The late kick off had arrived and City knew just what they had to do to maintain a five point lead between themselves and their closest rivals United. A win away from home and City would register their best ever start in this record breaking season as the goals flowed and the defence stood like a rock. Most goals scored in Europe, most goals ever in the opening ten Premier League games, first team ever to score two or more in each of their opening ten games, the list goes on and on!
The team sheet, fluid as ever saw one enforced change as Savic replaced the suspended Kompany and read as follows; Hart, Richards, Lescott, Savic, Kolarov, Barry, Milner, Toure, Silva, Aguero and Dzeko. A special mention must go today to our Captain Fantastic Micah Richards whose dazzling form at right back had earnt him the right to wear the Captain`s armband. Well done Micah! A plethora of riches in attack and a midfield and defence that was the meanest around! Could the City bandwagon continue marching on defying the early season critics and proving Roberto Mancini to be one of the most tactically astute managers around?
A minute`s silence was observed impeccably before the game kicked off and as Atkinson`s whistle went, it was City who kicked off right to left, with Milner Silva over the ball. City were quickly on the attack and Barry took the Blue`s first shot after only forty seconds.
The pitch looked tight and packed and so it should being the smallest pitch in the top flight of English football. QPR were taking advantage of the tight space and won a free kick twenty five yards out after only two minutes. The ball was repelled, but Helguson met the clearance with a sweet right boot and Hart could only watch as the ball flashed narrowly past his far post. Seconds later and Wright-Phillips was wriggling through the City defence only to be stopped by Lescott.
First corner of the game went to QPR on eight minutes after Milner had been sucked inside and City`s lack of width seemed to be apparent. The set play was struck long over the penalty area and easily cleared by the head of Kolarov. City had a great chance to counter attack as Kolarov raced down the wing, but Barry over hit his pass.
Ten minutes in and Wright-Phillips played in his full back as again, Milner and Richards were caught out. The ball was cleared, but City were looking uncomfortable with the early pace QPR had set and the lack of width was creating difficulties when trying to attack.
Lovely work by Aguero on the right touchline on fourteen minutes saw him drift past two QPR defenders before earning a corner. QPR cleared easily and were soon on the attack again. This time, Barton broke on the right before playing Helguson in again for another shot, this time easily saved by Hart.
Twenty minutes in and City were finding the packed midfield hard to break down and the full backs who normally marauded forward with ease, were being pegged back. Two minutes later and QPR had earnt another free kick thirty yards out. The ball was swung in and cleared by Savic for a corner on the City left. The set play was passed long for Helguson who came in on the far post beating Richards and heading the ball back across the face of goal. Ferdinand saw the net beckon but must have taken his eye off the ball, as his guilt edge chance went wide of the post. A lucky break for City.
Disaster struck in the twenty seventh minute as QPR won yet another free kick this time on their right, although this time not deserved, as replays showed Bothroyd clearly dived with no contact at all from Kolarov. Barton floated a curling ball right to the centre of the penalty area. City didn`t mark up well at all and up popped Bothroyd and met the ball with his forehead to head it past the despairing Hart. City had been poor and the tactics for once did not seem to be working, but City had come from behind before.
City had a chance to score on thirty one minutes when Toure stole the ball from Barton and played in the stocky Argentinian, but as Aguero looked to switch the ball onto his other foot, Ferdinand stepped in to clear.
It was nearly two nil on thirty three minutes as Wright Phillips broke free from the midfield and made a bee line for the edge of the City box. Hart was forced into a brilliant save, but could only push the ball back into play. Luckily for City, the linesman raised his flag for offside and play was stopped.
Thirty five minutes in and Aguero Silva and Dzeko broke on the left side of the pitch. Passes between Dzeko and Aguero freed Silva in the box, but seemingly symptomatic of the whole team today, Silva`s touch deserted him and the ball rolled through to the keeper.
With five minutes to go, City gifted QPR with another chance as the simple passes went astray and this time Dzeko played a ball back straight into the path of a QPR player. The ball was crossed instantly into the City box and headed back across the face of the goal by Bothroyd. Hart watched on helpless as the ball rolled, luckily for City, just wide of the post.
With three minutes of the first half left, Milner played a weighted ball down the left channel from just inside the QPR half. Dzeko picked the ball up just inside the QPR penalty box, checked onto his right foot, took one touch and unleashed a low shot which beat the opposition keeper down to his right at the near post. One all, against the run of play, but a goal scored at the most important of times, just before the break.
This goal seemed to stir City, as suddenly Barry was setting up Aguero to unleash a vicious shot which struck the left post and rebounded back into play. A few seconds later, and the ref`s whistle went. The first half had to be given to QPR for their endeavour and ability to win free kicks, although City`s defence were woeful in their marking. But City went in playing badly and still drawing one all. Changes would be needed in the second half, but changes were not something Mr Mancini was afraid of.
No changes at half time, but QPR began the half as they started the first, chasing down every ball and winning the fifty fifties. Within seconds of the kick off Barton was shooting on target at the City goal. Hart pushed the ball out and it was cleared, but the alarm bells were ringing.
Mancini had mixed things up a bit and City were lining up in a four four two formation with Milner on the left, Silva on the right and Aguero and Dzeko playing the out and out strikers roles. Whether this would impact the game would be seen.
