FA Cup Third Round
Saturday 2 January 2010, 15:00 KO
City: Given (c), Richards (Barry 45), Kompany, Boyata, Sylvinho, de Jong (Tevez 45), Zabaleta, Garrido, Petrov, Weiss (Bellamy 73), Benjani
Unused: Taylor, Vidal, Trippier, Tutte
Goals: Benjani (45)
Booked: Garrido, Barry
Referee: Stuart Attwell
Man of the Match: Vincent Kompany
After a perfect start for Roberto Mancini as City boss, his side faced a challenge of a different sort: a battling Championship side, away from home in very cold and snowy conditions. If it was a day for an upset, this could easily have been the tie, given City’s dreadful record at the Riverside.
With the snow falling heavily, the game got off to a very slow start. Middlesbrough pressed City into mistakes at the back, with the weakened side struggling to keep the ball. That said, it was City who fashioned the better chances.
From the first corner of the match, City caused havoc in the Middlesbrough penalty area, when Kompany and Boyata both challenged for headers, though the defence were able to (just) clear. It fell to Zabaleta on the edge of the box, his first effort was blocked and his second effort looked destined for the back of the net before it hit the defender and went wide.
The home side’s best chances were going to come from set pieces, but the City defence were coping comfortably with the balls in. The home side then should have done better when Wheater nodded a free kick back into the box and Boyata cleared, before the young Belgian put in an excellent tackle to deny Emnes in the box.
With 40 minutes on the clock, Petrov had an excellent chance to give the visitors the lead, but his right foot effort curled wide of Coyne’s right post, after Benjani had played a neat one-two with the Bulgarian.
Weiss then had an effort blocked, before his cross towards Benjani didn’t reach its destination. Middlesbrough had pressed City well all half, but looked tired and like they couldn’t wait for the half time break.
Then, just as it looked like the sides would go in all square, a Sylvinho header coolly back to Given set City off on the attack. Petrov ran at the Middlesbrough defence and slipped Benjani in. He made no mistake and slotted the ball calmly past the on-coming Middlesbrough keeper and into the back of the net. City had been on the back foot for most of the half, but had the lead going into the break.
The first action of the second half saw Gary O’Neil booked for a blatant dive in the area, before Emnes had to go off after challenging with Zabaleta for a header, coming off the worse.
Tevez then had an effort that needed a comfortable save from the Middlesbrough keeper from just inside the box. City were knocking the ball around with much more confidence in the second half, but they were still struggling to carve out chances.
With 66 minutes on the clock, Williams couldn’t force Given into a save as his shot was deflected wide, with Zabaleta completing the clearance from the corner. Tevez then, on the break, had an excellent chance to add another goal to his tally, but he was forced wide by a combination of defender and goalkeeper and couldn’t slot the ball home.
Kompany then pulled off a great saving header to clear an effort off the line with 15 minutes to go, before Luke Williams skied the rebound as the home side looked for an unlikely equaliser.
With under 10 minutes to go, City were awarded a free kick in exactly the same place as Garrido had scored from against Wolves, but it was Tevez who took it this time and it was a yard wide of the post.
Bellamy then raced clear of the Middlesbrough defence and got to the by-line, cutting the ball back towards Benjani and Tevez, but the latter was denied by an excellent clearance from Chris Riggott.
City then had two golden chances to seal off the win – first Petrov couldn’t get Bellamy cross down in time, before the Bulgarian sent a beautiful, low ball across towards Tevez who couldn’t control. With the keeper stranded, the little Argentinean found Bellamy, whose shot was saved and Petrov’s follow up was over the bar.
With four minutes added on, Middlesbrough began to press the City goal. They sent several free kick towards the penalty spot from the halfway line, but each was dealt with comfortably by a combination of Barry and Kompany, and, on the one occasion it fell to a Middlesbrough player, the follow-up header was straight at Given.
It wasn’t the best performance of City’s season, but they got the job done in difficult conditions and they made it three wins and three clean sheets in three games for Roberto Mancini. The real test comes on Wednesday.