Barclay’s English Premiership
Sunday 28 December 2008, 16:15 KO
City: Hart, Zabaleta, Dunne (c), Onuoha (Richards 64), Ball, Kompany, Elano (Vassell 71), Ireland, Robinho, Wright-Phillips, Caicedo (Sturridge 71)
Unused: Schmeichel, Garrido, Gelson, Jo
Goals: Sturridge (88), Robinho (90+4)
City Man of the Match: Daniel Sturridge
Blackburn began the game bottom of the league after West Brom’s win against Tottenham and City knew that a victory could pull them as high as 11th in the league. With this in mind, Mark Hughes made one change from the team that battered Hull – it was Onuoha in for Richards.
City nearly made a wonderful start to the game, after Vincent Kompany won a header from an Ireland corner and it fell to Caicedo in the box, but the Ecuadorian could only get his toe in the ball and send it over the bar.
The home side got a rather fortunate free kick in a promising area, after McCarthy ran into Dunne on the edge of the box. Pedersen and Emerton argued amongst themselves as to who would take it and when Emerton finally hit it, the ball rebounded off Ireland and into Hart’s hands. The home side wanted a penalty for a handball by Ireland, but it was accidental and would certainly have been harsh.
It was City’s turn to be denied a penalty on ten minutes, when Robinho broke into the box and was clearly tripped by Ooijer, but the linesman’s flag stayed down and Howard Webb played on, in giving Rovers a goal kick.
But, a minute later, it shouldn’t have mattered from City’s point of view as Robinho missed a golden opportunity to give the away side the lead. The ball broke for Caicedo down the left flank and, when it looked like he might break into the box and shoot, he crossed and found Robinho, unmarked, but he headed wide with the goal gaping and Robinson beaten.
The home fans were expecting a goal on 25 minutes when a long ball found McCarthy on the edge of City’s box, but just as he was about to pull the trigger, Richard Dunne came out of nowhere to provide a crucial block.
Tugay then had his name taken for a late tackle on Robinho, and was lucky to stay on the pitch shortly after, when he clashed with Stephen Ireland and then argued with the referee.
And just as it looked like the teams would go in at 0-0, Benni McCarthy turned in the box, latching on to a cross that City failed to cut out, and placed the ball past Hart, giving the youngster no chance.
City struggled at the start of the second half, with Rovers dominating without creating any real chances. Ooijer and Emerton both had a go with headers, but neither troubled Hart.
The away side began to get their act together as the second half progressed, as Wright-Phillips flicked a header, backwards, onto the post, before Ireland curled a shot just wide of Robinson’s right hand post from range.
But City will be without the reborn Irishman as a late challenge on Stephen Warnock earned him his fifth yellow card of the season, with replays showing it to be harsh. But, having been booked, he was then lucky to stay on the pitch for a late lunge at Pedersen, as the left winger crossed the ball.
Onuoha was then forced off with injury, before Vassell and Sturridge replaced Elano and Caicedo respectively. The changes spurred City into action and they began to press on Robinson’s goal.
The away side nearly had a helping hand from Christopher Samba, when he nearly lobbed Robinson in making a clearance, but it dropped just over the bar for a corner.
Richards then went close to equalising, but his cross-cum-shot from a Michael Ball corner needed a touch that never came to send it into the net.
But, as City pushed forward for their equaliser, Blackburn hit them on the break. Ball was unlucky to concede a free kick on the halfway line, and Richards lost his man as the ball was floated into the box. The ball fell to the unmarked Jason Roberts, who nodded the ball over Hart’s despairing dive to make it 2-0 with just four minutes to go.
City, though, showed some fight, when all of their fans must have thought it was game over. Robinho followed a series of step-overs with a high ball towards Kompany. Ooijer could only clear to Sturridge, who volleyed the ball past Robinson on 88 minutes.
With most of the Rovers fans thinking it was going to be a late consolation, the board went up for 4 minutes of stoppage time and the home side began to waste time. Pedersen held the ball in the corner, while Nelson was booked for taking too long over a free kick.
But City used all of the time available. Sturridge rode one challenge excellently, before working the ball onto his left foot and sending a perfectly weighted pass through the area to Robinho, who was unmarked at the back post. He took a touch and slid the ball past Robinson, earning City a point with just 20 seconds left on the clock.
Rovers shot from kick off, but it was an easy catch for Joe Hart.
City looked dead and buried when the home side scored their second, so, for Mark Hughes, it was an excellent response to a problem that should never have existed in the first place. It’s Forest in the cup next for City, who finish 2008 in 13th place, after the point today.