Benjani strike keeps ball rolling for Mancini at City
Middlesbrough 0 Manchester City 1
Published 03/01/2010 | 05:00
Three games, three victories and no goals conceded. If Roberto Mancini can extend that run to four games when City face Manchester United on Wednesday, there will be calls for a statue of the Italian to be erected outside Eastlands.
Two weeks after replacing Mark Hughes as manager, Mancini has already won the battle for hearts and minds among the City supporters. They like the way he wears his blue and white scarf, which has sold out in the club's megastore, but it is the instant transformation on the pitch that has done the job on the terraces.
Even with a half-strength team, City continued their flawless form and Benjani's first-half goal ensured there would be no FA Cup embarrassment against Middlesbrough.
City were given an easy ride by Gordon Strachan's unimpressive team and Mancini admits he could not have asked for a better start to his reign as manager.
"When you start a new job, it is always important to start well,'' said Mancini. "We have done that, but we must now move on to the Manchester United game and do our job again. We should have some players back for that game, but Micah Richards went off with a problem at half-time, so hopefully Nedum Onuoha will be fit.''
With the unexpectedly severe weather conditions in the north of England having its effect on Teesside, this tie was in doubt until referee Stuart Attwell sanctioned the fixture to go ahead as planned following an inspection of both the playing surface and the roads surrounding the stadium 90 minutes before kick-off.
But Middlesbrough, who went into this game having won just twice in 10 games since Strachan's arrival in October, saw their hopes of a shock recede dramatically when winger Adam Johnson limped out with a recurrence of a hamstring injury before the interval. Without Johnson, Boro lacked the one player capable of worrying City.
Mancini's team were rarely troubled and should have gone in with a greater half-time lead than the one goal provided by Benjani in the 45th minute. Pablo Zabaleta was unlucky to see a goal-bound shot deflected behind by Julio Arca on six minutes, while Martin Petrov shot wide from 12 yards after being released by Benjani on 39 minutes.
Then an astute pass by Petrov found Benjani on the edge of the Boro penalty area and the forward beat Danny Coyne with a crisp right-foot strike from 12 yards.
City were more comfortable than the 1-0 scoreline suggested and Middlesbrough's desperation was borne out on 47 minutes when captain Gary O'Neil was booked by Attwell for diving, attempting to win a penalty following a challenge by Vladimir Weis.
If any team was going to add to the scoring, City appeared most likely and Carlos Tevez twice went close to doubling the visitors' lead.
Middlesbrough were restricted to set pieces as they attempted to equalise, but both Jonathan Franks and David Wheater failed to take advantage of good headed chances as the game drifted towards the closing stages.