FA Premier League
Saturday 31 August 2013, 12.45 KO
City: Hart, Zabaleta, Nastasic, Lescott, Kolarov, Fernandinho, Toure (c), Silva (Nasri 66), Aguero (Milner 75), Dzeko (Negredo 45), Navas
Unused: Pantilimon, Clichy, Garcia, Jovetic
Goals: Negredo (65), Toure (90)
Booked: Fernandinho, Nastasic
Referee: Phil Dowd
Man of the Match: Jesus Navas
Just what the doctor ordered a week after losing unexpectedly to a newly promoted team: Another newly promoted team, but one who built their previous season’s success on steady 1-0 wins. A mean defence and a squad happy to press the ball. The perfect remedy for a City side a bit shaken for confidence. Your sarcasm detector might have broken already…
After a disappointing weekend, the Blues needed a quick start and to be out of the blocks with some early pressure – maybe even an early goal. But it was the visitors who were preying on the hosts’ vulnerability: Graham nearly latched on to a ball over the top, but Aluko missed the golden chance – a one-on-one with Hart, after a mix-up between Nastasic and Lescott.
The linesman’s flag was what saved City from falling behind next. A ball across the back four was missed by everybody but Graham, who slid it into the net past the despairing Hart dive. But it was offside. Just.
Tentatively, the home side responded with some chances of their own. Dzeko met a Navas corner to force McGregor to parry wide and had Lescott’s header been either side of the goalkeeper, it would likely have been the opening goal. As it was, he was able to tip it over the bar.
But after the Tigers had ridden the City reply, the game settled into a gritty pattern. The home side had a lot of the ball, but struggled to use it, while the visitors were wasteful with their passing on the break. On the stroke of half time, Yaya Toure missed a free header from inside the box – and the home side should have gone in a goal up.
Substitute Negredo got his angles all wrong when he was gifted a free header in the opening stages of the second half – a delivery from the right was met by the Spaniard, but he headed well wide.
But any fans hoping that would swing the tie City’s way would have been disappointed. Zabaleta’s miscued header fell to Graham, but his effort was well over the bar. Hart showed neat footwork to evade Aluko, as the Hull man chased him down.
As the hour mark approached, the home side were improving and getting closer. Navas had a volley wide, while a well-rehearsed free kick found Lescott free at the back-post, but his header across goal was deflected behind. And, as Nasri’s introduction seemed imminent, the hosts took the lead.
A breakaway, led by Navas and Aguero found Zabaleta on the right flank. He got the ball across from deep and early, allowing Negredo to leap higher than any of the visiting defence. He met it and nodded past the star jump of McGregor, straight into the net.
Navas found Nastasic from a free kick, but the Serbian could only find the gloves of McGregor, as the home side looked to put the game to bed. And it was getting nervy – as Kolarov was the wrong side of Boyd, but it took a great challenge for the left-back to recover inside his own box. Two great punches from Hart also cleared the box, as the keeper relieved some of the pressure.
The ultimate relief, though, came from the captain. Nasri was felled on the edge of the box as the game headed for stoppage time. With Toure and Kolarov over it, it was the Ivorian who curled the ball into the top corner – in off the underside of the bar, as the defender on the line could do nothing.
It was far from a classic City performance, but a win’s a win after all.