Manchester City 2 Sheffield Wednesday 1 (HT 0-1)
Birthday boy James Milner celebrated by bagging a brace as City edged past a spirited Sheffield Wednesday, but the Boys in Blue left it late. Not for the first time in the cups in recent years, City were sluggish and uninspired in the first half, and Wednesday fully merited their half time lead. It didn’t help that Pellegrini left made too many changes to the starting line-up: Nasri and Silva on the bench for an hour – there was no incisive interplay until they arrived on the scene; and three of the back four were changed. The whole defence looked like strangers and this cost us a goal with a catalogue of errors in the 14th minute. Fair play to May who outpaced Mangala, checked on the edge of the box, and neatly squared for Nuhiu to crisply finish, but City’s defending left a lot to be desired. Boyata played them onside, Mangala got the wrong side of his man and Sagna failed to get across to cover and deal with the giant striker. Kolarov? He picked up where he left off against Burnley and was woeful all afternoon.
In that first half, City didn’t move the ball quickly enough and there was not enough movement that would test a well-drilled Wednesday side who were clearly determined not to be humiliated like they were (7-0) in the League Cup earlier this season.
City’s best moment of the first half was when Jovetic ran at the Wednesday defence and teed up Lampard who fired just wide, but we only created half chances.
David Silva was warming up for a good few minutes and it was expected that he would be coming on at half time, but the only change that Pellegrini made at the break was to have Milner and Jovetic swapping positions, with the City number 7 moving inside from the left flank to centre forward.
The game only turned with the double substitution that saw the introduction of Nasri and Silva on the 62nd minute. Within minutes Nasri fed Silva whose beautiful reverse flick set up Milner to equalise with a finish through Kirkland’s legs. It was nearly all City for the last half hour save for a brilliant tackle from Navas to thwart a dangerous Wednesday break and Palmer firing into the side netting. Both Yaya and Silva forced good saves and Navas was testing the left side of Wednesday’s defence with his pace as it become more of a siege. Just when it looked like we were facing an inconvenient replay, Sagna released Navas, and from the Spanish winger’s cross, Sliva flicked the ball to Milner who got ahead of Palmer to gleefully finish. Wednesday’s impressive travelling army of 6,000 fans (their chant of “you’re just a sh1t Carlton Palmer” to Yaya had us in stitches) will rue the fact they could not hold on, but their team had not really been much of an attacking threat after the break and class won the day. Whilst it was cruel on the Wednesday fans their players are less deserving of any sympathy given the three brutal fouls which could have seriously injured David Silva.
Pellegrini should have started with a stronger team. Leaving both Nasri and Silva on the bench was rather complacent, like we were in the first halves against Watford and Wigan last season. As we found out in the latter game last season, we didn’t get away with it. We need to be better in the next round, compete to the point we are ahead enough to give youngsters like Pozo and Celina a chance to come on. Still, Pellegrini fixed the problem this time.
Silva and Nasri were an absolute privilege to watch, and not for the first time. The understanding between them is bordering on telepathic and they play off each other sublimely, without ego, making themselves greater than the sum of their substantial individual talents. Every player performs better for having them in the team, and they were brilliant yet again in this game. Their short precise little passes into little pockets of space made all the difference. Brilliant.
City: Milner 66, 91
Wednesday: Nuhiu 14
Cabellero: Had no chance with the goal and had little else to do. Proved to be alert to close down Liam Palmer (son of Carlton) late on. His distribution was excellent: 7
Sagna: Failed to cover for the Wednesday goal when he really should have tackled Nuhiu, and was generally very poor. His one positive contribution was to play the pass to Navas which set up the winner. He needs to do far more in defence and going forward. Is he really an upgrade on Micah Richards? On his performances thus far, he isn’t: 5
Boyata: Played May onside for the Wednesday goal. Generally nervy and not confident on the ball: 5
Mangala: Failed to anticipate the speedy May’s run and allowed him to get goal side. He must learn to read the game: 5
Kolarov: Absolutely woeful. His passing was invariably atrocious and he was rightly substituted: 2
Navas: Some good deliveries and some not so good. He set up the winner with his cross. He will benefit when Aguero and/or Dzeko are back: one lovely high cross early on was begging for Dzeko to head it in. Navas may frustrate with his erratic delivery but he offers pace and balance to the team. His work ethic was epitomised when he ran 60 yards to make a great tackle deep in our half to halt a dangerous Wednesday attack: 7
Fernando: A good, solid game. He brought a lot of control to our game after the break and was proactive in snuffing out danger, winning possession and distributing the ball simply: 7
Yaya: He missed the presence of Silva and Nasri for the first hour and was unable to get City going on his own. Improved when they did come on: 6
Lampard: Battled hard and played one superb long pass for Navas in the first half but was unable to raise City’s tempo or find the target or an incisive pass this time: 6
Milner: Worked hard but to no real effect in the first half before having a good last half hour once Silva and Nasri entered the stage. Took his goals like seasoned striker: 7
Jovetic: Tenacious and active but struggled to make an impact as City’s most forward player, His best moment was when he ran at the Wednesday defence and teed up Lampard: 6
Subs: May: Ran the channels well and his
Silva (for Lampard 62): He has that wonderful ability to find space to receive the ball in the tightest areas, and play the most deft passes. His reverse touch to set up Milner was of the highest class. Genius. 8 *Man of the Match (joint)*
Nasri (for Jovetic 62): 8 *Man of the Match (joint)*
Clichy (for Kolarov): His introduction for Kolarov was a mercy for all: n/a
Refwatch: Michael Oliver: Weak and pathetic showing yet again. Failed to properly punish three thuggish tackles on Silva: 1
Best Oppos: May: Ran the channels really well and showed good poise to outpace Mangala, check and set up Nuhiu to finish: 7
The home crowd was quiet for long periods but the Wednesday fans, like so many away fans, were in good voice. Not that this a new phenomenon. How many times have we been away (including Hillsborough’s library like atmosphere in the 80s and 90s) and completely out sung the home crowd? The Wednesdayites were put right, though, on this occasion when they issued the ubiquitous “Where were you when you were s***?” with “We beat you when we were s***”. Their support was fantastic, though. All 6,000 made it a great atmosphere and the ones I spoke to on the train home were very sporting. There was no mention of our money or sour grapes that you get from some fans. Just good, proper, mature footy chat and reminiscence of playing them in tears gone by (they were often difficult opponents especially when they had the likes of Waddle, Sheridan and Hirst). I haven’t seen or heard of a hint of trouble. Just passion. The Wednesday fans were an absolute credit to their club. I hope they get back up in the top flight as soon as possible. Without presuming anything, I’d love to be fighting for the title with Wednesday rather than the likes of Manure, Liverpool or Arsenal: too many of their supporters have a sense of entitlement that the Wednesday fans and indeed City fans, put to shame. Good luck to Wednesday for the rest of the season and the sooner a club with supporters like that are back in the top flight, the better.
Image: Richard Tucker