defender Titus Bramble on the line to hack the ball away. City continued to press, and young English striker Danny Sturridge headed over the bar from a tight angle after a cross from the right. Wigan’s soon-to-depart midfielder Wilson Palacios tested Joe Hart with a couple of long range efforts, but City looked comfortable going in at the break.
After half-time, City continued where they had left off, and the first goal arrived after 54 minutes, when Pablo Zabaleta smashed in his first strike for the club from just outside the area following a Daniel Sturridge cross. The Argentinean looked thrilled with the effort, and the goal boosted the atmosphere around the ground. However, within 60 seconds of the game restarting, City did the usual City thing and shot themselves in the foot. Captain Richard Dunne competed in the air for a header with Wigan’s Egyptian striker Amr Zaki, and as both men lay on the floor, Dunne seemed to kick out at the forward. Referee Lee Mason was standing only yards away and immediately brandished a red card for the skipper. In the ensuing reshuffle, Belgian international Vincent Kompany moved into the centre of defence to partner Nedum Onuoha and on came Javier ‘I met his parents – aren’t I lucky’ Garrido in place of Sturridge. The Blues had to play for the rest of the game, around 35 minutes, without their inspirational captain.
Zabaleta celebrates scoring his first goal for the club
For the next half an hour, it was like the siege of the Alamo. Wigan piled the pressure onto City, throwing not just the kitchen sink at the Blues, but also the fridge and the oven!! Elano, now playing more defensively, cleared a header off the line, while Scharner also went close following a corner. With time running out, Amr Zaki was gifted a glorious opportunity to claim an equaliser. After a Lee Cattermole header bounced off the crossbar with Joe Hart stranded, the ball fell kindly for Zaki, just three yards out to head the ball into an open goal. However, somehow the striker contrived to put his finish over the bar, an effort which even Darius Vassell would have been proud of. The away side continued to apply pressure and should, in my opinion, have had two penalties, when Elano handled in the box and when Zabaleta seemed to catch Cattermole as the midfielder tried to shoot. Fortunately the referee failed to see the infringements and City had been let off the hook. There was still time for more drama, when, after Kirkland had come up for a Wigan corner in the dying seconds, the ball fell to Elano 55 yards out, but the Brazilian couldn’t direct his effort and the shot trickled wide. The final whistle went shortly after and the Blues claimed a hard-fought, battling three points.
Elano battles with Palacios for the ball
Wayne Bridge ‘v’ Luis Antonio Valencia
Bridge was excellent on his debut for City although as the game wore on his lack of match practice was evident and Valencia started to become more involved. Overall, the City defender controlled the tricky winger well. Winner = Bridge
Pablo Zabaleta ‘v’ Maynor Figueroa
Unfortunately, this contest never took place, as the Argentinean played in a more central midfield role. He did get on the scoresheet however, whilst Figueroa was kept busy with Wright-Phillips. Winner = Zabaleta
Richard Dunne and Nedum Onuoha ‘v’ Emile Heskey and Amr Zaki
Onuoha was magnificent at the heart of the defence, as was Dunne until his sending off. Both Heskey and Zaki caused some problems but not as many as they would have wanted. Winners = Dunne and Onuoha
Hart – A safe and sound performance from the young goalkeeper, including a couple of good punches and saves – 7
Richards – Prefers right-back position and it showed. A huge improvement on his performances at centre-half. Got forward well and looked secure at the back – 8
Dunne – Stupid sending off, but until then, looked very assured. Will be missed for the next four games – 6
Onuoha – Brilliant showing from the youngster. Not a regular for the Blues, but will be if he carries on playing like that – 9
Bridge – Efficient debut from the former Chelsea man. Got forward well, especially in the first half but tired towards the end – 8
SWP – Only passed fit on the morning of the match, and put in a hard-working shift – 7
Zabaleta – Unusual position in the centre of the park, and in the first-half, looked poor but what an improvement after the break!! Attacked more and scored crucial goal. When Dunne was sent-off, he put in a captain’s shift, working so hard in defence and clinging on for the win – 9
Kompany – Yet again he continues to impress. Did sound job in midfield, but looked even better with Onuoha in defence. Got his head to everything and will probably stay in defence for a while – 9
Elano – A revelation. Never seen him work so hard. Was superb in first-half, creating chances for Robinho, and then again in second-half when he dropped a bit deeper – 9.5
Robinho – Was a threat all afternoon, even when he played up-front on his own. Should have scored a couple but and needs to work on his left foot – 8
Sturridge – Hard work for him against Bramble and Scharner, but tried his best to hold the ball up. Will benefit from playing alongside someone – 6.5
Garrido – How slow did he look!! Was not match fit and was bypassed by on countless occassions by Valencia – 4
Man of the Match – Elano
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