Blackburn 0 Manchester City 2: match report
This was a fitting venue for Mark Hughes and his expensively assembled team to begin their assault on the Champions League coterie. Ewood Park is the birthplace of sugar daddy football, where a rich man's millions brought glory to an unlikely club. The scale has changed Uncle Jack Walker had a fraction of the vast wealth assembled by Sheikh Mansour but the mission is the same: fast-track success. Kenny Dalglish spent Uncle Jack's millions on Alan Shearer and Chris Sutton to deliver Blackburn the 1995 title, giving this club a fleeting spell amongst the elite. City seek more sustained success and building remorselessly towards it. With ambition comes expectation, and with every million spent, the limits of what City are expected to achieve have been pushed further and further back. Against his former club, which he taught to box above its weight again, his new team faced their first public examination of substance. They passed. Just. All the pre-match pressure seemed to evaporate with less than three minutes on the clock. Blackburn had piled forward and Shaun Wright-Phillips found space on the right wing. Emmanuel Adebayor picked up the ball in the centre circle and sent him scampering off with a superb ball into the space. Wright-Phillips cut back inside, leaving the retreating Stephen Warnock on his backside, and pulled the ball back to Adebayor who was sprinting forward in support. The £25million signing from Arsenal met it with a crisp, first-time shot that whistled past Paul Robinson at the near post. Piece of cake, this, surely? The euphoria did not last long. Blackburn began a sustained and intense aerial assault on the City defence, hitting direct balls at Benni McCarthy and Jason Roberts. In trying and succeeding to avoid relegation last season, Sam Allardyce had made a Faustian pact to play some of the most miserable and negative football of recent seasons, fielding his giant defender Chris Samba as a lone striker. Ok, while this was hardly the prettiest stuff you will have seen it was direct football played positively, with two strikers and two wingers, Morten Gamst Pedersen and El Hadj Diouf, providing a remorseless barrage of deliveries. With the cheapest season tickets in the league and a near full house, it was the kind of aggressive football to get the supporters behind the team. It was a rough introduction to his new existence for Kolo Toure, as Roberts repeatedly battered him in aerial challenges. The impressive Rovers debutant Steven Nzoni went close to equalising, as did Roberts when, seizing on to Samba's knockdown, he could not keep his side-footer down. With half an hour gone Shay Given was forced to pull of the first of several astute saves. Diouf's corner unerringly picked out the 6ft 4in Samba and Given had to dive low to his left to keep out the Congelese defender's thumped header. Richard Dunne had made several important blocks, typical of his fire-fighting style, but when Roberts breezed past him in the City box, you could see why Hughes feels he needs a centre half with more mobility, like Joleon Lescott say. Fortunately for Dunne, McCarthy's shot from Roberts' drag back was too close to Given. City continued to struggle to impose themselves on the game Given had to make another good save to deny Roberts in the second half and their forays into the Rovers half were only really effective when they counter-attacked at pace. Ireland wasted a great chance on one such break, curling his left-footed effort high and wide. This approach is clearly not sustainable. City could not retain possession, the team is not designed for it. The central midfielders, Ireland and Barry, are box to box players the more reflective Nigel de Jong was left on the bench and they need a player of his composure to anchor the more freewheeling elements, Robinho foremost. The Brazilian, with his pathological irresponsibility to all things defensive, destroys the balance of the side if they plays as a left winger 4-4-2. Not only is Wayne Bridge left isolated but with Robinho's penchant for improvisation over structure means the whole team looks lop-sided. Hughes will have to find a system to accommodate his maverick. He'll also have to find a way of fitting Carlos Tevez in. There is palabale schadenfreude among the City support in their crowing over having poached one of United's favourites and his arrival as a second-half substitute he's recovering from a heel injury was greeted rapturously. He nearly scored, too, playing an excellent extended one-two with Wright-Phillips only to see his shot blocked by Robinson. The risk with all these new men with big salaries coming in is that Hughes overlooks the talents he already has. It is essential he does not do that with Ireland, the most improved player in the Premier League last season. His development must continue and it was no surprise that, with Blackburn over-extended in quest of an equaliser, it was his goal which gave the result a light blue gloss. Ireland got in behind Givet, who had slipped on the slick top, and made to go round Robinson. The Blackburn goalkeeper committed himself but Ireland did not shoot checking back inside, looking for an option. Robinson got up but back away from the City midfielder who impishly passed the ball into the net. Along with Wright-Phillips and Richards, Ireland threw his shirt into the away end after the final whistle. Excessive to say the least. Clearly, managing expectation is going to be tough.
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