Verdict: Manchester City 5 Birmingham City 1
Goals: Tevez 38 (pen), 41, Onuoha 76, Adebayor 43, 87 for City. Jerome 42 for Birmingham.
Once Birmingham’s resolute defence was breached, the floodgates opened as City’s attack racked up five with Tevez, Adebayor and, more surprisingly, Nedum Onuoha running riot. This was another performance to put the pressure on our rivals for a Champions League place.
Before kick-off, the day was already memorable with Bert Trautmann being introduced to the crowd. Last time he was here, I remember him doing a slightly bizarre lap of honour at Maine Road in a popemobile.
This time there was a ‘guard of honour’ featuring former City goalkeepers. I have to confess I didn’t recognise everyone, but it was great to see Joe Corrigan at one end and Joe Hart at the other. This looked like another sign that Hart is still very much in the thoughts of City. Shay and Joe also exchanged a bit of friendly banter.
With Sylvinho and Wayne Brige unfit, and Zabaleta suspended, it was down to Javier Garrido to step in at left-back. Otherwise the team was set to be unchanged, until Vieira pulled out in the warm-up.
This meant Nigel de Jong came in with the knowledge that he had to avoid a booking if he wanted to be eligible for the games against United and Arsenal. It was an intriguing situation and the dutchman was clearly not taking any chances on sliding tackles or deliberate fouls.
Instead he gave an excellent display of maintaining discipline and positional awareness. Years ago, the combative David Batty was renowned for getting booked but never getting sent off as he would modify his game following a caution. Nigel was clearly operating under a similar self-restraint and came through admirably.
For the first half-hour Birmingham looked well set up to frustrate, with virtually everyone funnelling behind the ball. It was beginning to work with some of the crowd getting agitated as City moved the ball sideways.
Fortunately the players and manager were more patient with Gareth Barry excelling in midfield. A difference between here and the Everton game, where we were kept at bay, was the presence of Adebayor.
Against the Toffees, the combined efforts of Tevez, Bellamy, Johnson and Santa Cruz hadn’t been enough. The unpredictable moments of quality had been missed, whereas here Adebayor engineered the breakthrough by earning a penalty. It may have been soft, but it was enough.
Once behind, Birmingham had to come out and offer a little more space to our attacking quartet. What followed was breathtaking. An attempted Bellamy cross resulted in a corner, from which Onuoha enjoyed a mismatch with Lee Bowyer to power a header down and into the net. It may have flicked off Tevez’s boot to enable him to claim a second goal, but the glory belonged to Nedum.
Birmingham are a well drilled side who are not only hard to break down, but have come from behind to get results several times this season. A neat move caught City out as McFadden took Toure close to the byline before chipping a cross to Jerome, who had pulled away from Garrido, to head home. It was a basic mistake by the Spaniard, and one that demonstrates why Bridge would be welcomed back for the derby.
Almost immediately, Gareth Barry played the pass of the afternoon to Bellamy, who took out the keeper with a first time cross to enable Adebayor to tap into an empty net. Quite an end to the first half.
The second half saw Birmingham enjoy more possession and City reverted to their old tactic of sitting a little to deep for comfort. However this does allow us to break at speed and we continued to create the better of the chances. Tevez was at the fore, but his finishing was poor. On one occasion he really should have passed to Adebayor. The Togolese is often considered not to be the team man, but here it was Carlos, who seems to have his eyes on the Golden Boot (currently four behind Rooney).
Adam Johnson did well, cutting in from the left, but fired over as the missed chances began to get annoying. Step forward Nedum Onuoha. And he did, inadvertently playing a one-two off a Birmingham player, before mis-hitting a pass which he ran on to himself, and finally firing cooly into the bottom corner.
The game was effectively over and Mancini took to making substitutions. Wright-Phillips came on to a cheer, but was asked to play on the left wing while Johnson stayed on the right. There’s now little doubt that Bellamy, Adabayor, Tevez and Johnson are our best attacking quartet.
Johnson is better able to beat a defender than Wright-Phillips and less wasteful with possession. The tracking back of both Johnson and Bellamy is good to see, even if the Wearsider isn’t a great tackler.
From a deep position his hoofed clearance allowed Adebayor to show a neat turn and clean pair of heels to run through and score our fifth. The finish was similar to his second at Burnley, once again demonstrating his confidence.
Even with the game won, the defence kept it’s concentration and this is a hallmark of the Mancini regime. Greg Cunningham spent several minutes receiving instructions from the manager before coming on in the 89th minute. We have a manager who is neither fazed or over excited by being near the top of the league.
“We have been awesome going forward in recent games and at times our strikers and wide midfield players have looked unstoppable.
“But just as important as form at this stage is staying together as a unit, fighting as one and making sure we are concentrating at all times.”
After the game, thoughts quickly turned to next week’s derby, but it’s worth savouring this victory for a little while. We showed patience before continuing from where we left off at half-time against Burnley. Confidence couldn’t be higher with our attacking players complementing each other in a heady mix of all the qualities required to win games.
With the exception of Garrido, the defence is also looking strong with Kompany continuing to ensure that Lescott isn’t missed. A return to form of Gareth Barry was perhaps the biggest plus in this match as we look to the upcoming games. Stiffer tests may await, but we look ready for them.