The Ped Report Liverpool 2-2 City
Football`s gods once again lined-up for the opposition last night at Anfield Stadium, where City needed to reverse a home defeat to progress to what would have been their second Wembley final in two seasons.
As Sunday`s referee fudged a decision he had already made using the Wenger-esque "I didn`t see it", despite the fact that he was looking straight at the Balotelli incident, last night`s joker produced a penalty for Liverpool that was simply laughable and which ultimately sentenced City to concentrating on the League…oh and the Europa League also.
Liverpool took the game to City from the off in similar fashion to their production at the Etihad. Their shoot on sight policy was designed, hopefully, create problems in a defence shorn of Kompany for the last time and to an extent it worked.
The result was an extraordinary performance by Joe Hart, for me the world`s best goalkeeper.
City were tidy on the ball but for the first half hour didn`t really threaten, whereas Hart had to fend off Adam, Gerrard and Enrique with astonishing saves as well as facing the constant threat from the buzzing Bellamy.
So it could be said to have been against the run of play when, on the half hour, of all people de Jong found himself in space 25 yards out and curling a peach around Reina and into the Liverpool net. Cue the Poznan.
But City never really looked comfortable at the back and the formation of playing Richards, Savic and Lescott as a back three, guarded by de Jong, I think was a result of the frailties that we have seen from Savic. Every match he has played has been a "big one" and it is to his credit that he put in the shifts, but Kompany he is not and although I do have praise for the lad, I hope Mancini does not consign him to the recycle bin as he has done with Boyata and also Onuoha.
And then came another moment of arbitration magic form probably the biggest IFP referee of them all. I will remind you that IFP stands for "In Fergie`s Pocket". Was it not this referee that awarded Aston Villa a first minute penalty in the Carling Cup Final 2 years ago, but failed to send off the offender, Vidic?
Where on earth did he get this decision from? If the shot at goal would have hit Richards directly on an outstretched arm, I could probably have gone with the referee, but when Richards blocks the shot with his knee and it squirts up into the air and hits his hand, then no, I don`t think so Mr Dowd. It was quite ridiculous that a shot that cannoned off the knee and was headed into the Anfield Road end should be interpreted as deliberate and therefore a penalty awarded. No red card, no yellow card tells you Dowd didn`t know what he`d given. Just as at Wembley, he chickened out.
Dalglish starts angling for Richards to be sent off. No furore there then. I wonder what would have happened if it would have been Roberto.
So once again Gerrard scores from the spot and promptly displays 2 fingers in the direction of Joe Hart. Yes it might mean he had scored 2 penalties against Joe, Gerrard would hardly ever score any other way these days, but if that had been Balotelli…….?
If City had got to half time at 1-0 it would probably have been a different story but in the light of Hart`s performance it was perhaps fitting that the only way he would be beaten was from a supercilious decision like that one.
As the second half began, Liverpool once again got into gear. City had changed to a flat back four with Savic withdrawn and Aguero pushed on up front to help Dzeko.
Liverpool were again the main threat, with Bellamy to the fore. Single handedly he kept Richards and Lescott busy, but for once were starting to get a feel for the match when after 67 minutes Kolarov got clear on the left, from a Silva pass and sent a searching ball along the Liverpool six yard line. None of the three defenders fancied getting a toe to it and it went a long way to Dzeko luring at the far post and he promptly once again levelled the tie with a typical poachers goal.
Both teams were now hunting for a winner and the game had opened out. Hart was still performing heroics having made six exceptional saves and for City Silva was working hard to get the attack moving. Aguero was starting to create problems similar to those at the other end from Bellamy and it was perhaps fitting that after 74 minutes the ex-City man exchanged passes in the box with Johnson and slotted an excellent shot at last past Hart to claim the match and a place in the final for Liverpool.
This prompted Liverpool to bring on an extra defender to see out the match and they appeared to do this with some comfort.
The talking point will undoubtedly be the penalty decision. Dowd spent so long trying to persuade everyone that outstretching your arms leaves you vulnerable to a decision like that but he had not registered the fact that every time Richards confronted a Liverpool attacker he deliberately kept his hands and arms our of the way. On the occasion of the penalty the shot was low level, so outstretching his arms was a natural thing to do as he would block the shot with his legs. Dowd knew he`s made the wrong call there and was trying to justify that decision to himself as much as the players.
t was a reasonably good performance all round by City. Savic looked a bit weak, Kolarov on more for his attacking than defending, but Zabaleta, Lescott and Richard all stayed strong, marshalled by a better effort from de Jong, who`s goal was outstanding.
Barry provided the midfield graft whilst Silva was freed to roam and move in tandem with the improving Nasri. Dzeko ploughed a lone furrow up top but was still causing Skrtl problems.
That only leaves one man…Joe Hart. This was probably the best performance in a single match by a Premier League goalkeeper this season and it is a testimony to Joe that he kept this up for three quarters of the match before he was finally beaten by a legitimate shot on goal. Joe was absolutely exceptional tonight…and he`s English.
Liverpool brickbats go to Gerrard for his antagonistic gesture. A player that I have respected throughout his career now for me falls into the Joey Barton category. Adam actually playd some football tonight although an unpunished trade mark naughty tackle from behind on Dzeko, in the penalty area, as you would expect if it is in City`s favour, wasn`t given by a very poor referee.
Plaudits must go to Craig Bellamy. Readers of the Ped Report will know that in my summaries towards the end of last season and for some of this I have championed the fact that had City retained and used Bellamy last season, they would have ended it as Champions themselves. Bellamy can make an impact, Bellamy can turn draws into wind, losses into draws. And he demonstrated last night that, despite having played 90 minutes in the whacking at Bolton over the weekend, he can still do two games in one week. He was a constant thorn in the flesh and forced Hart onto his toes. He now takes his case to Wembley needing to dispose of his home town Club, Cardiff City in what will be a traumatic affair for Bellers.
City are out of a Cup that they should have won. There is no doubt that the unsportsmanlike conduct of that despicable creature Rooney in getting Kompany red carded has cost City. With Vincent in control at the back I doubt Liverpool would have scored in this tie. I doubt that Mancini would have started Balotelli in this one anyway, but the defence was found out, with Kolo away and Vincent on suspension.
On the plus side he will be back in earnest for the next League match and with the only distraction now being the Europa League maybe City will project themselves well in the title race and get themselves over the line come May.
If they do want to progress in the Europa League they will have to smarten in two-legged football. The Pedmachine has said before, in these pages, that City have not managed the art of home and away legs. We fell against Hamburg, then against the Stretfords, then against Kyiv and now against Liverpool. The next chance to put this right is against FC Porto who are no mugs when it comes to this type of football and who will provide City, once again, with a stern continental challenge.
It is about picking the right team, but the "away" team that Mancini traditionally selects for his trips into Europe, leave me disturbed.