Date: 7th January 2013 at 11:16am
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Gianfranco Zola brought his Championship outfit Watford to the Etihad Stadium on Saturday to a rapturous welcome from everyone at City with the possible exception of Mario Balotelli. If the latter has any intention of turning out as the footballer some expect him to be then he need look no further than the Artisan who currently manages Watford.

Many of us will remember an astonishing performance, in the yo-yo years, from Zola when he scored a quite amazing hat trick for Chelsea at Maine Road and when the time came for him to leave the field he received a standing ovation from every City fan in the stadium that day. To see three tiers of the Kippax on its feet to applaud a visiting footballer who had spent the afternoon trashing City’s defences was indeed a sight to behold.

The genial Italian, concerned at his thoughts that other people considered him “soft”, was welcomed by everybody in and around the Club, myself included as he delivered a hard-working, football-playing side to the Etihad, his team playing more football and having more possession than most Premier League teams that ply their trade here. The upset was not to be for Zola, but his memory lives on.

Giving Joe Hart a week off for a change, Costel Pantilimon got himself a rare outing in the first team and for me did well. With the exception of City and Chelsea he would probably be the first choice net minder at any other club. He is decidedly a better bet than the two clowns that masquerade as goal keepers at a club just outside Manchester.

Lescott remained in situ at centre-back alongside his captain, Nastasic enjoying another weekend of rest. Milner came in for the suspended Nasri and Garcia for the Africa-bound Yaya Toure.

Mancini selected a youthful bench which included Lopes and Suarez.

The match started with City meaning business and seeking to get it put to bed. The outcome was never in doubt because Watford took risks and played open football in a way that most opponents from the Premier League shirk away from. This enabled Silva to get on the ball and begin his wizardry.

It took City twenty minutes or so to break Watford’s resolve, when a scramble from a corner went into the net we thought from Kompany but was disallowed. Replays showed that it bounced off Dzeko’s chest whilst he was in an offside position with only one man behind him on the line. Shortly thereafter, a needless free-kick conceded just outside the box gave Tevez the right distance and angle to curl a beauty around the Watford keeper to open the scoring for real. Silva did well to cause confusion on one end of the defensive wall, which left the door sufficiently ajar for a Tevez shot. Watford almost immediately got back on terms as they sprang the offside trap creating a one-on-one with Pantilimon who saved the effort at full stretch, full stretch being something like ten feet!

Then, just ahead of half time Silva again drew in defenders and released Milner down the left. His pin-point cross found Barry once again lurking at the far post and his header went in like a bullet. Game over.

Watford worked hard in the second half but the Blues defenders with Barry in front were in no mood to be generous and despite them enjoying more posession than most Premier League sides, it wouldn’t fall for the Hornets.

City effectively went through the motions in first gear in the second half and Mancini rang in his three changes the last of which was to introduce Lopes. Is he really only seventeen? Mancini had also risked Balotelli who lanced in three stinging shots but didn’t contribute much else.

The last of those shots burned the hands of the Watford keeper and was of such ferocity that it rebounded almost eight metres! Lopes was first off the mark to clip in the rebound to make it a memorable afternoon for him.

Sadly for Watford this was an FA Cup stroll for City, who were simply a class apart as you would expect against Championship opposition. Everyone looked at ease. Zabaleta managed to get himself booked for dissent angrily bouncing the ball when he and 46,000 thought City should have had a throw-in. Only the linesman had a different view. This was the same linesman that in the next move gave City a corner when it was clearly a goal kick.

Milner was given Man of the Match for a very creditable performance full of industry and energy and his combination work in tandem with Zabaleta was excellent. I actually prefer this right hand side combination than having Nasri in there. Garcia at least looked competent against lower-division opposition but the next month will show us what he’s got as he prepares to stand in for Yaya.

Up front Dzeko was industrious but couldn’t get on the scoresheet and his goal apart, Tevez still looks to shoot even down blind alleys when there are colleagues more favourably placed. Silva continues his rehabilitation towards being the player he was last season, keeping the ball moving and the attack ticking.

I’m not hearing anything around the corridors giving us any clues as to whether there will be any incomings or outgoings during the transfer window. I would love to see David Villa roll up to restore his once very fruitful partnership with Silva. Yaya is irreplaceable and although I’d like to see someone more competent that Garcia, I don’t know who that would be. I would also like to see a wide and pacy option. Sinclair isn’t the man for me.

Is Balotelli in or out? All the signs point to him staying, but I cannot understand the economics that allow him to be paid a six figure sum each week when you have to send in a purchase order if you want a box of paper clips. With Aguero injured I would make sure we got someone like Villa, a proven goalscorer at every level.

The FA Cup story for 2013 moves, probably, onto Stoke for round four. I suspect they won’t lie down like they did on New Year’s Day, especially playing at home. City must go out in a positive frame of mind there and get a job done of which they are capable but often afraid.

And of course, the League moves on to the Emirates. Never a happy hunting ground for City, but some time we must bust our forever run of bad luck there. It needs to be this Sunday as we can’t afford to slip further behind the Stretfords.

all times East Manchester

Su 13Jan 16h00 Arsenal, The Emirates, PL
Sa 19Jan 15h00 Fulham, The Etihad, PL
Sa/Su 26/27Jan Crystal Palace or Stoke City, A, FAC4
Tu 29Jan 19h45 QPR, Loftus Road, PL
Su 03Feb 16h00 Liverpool, The Etihad, PL
Sa 09Feb 17h30 Southampton, St Mary’s, PL