Previously misfiring Manchester City have well and truly released the safety catch, with a focused ‘shoot-on-sight’ policy and 10 goal haul in their last three outings.
Championship promotion contenders Watford became the latest side to witness the return of City’s ferocious firepower in a one-sided FA Cup tie that could easily have seen City double the winning margin.
As welcome as it is to see the goal flow, Roberto Mancini will have real concerns whether his team can continue the prolific strike rate with injured Sergio Aguero ruled out for up to eight weeks and Mario Balotelli simply ‘out to lunch’.
Carlos Tevez led the line with his usual commendable industry, capped by an Exocet-like 25 yard free kick with a licence to thrill, which whistled past a certain J. Bond in the Watford goal.
Jonathan not James, had to face more shots than Daniel Craig in Skyfall as City set to work to boost their SkyBlue haul and exert their all round superiority.With Gianfranco Zola now in charge at the Hornets, victory for either side would have meant an Italian Job well done.
As City’s domination became increasingly apparent, referee Phil dodgy, dumpy, ‘where’s my diet sheet’ Dowd, emerged as Watford’s main threat.
The vast majority of the near 47,000 Etihad crowd serenaded the rotund ref with a chorus of ‘You’re worse than Clattenburg…’ – has there ever been a more damning verdict on a match official?
Equally as contemptible were the song choices of the 6,000 strong travelling band of pseudo cockney Watford fans. Just why the shabby shower from ‘darn sarf’ thought it was a good idea to break into a spontaneous chant of ‘United, United, United…’ beggars belief.
It was the same way they asked the City fans ‘Where were you when you were sh*t?’ The answer was easy – 30,000 of the now Etihad faithful, filled Maine Road for the visits of Lincoln City, Wycombe and York in the old Division Three!
All rather rich when you consider Watford’s average gate so far this season is 12,637.
Back to the football. City were in the ascendancy from start to finish but that didn’t stop reserve goalkeeper, Costel Pantilimon being called upon to make vital interventions.
Immediately following Tevez’s opener, Fernando Forestieri broke from the halfway line with City’s defence in his rear view mirror. As he bore down on goal and released his shot, the giant Pantilimon parried away with great aplomb.
Who knows what a Watford equaliser would have done to the complexion of the cup-tie?
City had put the game beyond Watford’s reach with a neat Gareth Barry header just before half time. A measured Silva pass found Milner on the left flank and his flighted cross was met by the vastly underrated England midfielder.
Man-of-the-match Milner and the simply superb Zabaleta both zipped low crosses into the Watford six-yard box, with Tevez and Dzeko achingly close to connecting for certain goals.
Tevez whizzed a ground shot an inch or so wide of Bond’s post, whereas goal hungry Zaba (!) forced a great save from the Watford keeper.
Balotelli was introduced to a slightly mixed reception in the 71st minute for the disappointing Dzeko, who was unable to build on his previous four goals in two games.
The maverick Mario managed an ‘assist by proxy’ when 17-year old Marcus Lopes scored on his debut in the 90th minute. The Italian’s sizzling shot was too hot for Bond and Lopes dashed in to score.
With the number 64 shirt on his back, the £800,000 buy from Benfica’s youth system didn’t even warrant a name check on the programme team sheet. Nor did he merit a ‘mug shot’ when the City subs were announced on the electronic scoreboard – surely that will be remedied pretty damn quickly.
The youngster’s delight and obvious potential was a great way to end an afternoon of consummate professionalism from the Premier League champions.
Whether or not Mancini will have beefed up the City armoury before next Sunday’s trip to take on Arsenal’s Gunners remains to be seen.
Rumours abound of possible bids or interest in Edinson Cavani from Napoli, David Villa from Barcelona or Falcao from Athletico Madrid – any of the three would be a brilliant addition to the City ranks.
If not Tevez and Dzeko can stake their claim to long term stays at the Etihad but, irrespective of what Mancini says at his press conferences, Balotelli’s days are surely numbered.
It’s just a question of finding the right time to sell when he isn’t perceived as ‘damaged goods’. It’s a footballing ‘tragedy’ because Mario is likeable and talented but sadly incorrigible.
He is a luxury City cannot afford because the goals simply have to flow if the PL title is to be retained and the FA Cup lifted.