As anybody who knows anything about construction work, Rome was not built in a day. But give an Italian ‘architect’ a thousand days and you’ll see a creation of substance and beauty, erected on firm foundations.
And so it was that Manchester City’s Roberto Mancini marked his 1,000th day as City boss with his team of champions displaying both skill and backbone away to Stoke City.
There’s always a hint of the gladiator’s arena when visiting teams enter the cauldron of the Britannia Stadium, the baying crowd demanding ‘blood’ and the slaying of the opposition.
Well, it wasn’t to be as Mancini’s meticulously marshalled legion emerged undefeated, if not victorious, after battle at the Britannia.
In a repeat of last season’s encounter City came away with a hard fought 1-1 draw having once again come back from a Peter Crouch opener. The contrast in Crouch’s goals yesterday and in March couldn’t be more pronounced.
A goal of the season contender last time out with a volleyed wonder strike, Crouch displayed all the ball handling skills of a Harlem Globetrotter as he cheated Stoke into a 15thminute lead.
Once again it was the hapless refereeing of the calamitous Mark Clattenburg that allowed the lanky England reject to put hand to ball, as he guided his way to goal past an outraged Manchester City defence.
The official from Tyne & Wear has a dubious track record of ‘missing’ key moments in City matches, with decisions going against the men from Manchester.
That said, City should know better than to trust match officials to get it right and they paid the penalty of not playing to the whistle. It was an undeserved lead but one which Stoke held for 20 minutes before new boy Javi Garcia powered in an equalizer.
Along with fellow deadline day signings Maicon and Scott Sinclair, Garcia was making his debut…and a very impressive one at that.
The all action Spaniard showed why Mancini was prepared to pay £16m to Benfica and, at the same time allow fan’s favourite Nigel De Jong to depart to AC Milan, as Garcia was first to a Carlos Tevez free kick.
Tireless Tevez directed a well flighted ball into the Stoke penalty box and City’s Number 14 guided an exquisite header beyond goalkeeper Begovic.
Garcia, who began his career at City’s Champion’s League rivals, Real Madrid, came within inches of scoring the winner in added time when Begovic tipped his Exocet-like header onto the post.
Even then City could have snatched the glory when substitute Edin Dzeko’s 25-yard lob over Begovic was cleared off the line by the scurrying Ryan Shawcross with literally the last kick of the match.
A 1-1 draw at Stoke is becoming the norm for City – that’s the fourth in five visits to the Potteries – and reflects the difficulties posed by Tony Pulis’ side on their home turf.
Goal attempts by Yaya Toure, Samir Nasri and Mario Balotelli could have given City a handsome lead before the two heart stopping last minute near misses but it wasn’t to be.
The 89th minute introduction of ex- England striker Michael Owen gave renewed hope to the home fans but to no avail.
Mancini had grounds to feel cheated – again – by ref Clattenburg’s ineptitude, but City will do well to reflect on a point gained rather than two lost.
Changes are bound to be made for Tuesday’s trip to take on Jose Mourinho’s La Liga champions, with starting berths likely for Sergio Aguero, David Silva Aleksander Kolarov and Pablo Zabaleta.
It’s a measure of Mancini’s building blocks that City will swap the surroundings of the Britannia for the Bernabeu in the space of 72 hours.
A similar undefeated outcome would be very welcome.