- Matchday centre
- Match reports
- 02 January 2010 17:12
- Posted by Chris Bailey
Snow drifts, freezing fog, accidents on the roads, the team arriving late and a host of senior players given time to rest their limbs...welcome to the first Saturday of the New Year and the modern FA Cup!
Some City fans didn’t make it over the treacherous M62 but those who did saw boss Roberto Mancini clock up a third straight win in charge and a third clean sheet.
Perhaps most impressively the Blues achieved their latest success without nine injured first team star names, with a debut making teenager at the heart of the defence and two left backs deployed in varying positions for the ninety ice cold minutes.
It was a victory that was efficient and clinical with the hard working well organized Premier League side seldom troubled by a Boro side that never brought the best out of Shay Given. It was a cheerless afternoon for those living in Teesside with only 12,474 turning up for the tie.
At least the ground announcer displayed a keen sense of humour. As the mercury in the thermometer at the Riverside froze solid and the wind chill factor blew off the scale he cheerily played ‘Walkin’ on Sunshine’ and ‘It’s a Beautiful Day’ to the huddled pockets of fans that had made it through the Arctic conditions.
With one eye on the Carling Cup and the other on the tired bodies and minds of his players, Mancini started with Craig Bellamy and Carlos Tevez on the bench and handed a first start to Dedryck Boyata and a second to Vladimir Weiss. He also recalled Benjani to strike duty.
Missing were Joleon Lescott, Nedum Onuoha, Wayne Bridge, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Stephen Ireland, Roque Santa Cruz and Robinho (all injured) and Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Adebayor at the African Cup of Nations!
There was not much of note at either end in a hum-drum opening half. Boro huffed and puffed without threatening captain Given’s goal while the Blues only had a brace of shots from Pablo Zabaleta, both of them blocked, to show for their efforts.
The young man who shone brightest through the Riverside gloom was the Belgian Boyata who looked thoroughly at home alongside Micah Richards in the first half and his countryman Vincent Kompany in the second.
Calm on the ball, assured with his passing and strong and committed in the air, the 19-year-old can be delighted with his debut the high point of which was a superb his 33rd minute tackle on Marvin Emnes as the Boro substitute shaped to open the scoring.
In the end that honour went to Benjani who is only just over a calf strain and hadn’t been on target in a senior contest since his textbook header in the 1-1 draw with Fulham at Craven Cottage.
There was no fluke about the striker either, a lovely effort low past Danny Coyne’s right hand after a fine through ball by Martin Petrov who, until a customary Mancini reshuffle, was employed in this contest as a central striker with the duties out wide split between Vladimir Weiss and Sylvinho.
That all changed at the interval when Richards and De Jong departed leaving Kompany to drop back into the heart of the back four, Sylvinho to patrol the centre of midfield - something he probably never envisaged when he moved from Barcelona in the summer - and Gareth Barry was introduced for a run out.
Petrov, meanwhile, decamped to the right wing with Carlos Tevez lending Benjani a hand up front.
The Argentine, in a rich vein of scoring form that he can seldom have surpassed in his career, ought to have sealed the tie in the 63rd minute when he scampered free only to screw his shot wide. Perhaps he was still at odds with himself moments later when a second opening presented itself but this time he sliced horribly wide. A third attempt from an 80th minute free kick was the closest he came but even this attempt was a foot wide of the target.
All the while Mancini was looking on with a knowing eye, not afraid to back his judgement or make tactical switches as necessary.
By the 72nd minute the manager, wearing a cap with his trademark City scarf, decided it was time for Craig Bellamy to come off the bench to liven things up. Off went Weiss who had not been obviously poor but who had perhaps not taken advantage of his chance in the same way Boyata had.