UEFA Cup Qual. R2, First Leg
Thursday 14 August, 2008, 19:45 KO
City: Hart, Corluka, Dunne (c), Richards, Ben-Haim, Elano (Etuhu 69), Gelson, Johnson, Petrov, Sturridge, Caicedo (Bojinov 64)
Unused: Schmeichel, Ball, Onuoha, Ireland, Hamann
Booked: Corluka, Ben-Haim
City Man of the Match: Micah Richards
City’s UEFA Cup hopes have taken a hit before the competition has properly gotten underway, as the Blues suffered a 0-1 defeat at the hands of Danish side, FC Midtjylland.
The away side began the stronger, as City struggled to find their feet in the opening stages, preferring to knock the ball (badly) across the back four and struggling to get the midfield and forwards into the game. On 15 minutes, Dunne found himself in space in the middle of City’s half and took the opportunity to stretch his legs. But he waited too long and his forward pass was blocked, falling kindly for Mikkel Thygesen, who found Danny Olsen and the Midtjylland man flashed his shot into the bottom corner, with Joe Hart a spectator.
The goal didn’t particularly wake City up, but they did begin to look a bit more comfortable on the ball. Minutes later, after some neat inter-play between Petrov and Elano, the Bulgarian found himself one-on-one with the keeper, who came quickly to his feet. Petrov’s chipped shot perhaps looked closer than it was from where I was sitting, as it flashed over.
It took another 15 minutes before City had another meaningful effort on the visitors’ goal, with Sturridge firing just wide with a right-foot shot from outside the box.
City were just inches from going in at half-time all square, as the youngster Sturride’s left-foot curler hit the underside of the crossbar, but bounced out and to safety, with Heinze in the Midtjylland goal beaten all ends up. It was the closest the Blues came in the first half, where the team looked as if they were contesting a pre-season friendly. Sections of the ground booed the team off at the interval.
After the break, City began to get it together, but the final ball was missing throughout. Petrov volleyed high and wide when many would have expected him to hit the target and Elano fired a low drive just wide of the far post from the left side of the box.
The City fans were becoming restless, willing the ball into the net, but the breakthrough never came. Caicedo was soon replaced by Bojinov and the fans’ hope of an equaliser raised, after the performance he had put in against AC Milan.
Sturridge went close to connecting with a Petrov chipped cross, but Heinze the goalkeeper got there just ahead of him and then Petrov went close himself, curling a free-kick onto the crossbar from just outside the area, with the keeper rooted to the spot.
It could have been worse for City mid-way through the second half, as a flicked header from a Midtjylland corner flashed past Joe Hart, but Petrov was ready to clear the ball off the line.
Johnson had a go from distance, but it didn’t test Heinze, who caught the ball comfortably, and Bojinov flicked a Richard Dunne long ball over the goalkeeper, but the ball beat the goal, too, landing on the roof of the net.
Midtjylland almost extended their lead late on, as George Florescu forced Joe Hart into an excellent save, with Corluka there to complete the clearance.
The Danes had gotten what they came for and Heinze was well prepared to take a yellow card for timewasting towards the end of the match, to slow the game down and make it difficult for the home side to draw level.
Boos rang out around the stadium at full time and there were a few chants of “Sven Goran-Erikson”, as the Blues fans made it clear they weren’t pleased with the performance of the team, who, in truth, looked like they could have played all night and not scored.
An irrational reaction, perhaps, but there’s a lot of work to be done when City travel to Herning on Thursday 28 August (which is a 15.25 kick off, GMT).