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Mancini effect takes hold

Allardyce backs City for top four finish after Tevez proves talisman in win over Blackburn as Italian lesson continues

The modesty of their victims means that praise, for now, must come with a small caveat, but as Manchester City moved into fourth place in the Premier League by extending their 100pc record under their new manager last night, thanks to a Carlos Tévez hat-trick, it seemed that the Roberto Mancini effect was taking hold.

Every goal Tevez scores for City comes as a blow to Manchester United, the club he left behind in such acrimonious circumstances last summer. That in itself would once have been a cause for celebration in these parts -- and in one sense it still is, as the sarcastic chants of "Fergie, sign him up" illustrate -- but these days City have higher goals and, as the target of Champions League qualification was seen on the horizon last night, it seemed that, under Mancini, they are plotting a course.

A comfortable victory over Blackburn Rovers was also memorable for the goal scored by Micah Richards and, even if City's successes so far under their Italian manager have come against low-grade opposition, they are now winning games that they were invariably drawing in the final months of the Mark Hughes regime.

Moreover, they seem flushed with confidence -- not just Tevez and Richards but Javier Garrido, Martin Petrov and Benjani Mwaruwari, players who had drifted out of the first-team picture under Hughes.

City had been desperate for the game to go ahead, defiantly announcing on their website yesterday morning that "tireless work has taken place, day and night" to ensure that the areas around the City of Manchester Stadium were deemed safe by the local authorities.



Chants

It was as if Mancini's team were raring to go, having seen their Carling Cup semi-final first leg against Manchester United postponed last week, and, by the time the half-time whistle blew, they were 2-0 up, with chants of "Big Sam, sort it out" directed at Sam Allardyce by the Blackburn supporters.

For Allardyce, whose problems deepened when striker Benni McCarthy suffered a back spasm in the warm-up and was unable to take his place among the substitutes, it was not as simple as telling his players to get to grips with the cash-rich opposition.

Yes Blackburn were poor, but City were lively, maintaining a high tempo throughout the first half, in which Tevez and Benjani led the charge, while Craig Bellamy and the rejuvenated Petrov repeatedly stretched the visiting team's defence and Nigel de Jong and Gareth Barry played with typical economy in the midfield.

For all that was good about City, though, their first-half goals were the type that have opposition managers tearing their hair out. For the first, in the seventh minute, Christopher Samba and Paul Robinson contrived to concede a corner that was whipped in by Petrov, flapped at by Robinson, scuffed back across goal by Benjani and turned in with his thigh by a delighted Tevez from inside the six-yard box.

The second goal saw Richards carry the ball unchallenged for almost 80 yards before converting the rebound from Benjani's shot, but it was, of a sort, a magnificent goal, a triumph of power and single-mindedness.

Richards had one thought on his mind as he set off on an improbable charge forward, surging past Steven N'Zonzi, Keith Andrews and Ryan Nelsen before slipping an astute pass to Benjani. The forward's shot hit the inside of the post and, as the ball bounced out, there was Richards to make it 2-0.

The third goal, four minutes into the second half, was a classic, with Tevez dropping deep to dictate the play, spreading the ball wide to Benjani and racing forward to sweep home the resulting cross from the edge of the penalty area.

At that point Allardyce must have feared the worst, but, encouragingly, his team emerged stronger for a series of substitutions and deserved the consolation that came in the 71st minute when a dawdling Vincent Kompany lost the ball to Morten Gamst Pedersen, who curled a lovely shot past Shay Given.

That was the first goal City had conceded in 341 minutes of football under Mancini and, more than the statistic, it will be the manner of the aberration that disappoints the new manager.



reality

Perhaps it will serve as a welcome reality check before the tougher assignments ahead, but, while the full extent of the Mancini effect has still to be proven, four wins out of four really is not bad, especially as Tevez provided the icing on the cake by completing his second English top-flight hat-trick in stoppage time.

Meanwhile, Rovers chief Allardyce believes a top four spot is a realistic target for City this season.

"There is no reason to think they cannot be in the top four," said the Blackburn boss.

"When you look at the other sides who usually finish in the top four, it might not be a bad time to do it."

Tevez marked his first hat-trick since scoring one for Manchester United against Blackburn in the Carling Cup 13 months ago.

"I don't know the whole story," said Mancini of Tevez's controversial move from the red to the blue half of the city. But when I was in Italy and watched him on TV I thought Carlos was a good player."

Meanwhile, Mancini confirmed that Emmanuel Adebayor will be given as much time as he needs to get over Friday's horrific gun attack at the African Nations Cup in Angola.

"I am very sorry for him," said Mancini. "When he comes back I will speak with him and let him decide when he wants to play. That will be OK with me."


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