Verdict: Manchester City 4 Blackburn Rovers 1
Goals: Tevez 7, 49 and 90+1, Richards 39 for City. Pedersen 71 for Blackburn.
It was all the fours for City with a quartet of goals, Roberto Mancini’s fourth win, City’s fourth consecutive league win and, most importantly, up to fourth place in the table.
Once again it was application in defence punctuated by scintillating goals that saw City home. Another outstanding display from Carlos Tevez saw him score a hat-trick, while Micah Richards’ epic run for his goal was one for everyone to enjoy. Don’t let anyone say he’s lacking in confidence after that!
Mancini sprang a surprise in his starting line-up with Benjani retaining his place at the head of the attack. Garrido got the nod over Sylvinho, and elsewhere it was as expected. Richards came in alongside Kompany to form the third central defensive partnership in four games for Mancini.
With Bellamy on the left, Martin Petrov had to make do with the right wing while Shaun Wright-Phillips was on the bench alongside Robinho and the returning Roque Santa Cruz.
Prior to the game, it looked like Rovers might come to grind out a point, and City would have to break them down. Thanks to a poor punch by Paul Robinson from a Petrov corner this wasn’t the case. Benjani attempted a shot past the flailing Robinson and succeeded in sending the ball to Tevez, who guided it over the line with his thigh. 1-0 after seven minutes and Big Sam’s game plan was out of the window.
With Rovers having to come out, City were able to play a similar game to the others we have seen under Mancini. Namely, resolute defending with the emphasis on concentration and organisation, with patient build-up play giving way to moments of incisive attacking.
Kompany and Richards were looking strong in central defence, and this is the area where the team looks most improved under Mancini. With Hughes no player looked comfortable at centre-back, whereas it doesn’t seem to matter who Mancini picks – they all look good. Joleon Lescott must be cursing his injury.
Over at left-back, Javier Garrido enjoyed a relatively untroubled evening as he was given support whenever he needed it. The need to sign new defenders is looking less pressing by the game.
Petrov has often done a decent job on the right wing but didn’t look happy about being there in this game. For a spell in the first half he switched flanks with Bellamy, but it didn’t improve the balance and Mancini soon moved them back.
With Benjani playing as a target man, City had the option of playing long balls and didn’t shirk from using it. As we all know, Benjani is enthusiastic rather than dominating, and the tactic was as unsuccessful here as it had been under Hughes.
Both Tevez and Petrov remonstrated with Richards after one aimless punt to many, and the consequences were remarkable. Next time Micah had the ball at his feet, he chose to bring it forward, and powered on and on as would be challengers were left trailing.
Rather than an over-enthusiastic blast, the run culminated with a neat pass to Benjani who took a touch and struck a decent shot against the post. Fortune favoured Micah as the ball bounced out in his direction for him to wallop home and give us one of the most enjoyable goals seen at Eastlands.
Rather than letting the excitement go to his head, it was great to see Micah make a clearance in Blackburn’s next attack.
Apparently Big Sam told his players to keep it tight after half-time, but they were no more successful in the second half than the first. Tevez won the ball in the middle, played it out to Benjani on the wing, who did well to out-muscle the defender and pick a cross into the penalty area. It may have been intended for Petrov, but Tevez was running in to fire past Robinson for a goal of genuine quality.
He should have had another shortly after as Zabaleta floated over a perfect cross that his fellow Argentinian managed to head wide. This was City at their most confident, but it didn’t last as we soon reverted to containing Rovers.
Our passing was poor as de Jong and Barry sat deep and invited Blackburn to test our defence. Kompany was having an outstanding game, but was badly at fault for the Rovers goal when a heavy touch let Pedersen in. The Norwegian took the opportunity well with a strike that gave Given no chance.
The City defence looked devastated to have finally conceded a goal under Mancini’s tenure. The manager appeared furious on the touchline, and said as much afterwards.
“Carlos Tevez played very, very well. All the team concentrated for 90 minutes but I’m angry because we conceded a goal. Our gift. I think it’s most important we stay concentrated for all the time.
“For me we were playing very, very well. We must continue to play well and not concede one goal.”
All this is heartening stuff. If we’re to be a side challenging at the top of the table then conceding a goal in this manner should be considered a shock. The impression is that the players will need to re-focus on keeping clean sheets for the stiff tests ahead at Goodison Park and against Manchester United.
The team did wobble after conceding and their was a restlessness in the crowd. Fortunately the quality of our substitutes enabled us to regain the initiative. Robinho looked sharp and hungry to be involved. His superior technique, touch and passing ability got us moving forward again.
Likewise Santa Cruz came on for a flagging Benjani and was better able to hold the ball up. Normally a team player, the prospect of scoring against his old club got the better of him on a breakaway and he shot rather than passed to the better placed Tevez.
It didn’t matter as Robinho teed up Tevez to slot home his hat-trick from the edge of the penalty area. The headlines well and truly belonged to the Argentine.
One final point regards the “minimum” three minutes of additional time that the fourth official indicated. Following Tevez’s goal, there was a clash of heads that resulted in two Blackburn players requiring treatment. Upon the restart, the referee blew for full-time without adding on any additional time for the goal celebration or treatment of the injured players. Nobody bothered as the result was decided, but it illustrates just how discretional additional “Fergie” time is.
Following his much criticised performance against Stoke, Robinho has now responded with two excellent appearances from the bench. Bellamy and Petrov weren’t at their best and it will be interesting to see if the Brazilian has earnt a start against Everton or United.
With the team doing so well, and other players returning to fitness there’s now real competition for places in the tougher games coming up. Getting up to fourth is fantastic, now we shall see if we can stay there.