Venue: Etihad, City of Manchester Stadium
Date: 05/04/2014 12:45 BST
Photos: Richard Tucker
David Silva’s star burned ever bright as the good ship Manchester City overcame a very good Southampton side in style. Manuel Pellegrini made one change from the game at the Emirates with Aleks Kolarov replacing Gael Clichy at left back.
As expected, Southampton started off in typical feisty fashion with their high intensity pressing game and smart pass-and-move routines, which has served them so well. City took the lead after being awarded a penalty in the 3rd minute. Silva fed Dzeko and he was tripped by Fonte in the box as he shimmied and shifted the ball onto his left foot. Referee Foy didn’t hesitate to point to the spot and Yaya steered the ball to the left of the Saints’ ‘keeper, sending him the wrong way. It was a relief to get in front against difficult opponents who have the rare distinction of having won at Anfield this season.
Indeed, the visitors posed a threat with their clever movement and the lively Lallana failed to control a defence splitting lofted pass. City, though, are a team who can score at any moment and could have increased our lead: Navas shot high wide and not so handsome when presented with a half chance then Dzeko headed against the top of the bar.
We were to pay for not taking those chances when we allowed Jack Cork too much room to run from midfield down the inside left channel into the box and he was up-ended by Pablo Zabaleta’s mistimed challenge. Lambert despatched the penalty crisply. Having taken the lead, it was rather frustrating that our good work had been undone, but, for all our chances, Southampton deserved parity at that time.
By this time they were sadly deprived of the talents of Jay Rodriguez, who fell awkwardly when looking to control the ball, and after a lengthy wait he was stretchered off to universal applause. It was a freakish incident with no player at fault and one can only hope Rodriguez is back playing again. The four minutes of stoppage time played for his injury were to prove highly significant as City twice struck to give us what would prove to be a decisive 3-1 lead.
Firstly, Yaya threaded a pass to Dzeko on the edge of the box and his clever back heeled flick found Silva whose delightful diagonal pass presented Nasri with a tap in by the right hand post. Then a super, powerful Kolarov cross from the left allowed Dzeko to head down and into the net at the far post for a beautifully executed 3rd City goal. The Bosnian expertly used the pace of the ball. It was indeed a Balkan belter!
In all fairness, our 3-1 lead at the break flattered us a little bit as our play lacked a little intensity at times, allowing the visitors to push us back. As upsetting as their colleagues’ injury was, Southampton had commendably taken the game to us at 1-1. We also enjoyed a little fortune as TV replays also later revealed that Silva was offside when Dzeko played him in for our 2nd goal. Not that anyone was complaining and City left the pitch to warm applause at the interval.
City improved after the break playing at a higher tempo and showing more drive in midfield. Dzeko could have doubled his tally but his angled volley was well saved and he couldn’t control the high rebound that resulted and his 2nd shot went well wide.
City were denied two penalties by referee Foy – the second of which earned Yaya a yellow card but the earlier grounding did look like he had been impeded just on the edge of the box.
The Southampton fans mocked a tense home crowd for our largely nervy silence but they got a smart double response, which mirrored the response from the City players. “You’re gonna sell all your players” was followed by “We’re gonna buy all your players”. The latter chant drawing ironic applause from the visiting contingent. Without wishing to be arrogant about someone else’s players, Lallana, Shaw and Ward-Prowse would grace this City team. Lallana is a superbly balanced two-footed ball player who makes thrusting runs from behind the lone striker. He does have a hot temper though. Shaw is a very good footballing left back with astute positional sense, a deft touch and an ability to cut inside on his dangerous runs forward. Ward-Prowse is a central midfielder of great strength and he shoulder charged Yaya off the ball: a rare feat indeed! He riled Yaya with a challenge from behind later on and indeed the great Ivorian worried us as he seemed to lose it towards the end of the game. We can ill afford to lose him especially and it took his friend Samir Nasri to take him away from trouble and calm him down.
Negredo came on for Dzeko and sadly couldn’t end his barren run. He was put clean through twice: The Beast hesitated and the chance was gone for his first opportunity, then Gazzaniga made a fine block to deny his second one. It was impossible not to feel for the guy and chants of “Beeeeeast!” led by the North Stand rather commendably showed our support for the Spanish striker.
The visitors certainly weren’t finished and they had a good chance to reduce the arrears sandwiched in between those two chances. With 15 minutes left, Lambert’s low shot fizzed just wide of Hart’s right hand post and we were spared a tense end to the game.
City boosted our goal difference with another super move in the 81st minute. Kompany’s raking pass found the advancing Navas on the right and his cross presented Jovetic with a simple tap in at the far post. It wrapped up a job well done, even if City can play better still. Still the chances were created and Yaya might have made it five but his snap shot hit the post.
4-1 may have flattered us but City deserved this win. We showed great skill, team work as well as finishing in the final third of the pitch, and we had to work hard to defeat a good side that is 8th for a good reason: they play competitive and good football. The Saints’ Achilles heel are their centre halves Lovren and Fonte who are rather ponderous for this level. City’s extra quality throughout was the difference and we merited this win.
Onto Liverpool and perhaps our biggest game of the season. It will be almost 25 years to the day since the Hillsborough disaster, and an emotional occasion. With all respect to the victims of Hillsborough, City must be professional and hopefully win. Come on City.
Match Gallery and Ratings on the next page.