Thursday 22 February 2018

Balotelli strike sparks City into life as poor Rovers offer no resistance

Manchester City 3 Blackburn 0

Graham Chase

From the start, this never looked like being anything other than a routine pummelling.

A fine move involving Adam Johnson and David Silva ended with the England man pulling a low cross back for Mario Balotelli, whose low stab at goal was turned away impressively by Paul Robinson with just over a minute gone in the game.

Blackburn have had their thumpings on their travels this season but are generally always competitive and they went close themselves just a couple of minutes gone.

Morten Gamst Pedersen's floated free-kick was not dealt with by the Manchester City defence and Grant Hanley's shot bounced wide off Joleon Lescott.

Blackburn's relative inactivity in the January transfer window was largely summed up by their signing of Martin Olsson's twin brother Marcus, who previously had an unsuccessful trial at the club.

The Swedish winger's introduction to the English game came by the way of a quick scamper down the left that ended with him being dispossessed and sent tumbling over the touchline by Nigel de Jong.

Blackburn's new assistant manager Eric Black had insisted that it was hardly like his players had to get used to being without Christopher Samba, who departed for Russian club Anzhi Makhachkala on Friday after effectively withdrawing his labour from the start of the year.

But Hanley and Scott Dann, Steve Kean's only available centre-backs, did well to cope with City's early onslaught although the former, who impressed Alex Ferguson when the United manager first saw Phil Jones play in a youth game, was booked for a crude challenge on Balotelli with only a quarter of the game gone.

The pressing continued, with Johnson exploding onto Sergio Aguero's cross-field pass and seeing a drive blocked by Robinson, who also dealt with the Pablo Zabaleta cross that followed.

As the vast majority of the players continued to cram in to just a third of the field, Balotelli saw a bending free-kick swatted away by Robinson.

But when the breakthrough came, just before the half hour, it was utterly clinical. After a Rovers attack broke down, Yaya Toure started the counter-attack by picking out David Silva. The Spaniard rolled the ball on Aleskander Kolarov, whose cross from the left byline was finished from close-range by Balotelli.

Blackburn felt they should have had a penalty for De Jong's challenge on Pedersen but at the other end Kolarov smashed a shot well over the bar and shortly afterwards clipped through a slightly more intelligent ball for Silva, who was yet again denied by Robinson.

Lescott failed to get a decent connection to Kolarov's corner and Kompany's flick forced a flying save from goalkeeper Robinson, Toure then failed to divert the rebound, which arrived at shoulder height, into the corner of the net.

Aguero also lifted another chance over the bar after Balotelli failed to get a full header on Johnson's corner and the Argentinian also got on the end of Balotelli's hoof forward before drilling a shot past the far post from a narrow angle just before the interval.

There was less penetration after the restart but when Blackburn did manage to knock the ball up to Yakubu in the hope of gaining some respite, the Nigerian striker was collecting the ball 15 yards inside his own half.

Five minutes into the second period, Johnson had a low effort blocked wide by yet more desperate Blackburn defending. But after an impressive start, an error from Robinson let City in for a second goal. The former England goalkeeper had a clear run at Silva's corner but palmed the ball straight in the air before Aguero thumped the ball past him.

Even Zabaleta thought he was going to add a third when he collected a loose ball in the area only to drill his attempted shot side-ways, straight at Aguero.

Balotelli left the field to a standing ovation with 12 minutes remaining, moments after taking a knock in an aerial challenge in the area and requiring treatment. His replacement, Edin Dzeko, wasted little time in making an impression as he headed the third two minutes later.

Sunday Indo Sport

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