City in cruise control
Manchester City 3
Published 06/01/2013 | 05:00
Cup magic was conspicuous by its absence at the Etihad, unless you count Mario Balotelli making the dreams of the 17-year-old substitute Marcos Lopes come true in stoppage-time.
Many were streaming for the exits by then, others must have been in danger of dozing off. Manchester City neutralised Watford's challenge with two first-half goals, and the underdogs never looked like biting back in a soporific second half.
"Scoring a second at the end of the first half knocked the stuffing out of them," the City assistant coach David Platt said. "We were always in control after that."
City totally controlled the first 20 minutes, yet all they had to show for their enterprise was a succession of corners. James Milner, in particular, was wasteful with his crossing, and after tiring of waiting in vain in the middle for final balls that never arrived Carlos Tevez took matters into his own hands midway through the first half. Fouled outside the area by John Eustace, Tevez took the free-kick himself and arrowed an unstoppable shot through the wall and beyond Jon Bond.
It was a goal that had been coming, yet within seconds of going behind Gianfranco Zola's side had a glorious chance to get back on terms. Fernando Forestieri raced free through the middle with City's defenders trailing, but having sprung the offside trap to put himself one-on-one with Costel Pantilimon, the goalkeeper saved and any chance of an upset was lost.
"We didn't take our chances as well as we usually do," Zola said. "I'm not saying we could have won the game, but we could have made it closer." City continued to squeeze Watford for the rest of the first half, until eventually a switch of wings worked wonders for Milner's accuracy, and a cross from the left byline was fimly headed home by Gareth Barry.
City's high line was breached again at the start of the second half. With more composure Troy Deeney could have pulled a goal back, but a heavy touch showed too much of the ball to the goalkeeper.
Balotelli came on for the last 20 minutes, exchanging a joke with Zola on the way out and forcing a save from Bond with his first touch. He missed his best chance from a David Silva cross and was pulled up for a couple of fouls when attempting to help out in defence, before producing a shot that Bond could only push out to Lopes.
The Portugal-qualified Brazilian has become one of City's youngest ever scorers after playing just five minutes of competitive football. Balotelli should take note. He might have 100 more chances but he will need to sharpen up to take any.
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