Date: 5th November 2011 at 9:09pm
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Today`s visit to Shepherd`s Bush had the same air of European hangover as City`s last visit to West London, when Fulham became the only team so far this season to take valuable Premier League point off the Blues.
Rampant in midweek at Villarreal and seemingly rested since, City today had to dig in deep and demonstrate to us once again how far they emerged this season.
Once again Mancini rang the changes, leaving Balotelli and Nasri on splinter duty and de Jong not even on the bench. With Dzeko and Aguero up top the line-up had the usual attacking base. Barry and Milner were preferred in midfield along with Yaya and the irrepressible David Silva. Savic came in at centre-back for the suspended Kompany.
From the start it was clear that QPR meant business. They had restored Barton to centre midfield his brief to try to deter anything from Silva and to deliver pinpoint set pieces, from which Rangers had benefited in earlier matches and were to do so again today, especially with the forward barriage of Helguson and the vocal Bothroyd intent on hitting Savic and Lescott hard.
Rangers pressed from midfield and found some room out left where Richards was initially left alone to deal with the threat of his pal Shaun Wright-Phillips and Traore. SWP was still hitting defenders with his crosses, indeed it was around 75 minutes before he actually found a central attacker, but Traore was in a confident mood as City`s right opened up for him time and again.
City seemed to be in a slumber. Not really motivated, perhaps expecting to win easily, they were over-run by QPR`s tempo, governed by their midfield presence.
Absent were the flowing moves to which the Blue-Mooners have become accustomed. Yaya and Milner`s early passing was off key and Silva`s magic was more akin to Tommy Cooper than Dynamo. The upshot was that Rangers were handed the keys to the match and their willingness to mix it with City in midfield and knock the defence about up front paid its first dividend on the half hour courtesy of a World Cup Final Linesman who granted QPR a free kick when Bothroyd fell over his own feet, convincing the liner that Kolarov had tripped him.
Helguson had just given Richards a bullying and as he and Bothroyd took up position at the point of the attack, Richards clearly didn`t fancy it this time asking Lescott to mark Helguson, with Richards himself supposedly marking Bothroyd.
Up stepped Joey Barton to deliver a right-on-the-button free kick right on to the head of Bothroyd who had stolen in between Savic and Richards who hadn`t picked him up, to head home and send the Subutteo Stadium into raptures.
Having recently disposed of Chelsea at Loftus Road, the R`s were smelling blood again at the expense of the top table and with City seemingly unable to get going, they just had to keep up their challenge. But it the ability to do that which is difficult when you play City. There is class all over the field wearing City shirts and eventually something will happen and just ahead of the break it did.
Moving the ball quickly down the left Milner found the hitherto grafting but poor Dzeko. He cut inside leaving his defender “dead”, wasn`t tracked by (another) Ferdinand and suddenly found himself centre stage with options left or right. He made to go across Kenny, but shot nearside, effectively wrong footing everyone to equalise in the bottom corner.
A harsh end to the half for Rangers, who had probably played beyond the limits of their ability.
This City team likes to score in and around half time, or any other time for that matter, and it was only eight minutes into the second half when Dzeko, again grafting down the left found Silva emerging into the box with defenders present. This time he had his top hat and wand with him as he produced a stunning first touch which got rid of three defenders, before placing a dream of a shot between Kenny`s legs to make it 2-1 for City.
As we prepared for the floodgates to open as City were getting into gear and inspired substitution by Mancini immediately produced a goal?for the opposition.
He sent on Johnson for Aguero. I don`t know the formation changes had been given by Tevez but it was clear that they were not understood as a mix up down City`s right allowed a cross into the box which once again found Bothroyd whose header hit Helguson and ended up in the net.
Savic, Lescott and Hart thought it was offside but the World Cup linesman did not agree and the goal stood. Replays showed that it didn`t look offside but I think Savic thought that by running off the field, there was no-one but Hart between Helguson and the goal line.
So it was back to the drawing board for City. Rangers once again thought they could win it and were perhaps torn between settling for a draw and going for gold, although there was still twenty minutes to play. But twenty minutes is a long time in football and an age when you are playing against City and five minutes later a run and pinpoint cross from Kolarov into the heart of the Rangers` defence found the towering Yaya Toure intent on adding to his midweek exploits to place a rocket header beyond Kenny.
Rangers had still hit the post and some time earlier may have had a penalty when cameras but not the officials saw Lescott tugging away at Bothroyd`s shirt. Indeed if Makie hadn`t been honest enough to stay on his feet where the likes of Ronaldo would have taken to the grass, they might have had one at 1-0 which would have made the rest of the match interesting.
City saw the match out but not without a selection of scares. They seemed unable to get and keep the ball, relieving the back line by long clearances which in the end only come back. Balotelli tried to lob Kenny from 45 yards and Kenny came up for the last corner deep into stoppage time to try to get a head on it.
We`ve said it now for a few weeks that City have learned the knack of winning tough matches and they don`t come tougher than this. Neil Warnock`s men put in an excellent shift for their manager and deserved something out of the match. But once Mancini`s men finally got their noises in front they have learned to close matches off and hang in for three points. And this in the end was what they did today.
It was a seven out of ten performance rather than anything more. Rangers bullied and bruised, especially Silva, who was the victim of a typically crude tackle from Barton which could have put him in hospital, but City are robust enough to shake themselves down and look for the piece of magic needed to haul in the points. There were two such pieces today when Dzeko and Silva scored. It wasn`t a day for the magician to be allowed to flourish, but even Silva is a tough cookie and simply shrugs off attempts to assassinate him. Dzeko had to toil for his success and although ESPN gave him man of the match for me it was Milner.
He was the one finally detailed to help out Richards and close off Rangers left hand side in similar fashion to the way they erased the threat of Ashley Young in the derby. He was the one who displayed energy all afternoon which was not always mirrored by his colleagues. He was the one who finally got the midfield ticking to finally create the chances from which the goals came.
City will be glad to get out of West London after six hard matches in three weeks and head out on International Duty. When they return the unbeaten Geordies await them at the Etihad Stadium for what looks like a spectacular, especially as City are still charitable at the back. However Kompany will be back, I understand and his leadership will be needed in abundance. It was missed today.
But City finish the weekend where they started. Five points clear at the top of the league and that only because Wes Brown finally scored for United although he plays for Sunderland. Brown envelope anyone?


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