Saturday, February 4, 2012
Aguero gets City back on track
Richard Jolly, Eastlands
In a world of bland public pronouncements, of taking the positives and of needless, endless siege mentalities, criticism of your own has a welcome rarity. And yet, with every outburst, the evidence is increasing that it can be an effective strategy.
• Johnson: Pressure back on Man Utd
• Premier League gallery
When Kenny Dalglish broke with the habit of a lifetime and launched into a verbal broadside against his Liverpool players, it preceded their best spell of the season. After Wolves owner Steve Morgan, in an unprecedented move, went into the dressing room in the immediate aftermath of a defeat to blame the players, his side responded with their finest result of the season. And, following Roberto Mancini's unexpectedly lacerating attack upon himself at Everton, Manchester City enjoyed an emphatic win to winning ways.
If, in the meeting of a side with a 100% home record and another with a solitary success on their travels all season, the outcome was predictable, the significance lay in the context. A three-point lead over Manchester United was restored while it was hardly a game to reinforce the theory City are buckling under the pressure of expectation.
Rather, it was an occasion to right some wrongs. Even when prolific, they have often been slow starters. Here, however, they had a two-goal lead by the half-hour mark. After an exercise in possession without penetration in the first half at Goodison Park, there was greater incision.
And, for Mancini, who bemoaned his ill-fortune in a January that brought four defeats, there was a hint of fortune. "The first goal was a soft penalty and the second goal was an own goal," reflected Fulham manager Martin Jol. The Italian's response was: "Maybe you should always be lucky. If you are not lucky, maybe you should stay at home."
On a freezing evening, it was an enticing option, especially for Fulham's Chris Baird. He achieved the unwanted hat-trick of conceding the penalty, scoring the own goal and getting booked. In the first two incidents, he may have merited sympathy. Adam Johnson, granted a rare start, tumbled when Baird left his leg dangling out. Referee Mike Dean ruled it was a penalty, converted by Sergio Aguero.
The makeshift left-back made a second fateful contribution when Aguero applied a touch to Aleksandar Kolarov's cross, taking the ball through to Johnson. He, in turn, attempted to square it for a colleague. Instead Baird diverted it past Mark Schwarzer.
Two-thirds of City's goals this season have been in the second half, but they were two up after a third of the game. At that stage, Jol admitted, goal difference became a factor for Fulham. Theirs only worsened by one, Aguero setting off on a mesmerising run before finding Dzeko, who became the second player to drill a shot in from 12 yards.
In his case, however, it was from open play. Nevertheless, it meant both strikers were on the scoresheet. In Aguero's case, it ended his longest wait for a goal in City colours; that it was a mere five games is an indication of the Argentine's impact. Dzeko veers between hit and miss rather more often and could have departed with the match-ball; indeed, by hitting his own post from Bryan Ruiz's corner, he almost score for Fulham as well as City.
"I am very pleased with all the players, with Edin and Sergio because they played for the team," Mancini added. "The guys did a big performance." Indeed, the puritanical perfectionist sprinkled praise liberally. He was complimentary about everyone, including Johnson, never normally eulogised in the Italian's programme of tough love, and Stefan Savic, who endured a thankfully quiet return to the team.
His own contribution went unmentioned, but after his midweek mea culpa, there was no scathing analysis of his own efforts. Perhaps a kick up the backside was what Mancini needed. And metaphorically (it would be anatomically difficult), he applied it. If so, City reaped the benefit.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Sergio Aguero - Electric and elusive, he led Fulham's defenders a merry dance. There are theories he has been below par of late, which is a fairer criticism of Dzeko than the Argentine, but here he was back to his best.
MANCHESTER CITY VERDICT: They have now set a club record of 17 straight home league wins, surpassing a previous best from 1921, and their form at Eastlands remains the bedrock of their challenge. Improving on the road is crucial now. Mancini was particularly positive in his team selection, playing Samir Nasri as a central midfielder to accommodate Johnson, who offers City another dimension on his rare outings. January's sole signing, David Pizarro, made a brief appearance as a last-minute replacement.
FULHAM VERDICT: As Jol pointed out, they had plenty of possession. Ultimately, however, they did little with it. Joe Hart's toughest save came from John Arne Riise when the visitors were already 3-0 down. It hardly helped that, with Bobby Zamora gone to QPR, their striking addition Pavel Pogrebnyak is not in the country. He requires a work permit and should arrive later in the week. Clint Dempsey stood in as a striker but could not continue his remarkable scoring run. Even so, his tally of 16 goals puts him level with Dzeko for the season and ahead of Didier Drogba, Fernando Torres, Luis Suarez, Andy Carroll, Javier Hernandez and Emmanuel Adebayor, to name a few.