Fifty one minutes in and City were defending a throw in near their right back position. A quick tackle and a lovely ball across the park found Milner. Milner took two steps and played another ball down the left channel, to Dzeko. Dzeko took the ball in his stride, charged towards the penalty area and played a driven cross to Silva. Silva fainted one way, went the other and beat the QPR keeper at his near post. Five seconds from defending to goal. Two one to City.
The Blues were in the ascendancy now. Fifty five minutes in and City broke on the right through Silva and Richards. Silva found Richards on the edge of the QPR box and the attacking full back played a lovely ball into the box for Aguero. The Argentinian took one touch and curled a shot which beat the keeper, but beat the post as well.
Dzeko nearly added to the score on fifty nine minutes when Aguero threaded another wonderful ball through the QPR defence. Dzeko struck his shot first time and only a great save by Kenny denied the Bosnian another goal. Seconds after this it was Aguero who was shooting on target and again, Kenny spared his defences blushes
The following five minutes were dominated by QPR who chased and harried and held on to the ball come what may. The City back line held firm as the shakiness they demonstrated in the first half seemed to have evaporated.
Clearly perturbed by the last five minutes, Mancini made his second tactical switch and first substitution as he withdrew Aguero for Adam Johnson as the tricky winger came on to play on City`s right and Dzeko filled the lone striker slot up front. Seconds later and disaster struck again as Wright Phillips crossed the ball into the City box. Bothroyd dived at the ball and on its way in it struck Helguson on the back before going past Hart. The City players complained of offside, but replays showed that Savic had played the QPR attackers on.
Two minutes later and QPR seemed eager to defend their draw. They dropped off the City players in possession. City worked the ball out left to Kolarov who stood unopposed on seventy four minutes. The tricky full back put a wonderful in swinging cross into the QPR box. Up stepped Toure who out jumped Ferdinand with ease and put his bullet keeper past Kenny and into the net to make it three two City.
The goal was followed by City`s second substitution as Barry was replaced by Balotelli. Warnock matched the substitution by replacing the goal scorer Bothroyd with QPR fan`s favourite Puncheon.
On seventy seven minutes with only his third touch of the game, Balotelli managed to earn himself a yellow card for simulation as he dived in anticipation of a tackle in the QPR box on City`s right. The ref who had for the most, had a good game, showed no hesitation in showing Super Mario the yellow.
The yellow for Balotelli was soon followed by one for none other than Joey Barton, who was beaten to the ball by Silva and decided that Silva should be punished for this. Indeed on another day, Barton may have seen red for the unnecessary and overly aggressive tackle.
QPR made another chance on eighty two minutes as Milner conceded a free kick in the centre circle. A long free kick played toward Savic saw City`s defensive frailties shown up again, as Savic was easily beaten in the air by Helguson, whose powerful header beat Hart, but came back off the cross bar for a thankful City defence to clear.
QPR replaced Mackie with striker Tommy Smith with seven minutes to go as they went in search of another goal which would give them a share of the points. The ball was being played more and more in the City half as QPR responded to their Manager`s request for another goal, but the City defence held firm as ball after ball was pumped forward.
With three minutes left on the clock, Kolo Toure replaced Dzeko, as Mancini tried to shore things up and take the important three points back to the Etihad stadium. City went with three at the back as Mancini had finished so many games this season.
City allowed the clock to run out as QPR tried but failed to force another goal. In all not the best day at the office for City as they faced, unexpectedly, their sternest test of the season. Other than Bayern Munich, no team had offered City this much of a problem and QPR fans should be proud of their players and especially their Manager Neil Warnock, but the three points went to City and they remained five points ahead of United and six clear of Newcastle.
Joe Hart – 7
Beaten twice and saved by the woodwork twice. Not his finest hour. Made a couple of good redeeming saves.
Micah Richards – 7
Beaten in the air too many times and caught out of position. Not his best game of the season.
Stefan Savic – 6
Caught out in the air far too many times and played on the whole QPR attack for the second goal.
Joleon Lescott – 7
Tackled well and won most of the headers he was asked to. Always played with one eye on Savic.
Aleksander Kolarov – 7
Was pegged back for long periods in the game but put in a wonderful cross for City’s winning goal.
Gareth Barry – 6.5
Steady job in midfield, but gave the ball away too much.
Yaya Toure – 7.5
Scored a great goal and put in a lot of running but also guilty of giving the ball away.
James Milner – 8
Played some great passes. Had a hand in two goal and ran himself into the ground for the cause.
David Silva – 7.5
Scored a goal and played some good passes, but was also guilty of giving the ball away and didn’t have his best game. Still bloody brilliant though.
Sergio Aguero – 7
Couldn’t get into the game and didn’t put much on target.
Edin Dzeko – 8
Scored a goal, set one up, ran intelligently and looks a great acquisition. Misjudge Edin at your peril.
Adam Johnson – 6.5
Didn’t do much when he came on.
Mario Balotelli – 6.5
Booked early and had one audacious shot from forty five yards out.
Too late to mark.
Roberto Mancini – 8
The game had to come where everything didn’t go City’s way, and the narrow pitch of Loftus Road played into QPR’s handsm but Bobby Manc still got the three points even though his charges didn’t have the best day at the office. Well Done Sir.
Neil Warnock – 8
His team is head and shoulders below City in term of class and ability but they nearly got a draw out of arguably Europe’s hottest team so well done to you sir, we are suitably impressed.