Sunday, January 30, 2011
Dzeko pays dividends for City
Richard Jolly, Meadow Lane
The job description is extensive. The successful applicant has to prove more temperamentally sound than Emmanuel Adebayor, physically fitter than Roque Santa Cruz and Mario Balotelli and frankly better than Jo. Above all, he must stop Manchester City pining for Carlos Tevez when their talisman has a rare day off.
• FA Cup: Dzeko saves City
• Johnson out for three months
• FA Cup Team of the Week
• Draw: Crawley visit Man Utd
• FA Cup Gallery
• Saturday's FA Cup round-up
Edin Dzeko has arrived in England with a daunting task list: to be the back-up striker, alternative match-winner, genuine target man. A first repayment on his £27 million fee spared City the ignominy of defeat to a side 59 places below them in the league ladder. It was a timely intervention: while they are no strangers to defeats to lower-division sides, the potential for embarrassment mushrooms with every pound spent. Until Dzeko's intervention, it appeared both probable and deserved. "It is better to play another game," said Roberto Mancini, aware the alternative was far worse.
In the meeting of the oldest Football League club and the world's richest club, the £150 million team were trailing to a goal from Neal Bishop, whose CV contained Spennymoor, Billingham Town and Whitby (his opponent in midfield was Patrick Vieira, formerly of AC Milan, Inter and Juventus). The combination of Nottingham Rugby Club, who had churned up the pitch, and Notts County, who excelled, appeared too much for City. It felt like the sort of occasion that the injured Tevez would have relished; he can prove a squat driving force even on a mud-heap.
But with ten minutes remaining, David Silva released Micah Richards whose driven cross was met with admirable technique by Dzeko, crashing in a close-range volley. "I enjoyed it," added Mancini. "I think he needs time to understand English football better. He needs another four or five games." Dzeko's FA Cup debut was memorable for the Bosnian, rendering it a hiccup rather than a humiliation for City.
Theirs could be deemed a Dzeko and Hyde performance. Subdued for long periods, they actually started well. A slick early move served as an indication that the new recruit can seem a budding Zlatan Ibrahimovic, serving as the focal point of the attack, the pivot and the creator in one. He released the overlapping Richards, who galloped clear to deliver a low cross. A stretching Yaya Toure met it and Stuart Nelson did well to divert the Ivorian's shot over the bar. It supported the theory that Toure, who can be at his rampaging best on the road, will burst beyond Dzeko.
But thereafter, he suffered from the familiar striker's lament: a lack of service. A tame header and a skied shot brought the predictable chants of "what a waste of money". At that stage, the injured Tevez's urgency was missed. Dzeko is a statelier performer, the antithesis of the Argentine. The English game can be a test of dynamism; those who play the game at their own speed, such as Dimitar Berbatov, tend to stand out, sometimes for the right reasons, sometimes for the wrong. The preference for 100-mile-an-hour footballers can result in the persecution of those who prefer to operate in cruise control.
Shorn of natural speed, Dzeko seems to take his time. Get it wrong, however, and measured can appear laboured, as it did when Krystian Pearce's fine intervention stopped the newcomer shooting.
At that point, County grew into the game, playing with a sense of purpose. They led when Alan Gow's in-swinging corner was met by Bishop at the near post. Marooned in non-league until he was 26, the midfielder is a one-man Crawley Town, in the Fifth Round draw in unlikely circumstances.
"This team believe they can beat anybody," Paul Ince said. "I'm proud of my players. Sometimes belief can overcome complacency." His team drew post-match from Vieira. "Patrick said: 'You've got a fantastic team here, a fantastic team spirit,'" Ince added.
Even after Dzeko struck, County might have won it, both Mike Edwards and Lee Hughes coming close. Having served as the inspiration for the Turin giants - or their choice of kit anyway - the County fans chorused: "It's just like watching Juve."
It wasn't, but it was distinctly awkward for City and not just because of the rough terrain. It was suited, Ince felt, to his battling qualities rather than the classier Mancini. "I don't think that pitch would have been right for him," the Notts County manager said. His most recent recruit, however, did prove himself to be cabbage patch kid.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Neal Bishop . The County fans sang his name before kick-off, after the final whistle and for much of the time in between. It was easy to see why he is becoming a favourite.
NOTTS COUNTY VERDICT: Well-organised and industrious, they were also able to trouble City. Craig Westcarr's pace on the left flank stood out, along with the creativity of Alan Gow. On this evidence, they should climb League One.
MANCHESTER CITY VERDICT: Mancini hopes Balotelli will be fit for the Manchester derby and, with Silva on the bench for an hour, City's wingers were a disappointment. James Milner showed enthusiasm but didn't offer penetration while Jo would struggle to get in the County team.
JOHNSON BLOW: Adam Johnson is likely to be sidelined for three months with an ankle problem. "It is a big problem because he is an important player," said Mancini, who hopes the England international will be fit for the FA Cup final. He has ruled out making a bid for Fernando Torres but is considering signing a winger before the transfer window closes.