CITY 1 MIDDLESBROUGH 0
Barclays Premier League
7th February 2008
City Given, Richards, Onuoha, Kompany, Bridge, Zabaleta, de Jong, Ireland, Wright-Phillips, Robinho, Bellamy – subs Caicedo(83), Hart(unused), Garrido(unused), Fernandes(unused), Elano(unused), Vassell(unused), Evans(unused)
Middlesbrough Jones, Wheater, Riggott, Huth, Pogatetz, Bates, Digard, Johnson, Downing, Alves, King – subs Hoyte(67), O’Neil(60), Tuncay(74), Turnbull(unused), Arca(unused), Emnes(unused), Shawky(unused)
A fantastic save from Man of The Match debutant Shay Given and The winning goal from Craig Bellamy
WHAT THE PRESS SAID
New Blues Ace a Given
The unluckiest aspect of Middlesbrough’s 13th Premier League game without a win was having to face Shay Given on his debut.
For all City’s razzle-dazzle and bigmoney signings, the relatively modest £6million capture of Given will be the most important for Mark Hughes as he chases the top-six finish he needs to keep his job safe in the summer. Everyone knows from his decade at Newcastle, the 32-year-old Irishman is a consistent performer. Even so, his four outstanding saves from Boro’s fall-guy Afonso Alves went beyond the call of duty.
Given’s heroics meant Craig Bellamy’s 51st-minute strike turned out to be the winner, even though it was City’s £100million team hanging on at the end. Bellamy played with Given in the Champions League for Newcastle and hailed his arrival at Eastlands a ‘great piece of business’ for City. Hughes clearly concurs.
‘A keeper can have a massive impact on a team over the season,’ said the City manager. ‘I can’t remember a better debut from a keeper than Shay gave today. Boro were one-againstone a couple of times but there are few better than Shay in those situations. We have a young defence and he was a calming influence. He dealt with things without any real theatre.
‘We know we have goals in us as an attacking force and can cause teams problems, but I decided we needed an experienced player in our goal, and that is no detriment to Joe Hart, who has done well for us.’
Man-of-the-match Given was typically modest when he said: ‘It did feel a bit strange walking out for my debut for another club. I’m delighted to start with a win, that was the most important thing. I know I might get the headlines, but I thought that the players in front of me did well.’
City boss Hughes has had to deal with a lot since taking over from Sven Goran Eriksson. A change of ownership led to the arrival of Robinho and the failed mission to sign Kaka. The club have suddenly become frontpage news because of the Abu Dhabi billions, and even Jose Mourinho has been linked with the City job.
Off-field affairs have heightened the tension. Yesterday, Hughes picked two players out on police bail – Micah Richards and Robinho – besides Shaun Wright-Philips, who is facing an FA charge of violent conduct.
At least, Hughes now has a team he wants. He signed eight of his starting line-up yesterday, including four arrivals in the January transfer window – Given, Bellamy, Nigel De Jong and Wayne Bridge – at a cost of 50million euros. ‘You hope to be stronger at the end of the window than the beginning, and that is certainly the case,’ he said.
Only keepers Given and Brad Jones kept the game scoreless in the opening 45 minutes. Jones rushed out of his goal to deny Bellamy after only four minutes and showed outstanding reflexes to turn away a close-range shot from the same player.
Boro, stuck in the bottom three after failing to win since early November, had chances but found Given in inspired form. Alves belted a shot goalwards after halfan- hour and could not believe an off-balance Given palmed the ball away with his left hand.
The Brazilian went on to be foiled three more times by the keeper. He knew the game was up when he pounced on a mistake by Vincent Kompany, only for another fierce strike to be clawed away to safety.
Boro boss Southgate said: ‘We need a result badly but if we perform like that, we will win games. We lost concentration only once in the second half and were punished. But I cannot fault the players.’
That lapse came when Bellamy cut inside Emmanuel Pogatetz and fired in from 12 yards. It was the striker’s second winning goal in a row at Eastlands and set up City’s eighth win at home.
‘Now we know we have to do better away,’ said Hughes, who saw Robinho denied a goal by another excellent Jones stop before the Brazilian was substituted late on. Boro have a must-win game at home to Wigan next and can console themselves that they still have to play relegation rivals Hull, Bolton and Portsmouth.
‘Sometimes the treatment room at clubs in our position is always full,’ said Southgate. ‘But nobody is hiding here, everyone wanted to play in this game and fight for the cause. I won’t run away from the situation, no chance.’
Joe Bernstein Writing For The Mail 8th February 2008