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Etihad Stadium

Referee: M Clattenburg | Attendance: 46849

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Manchester City

  • Yaya Touré 5'
  • Sergio Agüero 15' PEN
  • Carlos Tevez 52'
  • Sergio Agüero 74'

4 - 0


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City seek solace amid slump

John Brewin

Neil Warnock thrives on the chance to inflict misery on the big boys

Your defence of the Premier League title lies in tatters and you have just spent the whole week trying to ignore the Champions League, which you crashed out of embarrassingly for the second season in a row. All the Europa League fun happened without you, too.

That leaves one piece of silverware to play for. You are Roberto Mancini and you could really do with winning the FA Cup. Who worse to welcome to your disaffected home than Neil Warnock and his cheery, grinning visage - a man whose managerial career may well define the term 'upsetting the apple cart'? He is also a manager with very little to lose, and such vessels can be dangerous.

For Leeds United's boss, the FA Cup has provided a refuge from an ailing promotion campaign. Defeat to Middlesbrough on Tuesday saw a peasants' revolt at the Riverside from Leeds' travelling fans. "Warnock, Warnock, time to go" was the chant. Leeds have not won in the Championship since they beat Tottenham Hotspur in the FA Cup fourth round three weeks ago; the excitement of that Sunday afternoon has been buried in rancour and confusion over the club's future direction.

Leeds' players are again playing in front of a backdrop of ownership questions. GFH Capital has been in charge for eight weeks since finally buying out Ken Bates, but this week was the subject of a bid from a Yorkshire-based consortium, which has not been rejected out of hand just yet. In the meantime, fan groups are wondering in which direction GFH plans to take the club. The silence has approached deafening so far, and January was a month of low transfer spending.

In a different way, the future of City is in question too. The Emirati owners have made it clear they are not going to be taking a Roman Abramovich approach to the hiring and firing of managers, but Mancini's failings this season have many suggesting there could be a change at the club.

His position appears to have been secured by Pep Guardiola's choice of Bavaria over Manchester and London, as well as a paucity of other managers, but there can be little doubt that the season is lurching towards disaster after the promise of the previous two.

The FA Cup is the competition in which Mancini broke the club's 35-year trophy duck to give fans what had been the best days of their footballing lives until last May's Premier League title. Two years on, the cup has the look of a consolation prize. That serves as a sign of the club's ever-heightening ambitions, though there is sadness in that, too - the FA Cup deserves to be treated a little better than as a mere stepping stone.

In the short-term, the aim must be to try to recover quickly from the horror show at Southampton last week. City were hopeless to the extent that the end result did not even look like a shock. The individual errors from Joe Hart and Gareth Barry made the headlines, but there were poor performances throughout the team. Mancini, following two listless draws, seemed unable to effect an improvement and was tactically outdone by a Premier League rookie in Mauricio Pochettino.

Carlos Tevez was absent on family business then, but will be back against Leeds and is eyeing the trophy he lifted during his spell as City captain. His team badly need a spark that few of them have provided of late, and he has been no exception. The visitors are bound to make a physical contest of it, and City's response to that will be instructive. Should they fail to match Warnock's strong-arm approach, they face their season listing into further ignominy.

Manchester City player to watch: Costel Pantilimon. There is no suggestion that Joe Hart is in danger of losing his place as City's goalkeeper, and nor should there be after the England man's overall excellence since his return from loan at Birmingham City in the summer of 2010. Yet Pantilimon, the giant 6' 8" Romanian whose name sounds like a feminine cleansing product, has the chance to show that security is offered by the second-choice 'keeper in the wake of Hart's recent wobbles. In the modern tradition, he has started all City's domestic cup matches and is yet to concede in this competition.

Leeds United player to watch: Michael Brown. Brown returns to a club where he was a fans' favourite in the mid-to-late '90s, a time when City were going through the toughest period in their history. Brown, often sporting an Oasis-style bowl-cut in those days, was a midfielder with licence to go forward and became a regular in City's relegation season of 1995-96 before losing his way and then being part of the phoenix-like Division Two play-off win in 1999. When he left for Sheffield United later that year, he began a long association with Warnock. These days, he is to be found snarling and tackling at the base of Leeds United's midfield.

Key battle: James Milner v Stephen Warnock. Like Brown, Milner is taking on the club at which he began his career. Famously, as a 16-year-old, Milner became the youngest-ever Premier League goalscorer when a Whites player before he was eventually cashed in during the club's fire sale as financial meltdown approached. He retains his roots in Horsforth, a town north-west of Leeds, and will be desperate to play, having been dropped to the bench at Southampton. Should he be manning the right wing, his likely opponent is Warnock, no relation of the manager, who has finally escaped from a lengthy exile at Aston Villa.

Trivia: Warnock and Milner can stage a reunion as they were both members of England's 23-man squad, under Fabio Capello's infamously oppressive conditions, at the 2010 World Cup. Warnock did not kick a ball. Milner played in three matches in South Africa.

Stats: The last time these clubs met in this competition, the boot was very much on the other foot. City were the club trying to rise from the ashes but lost 5-2 at Maine Road in January 2000. Leeds' goals were scored by Erik Bakke, Alan Smith, Harry Kewell (2) and Lee Bowyer. City had been leading 2-1 after 11 minutes through goals from Shaun Goater and Ian Bishop.

Odds: City are hugely odds-on at 1.16 at bet365, the draw is 7.00 and the Leeds to win is a mighty 14.00, which must be worth a punt.

Prediction: Warnock to compound Mancini's misery and repeat his taming of Andre Villas-Boas in the fourth round.

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