Date: 19th January 2014 at 11:48am
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City were the team-in-waiting as Wales finest poured into town yesterday. Readily poised on 99 goals in all competitions for the season and scoring an average of four a week at home, bookmakers were more concerned about just who would get goal number 100 rather than anything else. It is significant these days that the odds for a 2-0 win are now greater than something in excess of 4-0.

Pellegrini selected his eleven to do the business. Cardiff pulled off the first shock result of the season beating City 3-2 at home from 2-1 down by relentlessly bombarding the Blues penalty area with aerial artillery which did enough to unsettle the defence into yielding a couple of dodgy goals. Yesterday, however with Kompany back in majestic form and a reconditioned Joe Hart between the uprights, it was to become a different proposition.

Frankly, the scoreboard should have been rattling long before it had clocked up sixty seconds, the very first attack should have been converted and could have resulted in a penalty for City. Marshall kept Cardiff together but realised it was a signal for what would not be the most comfortable afternoon in his Premier League life.

City simply swarmed all over the Welshmen in the early stages, intent on scoring goal number 100. Cardiff dug deep to hold the Blues out, but you can only hold back the river for so long. When the goal came, a classic it was not. With the ball zipping around the Cardiff penalty area, possibly striking Silva on the arm, an inconclusive strike by Dzeko was hooked out by McNaughton. Enter City’s unsung new signing for his first goal of the season. Hawkeye duly registered its beep beep signal to the referee’s red-framed wrist device and before any other player could touch the ball, the ref had blown his whistle and pointed to the centre circle. Ladies and gentlemen, Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini, it works. Dzeko was the claimant and City were on their way to another big score at Fortress Etihad.

That said, it was clear that someone had forgotten to tell Craig Noone because after a torrent of City attacks, somehow Noone got himself behind Kolarov, around Kompany and fired home a superb equaliser beating Hart on the near post and resetting the scoreboard at 1-1. Noone was to go on to produce what I think was the outstanding performance by an individual opposition footballer at the Etihad this season.

This gave City a bit of a shake-up. The endeavour and enterprise was there for the afternoon. Sometimes the pace and tempo was missing but almost every time that City eased up the gears the end result was a goal. And in amongst this was a display of total class by Yaya Toure. If Cardiff scored ahead of the half hour, City restored their lead almost immediately afterwards to dispel the encroachment of any doubt lingering from the away encounter.

Yaya delivered a delicious pass into the path of Dzeko. His determined run was halted abruptly and the ball squirted out to Navas. He looked up and in a flash and before anyone could close down his space he had struck the ball just inside the far post to restore City’s lead. And in celebration he ran to the corner and leapt over the flag! Recently Navas has become the king of assists but boy does he enjoy scoring.

Back in the lead, City took command of the game. Cardiff were forced to work hard, often without the ball. Caulker, McNaughton and Turner all had parts to play protecting their goalkeeper and there were the usual last-gasp blocks and “just enough” foot-ins to deny City further goals in the first half. Marshall, too was called upon to make saves to keep the Blues at bay.

In the second half and with the scored at only 2-1, Cardiff decided to give it a go. They had spotted that there was potential down Kolarov’s wing and Noone’s contribution was to become more significant as time and again he found the space to cause City problems. Hart in particular had to make two exceptional saves to atone for being caught out at his near post earlier. The need for either Kompany or Demichelis to cover Kolarov opened some space in City’s penalty box and a better resourced team may well have capitalised on it.

In addition, Cardiff were quick to surrender territory when they lost the ball preferring to get as many men behind it as they could, once again to deny City the room they needed. City still looked in control but something special was needed to put clear daylight between the teams. Enter the Mighty Atom, enter Sergio Aguero.

Cardiff had flirted with getting a second equaliser and setting up a grandstand finish but it was time, finally, for City to get this game put to bed. So off goes Yaya on one of his blistering runs beating anyone who presented themselves and shrugging off others. Aguero cleverly came short with two defenders. Yaya played the ball into him and ran wide for the return which came in an instant. Yaya dragged the ball into the final free slot to his left then hammered a shot back into the right hand side of the goal. At 3-1 it was almost job done, but another was needed to ensure that City keep up the four-per-match ration. We wouldn’t want the Club to sack the manager now would we.

