Manchester City take heart from strength in depth against Copenhagen

26 February 2009 10:07
At least one Premier League manager has not forgotten a European adventure is supposed to be a blessing rather than a curse. Where Tottenham and Aston Villa slighted their fans and the competition by fielding reserve sides, Mark Hughes named his best XI and was rewarded with a victory which leaves Manchester City as the Premier League's sole survivors in the UEFA Cup.

Craig Bellamy, who had asked to be left out of the game after the death of his cousin the day before the game following a congenital illness, scored twice late on to set up a last 16 return to Denmark to face AaB Aalborg. That his manager persuaded the grieving striker to play was not only proved correct, but provided evidence of how much Hughes wants to win this competition.

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Mark Hughes praises Craig Bellamy's positive impact on Manchester City

He said: 'It was touch and go whether Craig felt he was in the right frame of mind to play tonight but he did under very difficult circumstances. That showed great character and great mental strength.

'We could have left him out but I feel a lot better about winning games with Craig in the team and I wanted to make sure we got through. I can't criticise anyone else's approach and they clearly have other priorities but it was only right and proper that we put out a strong team.

'Who's wrong and who's right? That's a matter of opinion but I'd suggest we're right.'

No doubt the Aston Villa fans who trekked to Moscow or Tottenham's support who travelled to the Ukraine in the middle of winter would agree. But, ironically, in truth City probably could have fielded a weakened side and still made it through.

Copenhagen offered little attacking threat of note, while City, inspired by Robinho, looked dangerous almost every time they attacked.

The Brazilian, more than any other, will know the importance to the club of a good run in the UEFA Cup. If City are to fulfil their promises of surrounding him with players of his calibre, they need to prove themselves a suitable stage for the world's best. No doubt Hughes has drummed that message into his players. Robinho seems at time to have decided to bring it about all by himself.

In the opening period, he teed up Pablo Zabaleta, who shot straight at Jesper Christiansen, then the Brazilian headed Bellamy's deflected cross against the bar. For his next trick, he rounded two defenders but saw his shot smothered. A neat one-two with Bellamy saw the Welshman's bobbling shot rebound off the post.

Given that the pair were reported to barely be on speaking terms off the field – a suggestion ridiculed by Bellamy and Hughes – Robinho and his strike partner communicate well enough on it. They went close when the Brazilian ignored the Welshman to set up Shaun Wright-Phillips, whose pass just eluded the onrushing Stephen Ireland and the far post, but they soon got their rewards.

Mathias Jorgensen could only help Zabaleta's raking pass into Bellamy's path and the striker coolly slotted home, pointing to the sky in memory of his cousin and 'best friend.' It should have been two when Robinho danced through only to, somehow, sidefoot wide, and it was when the former Real Madrid player laid the ball off for Bellamy to finish after another mesmerising run down the left.

Even a late Martin Vingaard consolation, with the last kick of the game, was not enough. City, at full strength, were through. Just like Tottenham and Villa, they got what they deserved.


Source: Telegraph

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