Merlin inspires City to quarter finals
By Jack Mumford
City finally reached the end of their long run of away games last night after a lifeless second string side crawled past Newcastle United 2-0 after extra time at St James’ Park. The Blues will now travel to Leicester City in the last eight of the Capital One Cup.
However, Manuel Pellegrini will be worried tonight after Stevan Jovetić and Micah Richards both left the pitch injured.
Montenegrin Jovetić lasted only 10 minutes in his return from a hamstring injury and Richards hobbled off the pitch after 80 minutes suggesting he was struggling with cramp.
Last night ended the sequence of 4 successive away games in 11 days which has included two trips to London to face West Ham and Chelsea and the long haul flight to Moscow.
A Capital One Cup match in the middle of such a busy schedule was always going to mean several changes to the team. In fact, boss Pellegrini made 10 changes with Javi Garcia the only survivor from the team that lost so frustratingly against Chelsea on Sunday.
This perhaps signals his main focus lies in the Premier League and Champions League as crucial games in both approach over the next six days. Another indicator of this may be that top performers Yaya Touré and Sergio Agüero were not even named on the bench.
Costel Pantilimon replaced under fire Joe Hart but this gives us no clue on who Pellegrini may choose as his future number one as the League Cup is seen as a chance for Pantilimon to get much needed games. Most excitingly for City fans, Jack Rodwell returned to the side after injury and worked hard for 64 minutes before being replaced by David Silva as City chased a goal.
Another potential shock was the inclusion of Dedryck Boyata who had such a strong pre-season but hasn’t featured since.
The game itself was, for the best part, a drab affair as both sides appeared to be simply going through the motions for large periods despite both teams containing players searching for regular starting slots.
In truth, Newcastle were the more likely to score in the first half and a mixture of poor Newcastle finishing and a couple of smart saves from Pantilimon kept the score at 0-0. Half time came along and City had still not had a shot on target.
The second half, although not much more pulse raising, did at least involve a few City chances. Jesús Navas chased what seemed to be a lost cause but his pressure panicked Dutch goalkeeper Tim Krul and Navas stole the ball away to set up James Milner who fired a shot over the open goal from a tight angle. Still there was no shot on target.
After Spanish playmaker Silva came on City seemed to have much more control over the game. That shot on target did eventually come as early substitute Álvaro Negredo made a Messi-esque run through the box leaving Newcastle defenders on the floor in the 76th minute. After the ‘Beast’ had weaved around two defenders he struck a delightful chip that Krul managed to claw just wide of the post.
As the 90 minutes came to a lacklustre finish, we were all promised an extra 30 minutes of football that City certainly didn’t need in the middle of the busy period they are currently going through.
Newcastle were the first side to get that second wind when Pantilimon was forced to rush out to block a Papiss Cissé shot destined for the goal. This seemed to wake City and especially Edin Džeko up as he glided around a Newcastle defender and hit a low cross for Negredo to slot home coolly.
Only another few minutes passed before Milner, now playing centrally, sliced open the Newcastle defence for the newly inspired Džeko to go around Krul and slide the ball into the empty net. Six minutes of genuine quality won the match for City.
City finally return to the Etihad this weekend against Norwich City where many more changes will be expected and a much higher intensity to the performance is required. Who will be between the sticks for City though?
Below are highlights from the 2-0 victory: