Manchester City 2-0 Birmingham: Dream return for Hargreaves
Published 21:45 21/09/11 By MirrorFootball
After all the millions spent by Roberto Mancini this summer, his shrewdest signing could well be free agent Owen Hargreaves.
Although Mancini likes to splash the cash, he also appreciates a bargain and reckoned Hargreaves was too good to pass up when Manchester United released him in the summer.
He looked past his three-year injury hell and reckoned the midfielder, who had posted training videos of himself on YouTube, could boost his squad as they chased glory at home and in the Champions League.
And what a great call that looks after Hargreaves marked his debut by scoring a terrific goal to help put City in the Carling Cup fourth round.
Hargreaves also showed he could be the midfielder Mancini was crying out for after Sunday’s disappointing draw with Fulham.
He played almost an hour in his first game since November before coming off to a standing ovation and Mancini must be kicking himself that he didn’t include him in his Champions League squad.
The City manager omitted him because his medical team didn’t think he would be ready until October and his speedy return has surprised everyone at the club.
Hargreaves was clearly fired up after being written off as a crock in the summer and opened the scoring after 17 minutes.
Curtis Davies tackled Mario Balotelli and when the ball broke to him 25 yards out, he smashed the ball into the far top corner to register his first goal since a free-kick against Arsenal back in dim and distant April 2008.
For Hargreaves it was the sweetest of moments after the injury hell he has endured of two knee operations, shoulder surgery and torn hamstring and calf muscles.
On a night for comebacks, Wayne Bridge showed he has something to offer someone other than Mancini on his first City game since December as he hit a 20-yard shot, which Colin Doyle pushed around his right-hand post for a corner.
Kolo Toure also got in on the act in his first game since his six-month drugs ban and after Doyle saved his header, he blocked Davies’ overhead kick on the line when debutant Costel Pantilimon fumbled Jean Beausejour’s deep free-kick.
That was as good as it got for Birmingham, who surrendered their grip on the Carling Cup without much of a fight, and in the 38th minute City their killer second through Mario Balotelli.
Aleksandar Kolarov raided forward from left-back and picked out Balotelli with a precise cross, which the Italy striker slotted past Doyle into the bottom far corner for his first goal of the season.
Mancini brought Hargreaves off after 57 minutes and, his stitched-up body permitting, last night should be the start of an exciting new chapter in his career.
City remained in total control and it was just a question of how many they could be bothered to score against the lacklustre visitors, who made seven changes.
Balotelli clearly fancied another and he whizzed a 20-yard shot just over Doyle’s bar in a near miss for Birmingham.
Carlos Tevez had been virtually anonymous by comparison, although he did go close when he curled a right-foot free-kick just wide.
His is wilting out of the limelight and the one-time golden boy’s lack of confidence was summed up when he shot straight at Doyle when played clean through in the dying minutes.
The Tevez of the last two seasons would have gobbled up this chance and he is fast fading from the star he was.
Manchester City: Pantilimon 5; Onuoha 6, Savic 6, K Toure 7, Kolarov 7; Zabaleta 7, Hargreaves 8 (Milner 57mins 6), Razak 6, Bridge 6 (Rekik 78mins 6); Tevez 5, Balotelli 7.
Birmingham: Doyle 7; Spector 6, Ibanez 6, Davies 6, Murphy 5; Burke 5, N’Daw 5, Fahey 5 (Gomis 67mins 5), Beausejour 6, Redmond 5 (King 78mins 5); Rooney 4 (Zigic 67mins 4).
Referee: Kevin Friend
Teams in the Carling Cup's fourth round draw, to be made on Gillette Soccer Saturday (from midday, Sky Sports News).