So that’s two vital away wins in two cup competitions on consecutive Wednesday nights for Manchester City.
Football wisdom has it that it’s results and not performances that count. It’s just as well then for Manuel Pellegrini.
Last week in Moscow it was a case of watching paint dry – literally as well as metaphorically – as the Russians gave the dreadful Khimiki Arena turf a makeover. City then laboured to overcome CSKA 2-1 in the Champions League.
Last night City’s hearty travelling support were better off watching the grass grow at St James’ Park for 98 minutes, up until the point when the boys in blue decided to win an insipid encounter with Newcastle, within a five minute spell in extra time.
Not that anyone associated with City is complaining. The team is set fair to progress to the Champions League knockout stages and are through to the Capital One Cup quarter finals.
It hasn’t been wildly entertaining but frankly, who cares?
The 2-0 win over The Toon was City’s fourth consecutive game on the road. During their travels to the North East, twice to London and Russia, they’ve produced three wins and suffered the injustice of a cruel last gasp defeat at one of their fiercest rivals.
It puts City’s ‘dreadful’ away record into a slightly better perspective than the merchants of doom and gloom would have you believe, albeit there is obvious room for improvement.
It’ll be home sweet home for City when they play Norwich on Saturday and hopefully a continuation of the imperious Etihad form with four wins in four so far in the PL.
But the main item on the media’s agenda will continue to be the bone of contention, that of who keeps goal against the Canaries. Is Joe Hart to be dropped and Costel Pantilimon promoted to make his PL debut?
The giant Romanian enhanced his credentials with a faultless showing against the Magpies with two particularly excellent saves – the first from Ameobi’s low strike, the second from Cisse, early in extra time after the Senegal striker sprang City’s offside trap.
Had Newcastle taken the lead at that stage it could have completely changed the complexion and dynamics of the match.
It was left to the ‘beastly’ Alvaro Negredo to do the cup-tie transforming honours in the 99th minute, forcing the ball home after Dzeko breezed into Newcastle’s 18 yard box and delivered the assist.
Five minutes later and Dzeko the supplier became Dzeko the taker, as the Bosnian benefitted from some wonderful approach work from James Milner.
The England international, playing here there and everywhere on the night, played an exquisite one-two with David Silva, before releasing a wonderfully weighted pass to the Bosnian striker in the Toon box.
Dzeko took it in his stride, rounding keeper Krul and securing City’s place in the last eight of the competition.
City’s win had been anticipated before kick-off, notwithstanding 10 changes on the team sheet, with Javi Garcia the only one left standing from the defeat at Chelsea.
As if those changes were not enough, Pellegrini was forced into even more when Jovetic limped off in the 10th minute, to be replaced by Negredo.
Signed for similar £20m+ fees last summer, the two forwards have experienced wildly differently fortunes.
The Beast is already a cult hero and a big hit with the fans, whereas the man from Montenegro is in danger of rivalling the likes of Roque Santa Cruz, Trevor Sinclair and Claudio Reyna, in having a medical room at Carrington named in his honour.
Jovetic oozes potential and has all the skills and attributes to succeed with City, it’s just unfortunate he seems bedevilled by injuries since August.
Similarly, skipper for the night, Micah Richards, succumbed to either a knock or what looked like cramp, and was replaced by Pablo Zabaleta.
As a grounded Micah was helped by team mate Negredo, Newcastle put the ball out of play earning the appreciation and respect of the blue side of Manchester in the 81st minute.
Clearly Richards did not have a head injury – the sole criteria that dictates play should stop – and with Negredo attending, City were effectively down to nine men in the last knockings of a balanced tie. This further amplifies Newcastle’s sportsmanship.
A strangely lethargic City display (no excuses about tiredness) was only transformed with the 64th minute introduction of David Silva, on for Jack Rodwell.
Merlin’s creativity and guile, aligned with a tactical switch to bring Milner into the central midfield role, began to find gaps in the Toon’s tiring defence.
Milner could have ignited the match a minute before Silva appeared. Jesus Navas’ speed saw him race down the right wing, retrieve the ball on the edge of the 18 yard box and leave Krul stranded way out of his goal.
He slipped the ball back to Milner whose first time shot from 20 yards curled agonisingly wide of the gaping goal.
Even at 2-0 up and with just three minutes remaining, City were nearly dragged back into a scrap. Thankfully, a quick-witted Joleon Lescott was able to clear off City’s line when Ben Arfa’s power drive beat Pantilimon.
A quarter final tie away at Leicester offers City a healthy opportunity to edge Manuel Pellegrini closer to silverware in his debut season. The Capital One Cup is the lowest of four targeted trophies, but even the big teams take it seriously in the latter stages of the competition.
By the time the tie takes place at the Walker Stadium – a week before Christmas – City should have qualified for the CL knockout stages and closed the points gap in the PL.
That would be an appropriate juncture to examine City’s progress – or otherwise – in the post Roberto Mancini era.
It will also tell us if City’s goalkeeping ‘dilemma’ has been decided in-house or whether Pellegrini will need to go New Year shopping in the net department.
By David Walker www.readbutneverred.com
This match report is dedicated to Jacqui Elliot @jacqui77 a very brave #MCFC lady blue from Antrim in Northern Ireland. She is battling for her life so let’s give her all the encouragement in the world in these challenging times #STRENGTHHOPEBELIEF xxx
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