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Manchester City took advantage of a supine Blackburn Rovers to extend their lead at the top of the Premier League to five points over Manchester United, whose manager will doubtless be considering an angry complaint to the Jockey Club, or anyone else who will listen, about the in-and-out running of Steve Kean’s relegation-threatened side.
The situation at the top of the Premier League might be much closer had not Blackburn managed a surprise win at Old Trafford a couple of months ago, or alternatively had they shown the same sort of attacking enterprise here. Instead, Blackburn accepted defeat so meekly that Joe Hart barely touched the ball all evening, much less made a save. The visitors’ first, and only, attempt on goal came in stoppage time. A Carlos Tevez apology has contained more fight.
Roberto Mancini issued a curt welcome back to Tevez in his programme notes, but the club wisely refrained from making him a visible presence at the game, indicating the manager has plenty of other strikers to be going on with; the Argentinian must wait until next month at least for a look-in. How the City crowd will greet him when he does show his face is a matter of lively debate; opinion among fans seems to be divided.
City began as if they intended to show Tevez he could stew for a little while yet, Mario Balotelli taking under a minute to bring a superb reaction save from Paul Robinson on the home side’s first attack, although initial impressions were slightly misleading. Despite the whole of the game being played in the Blackburn half, City spent the next half-hour passing the ball around Robinson’s penalty area without managing to test the goalkeeper again. Balotelli did bring a save from a 30-yard free-kick and Adam Johnson’s hopeful effort from outside the area was scrambled away rather than caught cleanly, but Robinson was comfortable dealing with long-range efforts and it said much about City’s lack of real penetration that they were unable to fashion any opportunities closer to goal.
Then on the half-hour mark they did, cutting Blackburn open so cleanly that Robinson could have seen little of the Balotelli shot that gave City the lead. David Silva took the ball from Yaya Tour├ę and sent Aleksandar Kolarov galloping down the left for a low cross that Balotelli met on the six-yard line with a first-time finish that gave the goalkeeper no chance. Robinson found himself quite busy between the first goal and the interval, first keeping out a shot from Silva that came straight at him and then improvising instinctively when Vincent Kompany’s flick from a corner seemed to have taken him by surprise.
Perhaps a one-goal, half-time lead was nothing to shout about against a Blackburn side that had slipped back into the bottom three before the game kicked off as a result of Wolves’ comeback at Newcastle. But this is the same Blackburn who beat United and drew at Anfield, both times after spending the first half soaking up home pressure, so Mancini would have been reasonably pleased just to turn round in front. He would have been even more pleased had Sergio Ag├╝ero accepted an opportunity to double the lead in the last seconds of first-half stoppage time, instead of missing the target completely.
While there was only one goal in the game, City had to be on their guard, even against opponents who were reluctant to cross the halfway line, but when City scored again seven minutes into the second half all pretence of a contest was over. Ag├╝ero was the scorer, making up for his earlier miss, but surprisingly the provider was Blackburn’s Robinson, who made a hash of a routine catch at a corner and ended up presenting the striker with the ball and an open goal.
Blackburn were never likely to come back from that. All evening they had failed to get anyone forward to give Yakubu Ayegbeni any meaningful support and they did not significantly change their gameplan once when they trailed by two goals. It was as if they had already written off their chances here in favour of concentrating on a run of slightly more winnable games coming up. “We never kept the ball well enough to threaten, but at least we have no injuries,” Kean said, revealingly. “We have some games now against clubs around us, like Villa, Bolton and Wigan.”
City are not so full of confidence at the moment that they cannot be rattled by conceding a goal, but Blackburn never put the matter to the test, merely giving a collective shrug when Edin Dzeko scored within a minute of taking the field with a firm header from another Kolarov cross.
Ironically, Mancini had claimed beforehand that there is no such thing as an easy game in the Premier League. He may want to reconsider. “I am happy because our three strikers scored three goals,” Mancini said, before sending out his assistant to take further questions. “There’s a belief that we can win games here,” David Platt said. “But there are some wins that you have to grind out.”