It duly arrived a couple of minutes later. Yaya made his second assist of the day playing in Aguero, closely marked by Caulker. Super Sergio turned him every which way but loose before drilling number four into the roof of the net. This was a goal scored by a devastatingly prolific goalscorer at the top of his game. A gem of exquisite quality.

It was time to sing “Solskjaer, Solskjaer what’s the score” as the forlorn ex-Stretford prowled his technical area, his aim to make Cardiff a top ten team looking more distant as the game wore on, unless of course he means in the Championship.

But the red Bluebirds did have the last laugh. As in all games that City have won 4-2 and 3-2 for that matter, this season there has been an element of switch-off just before the end of added time so why change the habits of a lifetime? Once again Hart was called upon to deal with a good effort by the effervescent Noone. The resultant corner went straight into the six yard box. Nobody dealt with what should have been an easy headed clearance, they allowed the ball to bounce and Campbell was on hand to give the scoreline some respectability and allow Cardiff to tell the world that they scored more goals at the Etihad than Stretford’s finest. Indeed he is an ex-Stretford himself.

So the Gunnar finds his team now handily placed for the Premier League trap door, anchored at the foot of the table and with a difficult selection of matches on the immediate horizon, which would probably see any other manager get the OBE (Out Before Easter). Pellegrini sees his team march on at Planet Etihad and with only Chelsea of the contending teams still to visit, I would suggest that the title run in is about how well City performs against peer teams away from home, beating Arsenal away a priority.

It looks as though The Moyesiah has “thrown-in” his chances of beating Chelsea later today with Rooney doubtful and Van Persie missing. No doubt he wants them fit at the end of March in case they find themselves in a Cup Final somewhere.

For City’s part I believe we are seeing quite a different impact on the back of the Joe Hart debacle. Since Joe was consigned to the recycle bin for a while, there seems little doubt that the entire squad has stepped up to new levels on the basis that if England’s Number One can get dropped then so can I and everyone looks to have stepped up a gear. The most noticeable is Kolarov who everybody had on his way as early as September, but yesterday the often leaden-footed Lollipop Man, Garcia, himself put in a decent performance.

This has been a significant step in the development of Manchester City this season, where everyone is playing for their shirt and a starting berth, meaning that nobody is sacred. Indeed, leaving a fully fit Aguero on the bench is another sub-demonstration of this as Dzeko was another who put in a purposeful performance where he bullied the centre backs Negredo style. Imagine being an opposition number 5 and being battered and bruised by Negredo and Dzeko for an hour then finding they send on Aguero to finish you off!

City move on to two Cup matches this week. The first will send them to Wembley, the second against a stuttering Championship Club should see them head into the fifth round hat. It should be a week of rest for the big guns and I for one hope that we see Jovetic start two consecutive matches and get himself among the goals. He could then be another one making a claim to start rather than being the next player to be dubbed “sick note.” Was the first Darren Anderton?

And the song of the day? “Are you fighting over sheep?” when Cardiff fans tried to block a group of stewards from making an ejection. This resulted in minor injuries to three stewards.

all times East Manchester GMT
Tu 21Jan 19h45 West Ham United, Upton Park, LCSF2
Sa 25Jan 15h00 Watford, The Etihad, FAC4
We 29Jan 19h45 Tottenham Hotspur, White Hart Lane, PL
Mo 03Feb 2014 20h00 Chelsea, The Etihad, PL
Sa 08Feb 15h00 Norwich City, Carrow Road, PL
We 12Feb 19h45 Sunderland, The Etihad, PL
Tu 18Feb 19h45 FC Barcelona, CL
Sa 22Feb 15h00 Stoke City, The Etihad PL
Sa 01Mar 15h00 The Stretfords, the swamp, PL


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