FA Cup verdict: Manchester City 1 Reading 0
City booked their first appearance at the new Wembley, and their first FA Cup semi-final since 1981 courtesy of a Micah Richards header from a David Silva corner. Reading provided spirited opposition but the return of Nigel de Jong helped ease City through.
“They made it very difficult but Micah scored a great goal. I am very happy for the supporters, going to Wembley is special.”
Signs of fatigue were inevitable in a City side who had only returned from the Ukraine at 5am on Friday morning. Mancini sought to refresh his side intelligently with four changes in the shape of Vieira, de Jong, Wright-Phillips and Tevez.
De Jong was the key figure with a defensive midfield display to remind everyone of what we’ve been missing in the last few weeks. Reading caused us problems down the flanks, but everything through the middle was swept up by Nigel. It’s worth noting that he also completed more passes than anybody else on the pitch.
The restoration of Wright-Phillips gave us pace and energy which might otherwise have been lacking. In the first half Shaun was particularly lively, testing McCarthy in the Reading goal with a stinging shot.
The second period saw less of an end product, though his work-rate was a welcome contribution. At one point he could even be seen dropping back to centre-half as cover for Lescott who was in turn covering for Kolarov.
The Serb was a concern once more, suffering a testing time against the lively Kebe. Lescott was often called upon to help out. In fairness to Kolarov, he was often left two against one when the Reading full-back pushed forward. Silva offered little cover, despite being notionally stationed on the left-flank.
The Spaniard’s movement is key to our success going forward, but it can leave the opposition full-back as a free man when we don’t have the ball. In this game we survived thanks to Reading’s delivery from the flanks being cut out in the middle by Kompany and Lescott.
Throughout the game our quality threatened to deliver a breakthrough, without us ever finding our best form. Given the number of games recently, this was as much as could be expected.
Unfortunately Tevez was in one of his less clinical moods and the longer the game remained goalless, the greater the anxiety among the fans. With Tevez not firing, and half-chances continuing to be created, there was a case for bringing on Dzeko.
The Bosnian has enjoyed some success in the cups thus far, and his composed finishing wouldn’t have gone amiss. Instead Mancini plumped for Balotelli, and we were treated to the usual mix of fine touches and careless play.
On the plus side, Mario chased down a defender for the corner which led to the goal. The downside was demonstrated by how, when supposedly defending the near post at a corner, he allowed a Reading player to get in front and flick the ball on. He was stationed elsewhere for the next corner.
Scoring what proved to be the only goal was a just reward for Micah. His form is good, and he’s been winning headers at corners for some time without getting on the scoresheet. In the first half he knuckled down to keeping the dangerous looking McAnuff quiet and the winger was eventually substituted.
“It is going well for me in this competition.
“I have always had a bit of a leap and I try to use it as much as I can so I am delighted with this goal.
“I have been working hard all season, practising the things I need to improve on, and it is paying off.
Inevitably there was some tension in the closing minutes but, looking back, Joe Hart only had one straightforward save to make. It proved we can do a professional job under Mancini, and everyone could look forward to Wembley and the prospect of another game against United.
Whilst we may have lost at Old Trafford recently, there was enough in the performance to suggest victory could be achieved. It may well come down to who is sharpest on the day, and results in this week’s European games could be a factor here.
If United beat Marseille then they will have a Champions League fixture on the Tuesday or Wednesday before the semi-final. If City turn things around against Dynamo Kiev then we’ll be playing a Europa League game on the Thursday of that week.
It’s an intriguing situation: go out against Kiev and all our trophy winning hopes are in one basket, but our chances of being sharp enough to beat United will be increased. One thing is clear, our recent form has been uninspired and we will need to improve to beat United.
Before that there’s the small matter of a trip to Stamford Bridge next weekend and the need to get a result and keep our bid for a Champions League place on track. All the same, Wembley beckons…