Manchester City 1 Middlesbrough 0
Saturday February 7, 2009, 12.45pm
City of Manchester Stadium - Att: 40, 558
A hard fought and well deserved 1-0 victory, which wasn't without a wobble or two along the way though.
One of the issues I raised when Shay Given was signed was how many points he would 'win' us, and whilst it wasn't a backs to the wall type of performance, there were two or three occasions where Given did prevent certain goals from being scored. Also noticeable was the quality of his kicking and he definitely turned in an impressive debut.
Equally impressive was Craig Bellamy. He led the line well, with his enthusiasm and approach seemingly infecting his colleagues. It was noticeable today how high tempo we were when not in posession of the ball, constantly closing down and pressuring Middlesbrough (particularly in the first half) and this approach led to us forcing errors and turnovers that turned into opportunities for ourselves.
We dominated the first half in terms of possession and territory, with Middlesbrough approaching the game precisely in the manner I expected. We carved out plenty of opportunities but failed to find the killer ball or final pass to breach the Middlesbrough defence.
Starting the second half 0-0 could have led to frustration so Bellamy's winner was a timely one. A neat build saw Bellamy cut in from the right with not much on but get away from Pogatetz and finish nicely passed Brad Jones.
At 1-0 though there is always the danger of allowing your opponents back into the game and one or two defensive lapses were almost critical, but Given stood tall and earned his man of the match accolades.
The final minutes of the game petered out as Middlesbrough struggled to create, but space in their defence allowed substitute Caicedo (on for Robinho) a couple of opportunities that he was unable to finish.
There are signs however that Mark Hughes is beginning to put his stamp on to the side, and in addition to the majority of his signings now making up the side, the approach and performance struck as being exactly as Hughes has been seeking over the course of the season.
The win saw us post our fourth consecutive victory and put more distance between ourselves and the sides at the bottom. What is going to be important though is to translate the performances and results at home to our away games where we continue to struggle.
If we can do this, an assault on the top six may not be out of the question.