They say a week is a long time in football, and I'm sure Mark Hughes can empathise with those sentiments more than anyone. A week ago Hughes was fending off questions about his future following the first leg draw in Copenhagen, as well as rumours of rows between big name players.
But now, a week later, City have gained a creditable point away at title-chasing Liverpool and gave an efficient display to see themselves safely through to the last sixteen of the UEFA Cup.
Bearing in mind that City are now the sole English interest in this competition following Aston Villa and Tottenham's elimination, and also the failure of big names such as Bordeaux and AC Milan to proceed, this was a big step for City, and at full time the sense of relief was tangible.
On the night, City gave a thoroughly professional performance, and in truth were rarely tested by a fairly limited FC Copenhagen side, but then City's problem's this season have never been at home—where they have lost only six games all season.
Sound in defence, with Kompany and Zabaleta patrolling the midfield, their attacking trio of Bellamy, Robinho, and Wright-Phillips posed problems for the Copenhagen defence all night.
Copenhagen, needing to score on the night, came armed with a high defensive line, which to be fair held a disciplined offside line, with Bellamy in particular frequently caught offside—much to his obvious chagrin.
Ah the enigma of Bellamy, it is easy to forget what a talented player he is. Blessed with pace to burn and a fantastic work ethic, he chased every ball, ran the channel every time, and bagged two goals to take his total to four goals in seven matches for his new team.
Indeed he was unfortunate not to have a hat trick, but following his second goal the hug with Robinho was a neat gesture, and one which will have pleased the City faithful.
After the match, Hughes described his match winner as a “bargain”, and said “Craig showed real mental strength to play but that is the kind of character he is. What has struck me is how much he has improved since I managed him at Wales and Blackburn.
While Bellamy, speaking after the match, dedicated the goals his cousin who died yesterday.
However City were made to wait for the goals were a long time coming, and when they did arrive, they were almost a blessed relief for the anxious City faithful. At half time, nerves were jangling, not just in the crowd, but in the dugout, where Hughes appeared obviously frustrated.
Robinho, who Copenhagen failed to tame all night long, had a header crash off the underside of the crossbar and out, then had a clear penalty shout turned down. Zabaleta fired straight at the keeper, and Bellamy, exchanging a neat one-two with Robinho had a shot rebound off the inside of the post and out on the stroke of half time.
In the second half, though City noticeably upped their tempo and urgency, it was Copenhagen who registered the first shot, as their record signing Ailton spun neatly in the box but fired over.
Soon after, Robinho was brought down 30 yards from goal and Bellamy stung the palms of keeper Christensen with the free kick. Then came City’s clearest chance, as Wright-Philips, put through by Robinho, one-on-one with the keeper attempted a pass to Ireland when he should have shot, a pass which narrowly evaded the onrushing Irishman.
There was one bright moment for FC Copenhagen fans, as Jesper Gronkjaer entered the fray as he continued his rehabilitation from a long-term absence, and he was given a raucous reception by the fans, who to their credit sang all night long despite events on the pitch.
However, their ebullient mood was soon quietened as City finally broke through, and it was that man Bellamy. He harried the Danish centre back Jorgensen into a mistake and as the centre half slipped on the turf he presented Bellamy with a simple chance which he took gratefully. The manner in which Jorgensen slumped to the turf immediately afterwards spoke volumes—he knew he'd given the game away.
The goal had an immediate effect on both the fans, and the team, who appeared to be suddenly brimming with confidence, and Bridge struck a shot from far out well over-but it typified the new mood. Then a fantastic passing move between Zabaleta and Ireland found Robinho in the box, who after escaping a defender inexplicably fired against a post from only yards out.
He let his frustrations out by kicking the opposite post, but then set about finishing off Copenhagen, and it was he, skipping past his man to the byline, who cut the ball back for Bellamy to finish confidently from close-range. 2-0—job done.
FC Copenhagen did pull a consolation back in injury time, which they scarcely merited, as substitute Vingaard struck low from outside the box. But in truth the match never appeared to be anyone’s other than City’s and as they march to the last 16, Mark Hughes will be wishing that all weeks were as good as this one.
Manchester City: Given-6, Richards-7, Dunne-7, Onouha-7, Bridge-7, Wright-Phillips-7, Ireland-7, Zabaleta-7 (Elano), Kompany-8, Robinho-8, Bellamy-8.
FC Copenhagen: Christensen-7, Pospech-5, Jorgensen-5, Antonsson-6, Wendt-5, Kvist-5, Hutchinson-7, Kristensen-5 (Sionko-5), Norregaard-6 (Vingaard-6), N'Doye-5 (Gronkjaer-5), Ailton-5
Man of The Match: Craig Bellamy — A fine effort from the Welshman, whose hard work was rewarded as Jorgensen slipped for the goal. Finished the tie off with a fine close-range finish.
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