1-0 (Zabaleta 52)
- Match reports
- 17 January 2009 17:00
- Posted by Tim Oscroft
Pre match news: Wayne Bridge makes his debut as Mark Hughes shuffles his pack. Nedum Onuoha is back in defence, while Pablo Zabaleta shifts into midfield and SWP has shaken off his hamstring strain. Robinho partners Sturridge up front, but the most interesting news on the teamsheet is the inclusion of the highly-rated Vladimir Weiss on the bench. Will the exciting Slovakian winger, part of the Youth Cup-winning side, be the 27th Academy graduate to play for the first team?
Debutante Wayne Bridge received a warm ovation as his home fans got their first view of the talented England left-back. He was in the thick of it early on, harrying Melciot into giving away a throw in, from which SWP went close to flicking the ball over Kirkland.
Robinho spurned the first good chance of the day on 12 minutes, staying onside to run onto Elano’s lob from midfield but placing the ball wide as Scharner and Kirkland closed in on him.
The Brazilian striker was involved in a claim for a penalty five minutes later, his attempt to cross from the left of the area striking Melchiot in the midriff and rebounding upwards – but not onto hand or arm.
City’s Brazilian blend nearly unlocked the gates on 21 minutes, but last-ditch defending kept it at 0-0. Elano’s short pass found Robinho, whose chip over the keeper was heading in – until Titus Bramble cleared it away from off the line. We went close again seconds later, SWP crossing from the right to find Sturridge, but he could not get on top of it and the chance went wide.
As City continued to dominate, Sturridge went wide as he let fly from long range, and a mazy run from the livewire SWP ended with the impressive Scharner conceding a corner – which came to nothing. The visitors were not as impressive in attack, the much-discussed Palacios getting one shot in on target and going just wide with Hart covering it on 38 minutes.
The first half ended on a quiet note, as did the second – until a goal and a sending off brought the game to life.
City took the lead when fine work by Sturridge on the right saw Scharner’s header go straight out to Pablo Zabaleta – who controlled it and unleashed an unstoppable volley that flew past Kirkland and scraped inside the post and into the net.
But barely a minute later City were down to 10 men in controversial circumstances. Dunne and Zaki went up for a high ball with the Egyptian the higher of the two; City’s skipper went to ground clutching his face but after he landed he lashed out with a foot. Wigan’s striker made a meal of it – and Lee Mason pointed an angry Dunne to the tunnel. So not for the first time this season we were going to have to try to hang on with reduced numbers, and a few minutes later Sturridge was sacrificed for Garrido as Mark Hughes tried to protect the lead for the last half hour.
Wigan piled on the pressure and were claiming a handball on the line a few minutes later, but a calm Elano had chested the ball down and cleared the danger. An almighty goalmouth scramble on 68 saw Melchiot spin and shoot straight at Zabaleta. A couple of minutes later and Lee Mason earned the wrath of the home crowd again by booking Robinho for holding back Cattermole.
It was not just one-way traffic, with SWP breaking in from midfield to unleash a shot that faded wide with eight minutes left. Zabaleta’s charge-down with his chest as Wigan tried to break seconds later typified the backs-to-the-wall nature of the performance.
They say that what goes around, comes around, and with six minutes left Zaki missed an absolute sitter that had the City contingent chuckling. A Cattermole header rebounded off the bar and fell to the striker a couple of yards out with Hart still on the ground – and unbelievably he headed it over the bar. Karma indeed.
With two minutes left, Cattermole went to ground on the edge of the box but this time referee Mason was on City’s side. As we entered stoppage time a Garrido clearance looked to hit Elano on the hand in the area, but replays showed it was actually onto his chest.
A breathless finish saw Cattermole shoot a long way over, then Hart saved the day with a flying save from Melchiot’s header. There was still time for Kirkland to go up at the resulting corner, and City broke away to try to get the second, but Elano’s shot from the halfway line with the keeper nowhere went wide.
And that was it – a dramatic match between two committed sides with a dash of controversy that might just have got our season heading in the right direction, thanks to a courageous Mark Hughes-type performance by the Blues.