Writer: Tranmere Loyal
Date:Thursday March 3 2011
How fortunes changes quickly in this wonderful sport of ours.
From the frustrations of the non-performance against Fulham to the elation of an inspired work-out against Aston Villa, who caused us problems only a couple of weeks ago.
Two unusual line-ups took the field at Eastlands last night. Gerard Houllier left out his key players, Roberto Mancini shuffled his around.
With City's team looking more like what we expected last Sunday, there was immediately a more solid and compact feel to the fixture, never better demonstrated than when the master magician, David Silva was on the ball.
From minute one the speed and accuracy of his passing created problems for a Villa defence shorn of Collins, who for me creates quite a robust looking central partnership when playing alongside Richard Dunne that City have at times found hard to break down.
Not so tonight. An early attack down the left brought a corner. Kolarov floated it in, Vieira headed on and in a flash Yaya Toure had spun on a sixpence and lashed the ball into the net before Mark Clattenburg had had time to award us a penalty for hand ball against Ciaran Clark.
So the East Stand tonight was in 'Poznan' form as early as the fourth minute.
City went into 'keep ball' mode and Villa were finding it difficult to command the ball and when they did possess it were at times wasteful.
Balotelli was getting into his stride finding himself with more space than when Dzeko and Tevez occupy similar blades of grass and the quality of this precocious young man came to the fore on 25 minutes when he sprinted after an excellent pass from Yaya, beat the Villa defence to it and hit an early first timer from 20 yards, which even a keeper of the quality of Friedel must hardly have seen as it arrowed in off the left hand post. Poznan round 2 in the East Stand and effectively game over.
There is always a though around Eastlands that 'if they get one back we'll be on the rack' and for a while you could sense that in the Stands. But as Villa seemingly didn't want the ball, Agbonlahor unable to make his pace count and Heskey freezing alive on the left wing, the white flag was on its way out.
Balotelli for whom there is never a dull moment received a yellow card for putting his arm across a Villa player. I don't think Clattenburg saw that any more than he saw untouchable Rooney on Saturday but because the Villa player took it upon himself to have a roll around, the beleagured official saw fit to admonish Super Mario.
Shortly after Balotelli was left holding his knee following a stiff challenge. This continued for the last 8 minutes fo the first half and looked to be a sign that his season was coming to a close based upon how long he has been out with knee injuries this season.
However, despite Tevez warming up throughout half time, Balotelli stuck with it for another 15 minutes before being replaced by Tevez who restored some urgency to our attacking play.
Houllier sent on Young and Downing but the the match was rapidly falling away for Villa for whom Bannan kept trying but his quest looked very much a lone one.
On 75 minutes, a cross from Zabaleta was headed out by Clark into the path of the maestro, Silva, who struck a sweet shot into the bottom corner, once again leaving Friedel unable to offer any resistance.
This was a much better performance by City and the lessons of Sunday's lethargy were clearly learned. Richards once again had a good game in defence and attack, Boateng looked much better in the centres, Lescott was almiost masterful and Zaba was just Zaba. No frills, no spills just a consummate professional.
The left hand side looked better with Zaba on the corner and Kolarov advanced. Vieira anchored the midfield releasing Yaya to play further forward and Silva? What more can we say. He is easily one of the best players I have ever seen in a City shirt. A sentence that began in 1962 and walked through the golden era, down to the second division and back again.
Despite the boos Barry had a solid game which was probably overdue and Balotelli looked a lot happier (?) as the lone striker with no one to tread on his toes.
Reading at home in the next round....dare we start to think that the trophy drought could end by beating Stretford in the Final at Wembley? Wouldn't that be justice!
Date:Thursday March 3 2011
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