Thursday 19 October 2017

Pellegrini unfazed as City handed extra headache

Blackburn 1 Manchester City 1

Manchester City's Joleon Lescott is hit by a shot from Ben Marshall of Blackburn Rovers at Ewood Park yesterday
Manchester City's Joleon Lescott is hit by a shot from Ben Marshall of Blackburn Rovers at Ewood Park yesterday

Paul Wilson at Ewood Park

No one ever expects an FA Cup upset, otherwise it would hardly count as an upset, and you could tell from a sparsely populated Blackburn end that home hopes were not high.

Manchester City, by contrast, packed out the Darwen End with 7,000 fans, with rumours of even more turning up ticketless just to visit the town centre. Up until half-time it seemed Blackburn central might be the better bet for excitement. Then, as if by magic, a full-blown Cup tie appeared, complete with City going down to 10 men for the last few minutes and hanging on desperately for a draw as DJ Campbell and Tom Cairney went close to grabbing a late winner.

The killer blow eluded Blackburn, though it was not for the want of trying. Or scoring opportunities. At the end Manuel Pellegrini looked as if his first exposure to the reckless romance of the Cup had aged him by a decade or so. "We are not out of the FA Cup so I am not too disappointed," the City manager said.

He declined to blame his goalkeeper for the rather obvious mistake that allowed Blackburn to level the scores, arguing it was a team matter rather than Costel Pantilimon's fault. You could see where he was coming from -- even after Scott Dann's goal City had over half an hour to get back in front, yet had Pantilimon simply caught the ball, or had Pellegrini stuck with the back-in-form Joe Hart, a replay might have been avoided and his players might now be looking forward to a warm-weather break in Abu Dhabi rather than an extra game in January.

"An extra match is not an extra problem," Pellegrini said, more than a little grumpily. "Everyone wants to win all their games but today we played against a very strong team."

City were lethargic in the first half, even allowing for Yaya Toure being given another rest -- they misplaced passes, squandered opportunities and generally looked stumped for ideas on how to break down Blackburn. Only David Silva and Fernandinho were getting forward with any purpose, and when the former skied a decent chance from 10 yards on the half-hour it began to look as though City might be having one of their off-days.

That perception changed when they took the lead from a set-piece in the last minute of the first half, Edin Dzeko heading on Silva's corner to leave Alvaro Negredo a simple far-post tap-in. There was a suggestion of offside, though the flag stayed down and rather to their fans' surprise City turned round in front.

Any suggestion of job done, however, was dispelled after nine minutes of the second half when Pantilimon's error from a Blackburn corner invited the home side back into the game. The goalkeeper appeared to have Gestede's header covered but let the ball bounce back off him, allowing Dann the game's second straightforward tap-in from a position almost identical to where Negredo had scored.

Understandably that boosted Rovers' confidence and City had to survive a rocky spell midway through the second half, with Chris Taylor going close, Dedryck Boyata going into the book and Pellegrini deciding Toure might be needed on the pitch after all.

Boyata followed up his foul on Josh King with an even dozier swipe at Campbell to leave Michael Oliver no choice but to produce a red card to make the last eight minutes even more interesting.

City made it to the end, but this was a day for Blackburn, whose defenders left the field at half-time arguing among themselves over who was at fault for letting the visitors on to the scoresheet, to show they are well on the road to recovery.

"We restored some pride in the club today," Gary Bowyer said. "I've got nothing but praise for the players and the unity they showed. I don't normally single out individuals but while he has been out so long I think an exception can be made for Paul Robinson on this occasion. His experience helped us massively."

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