English Premiership

Mancini makes winning start

2009-12-26 19:16
Roberto Mancini (File)

London - Roberto Mancini's reign as Manchester City manager got off to a winning start on Saturday as first half goals from Martin Petrov and Carlos Tevez secured a 2-0 victory over Stoke.

The Italian, three times a Serie A winner as manager of Inter Milan, made his controversial move to Manchester after City replaced Mark Hughes, immediately following last Saturday's home victory over Sunderland.

City, and in particular chief operating officer Garry Cook and chairman Khaldoon al-Mubarak, have been widely criticised this week for the manner in which the widely-respected Hughes was dismissed by the club.

But the reaction that greeted Mancini's introduction before the game, and the response on the final whistle as a debut day victory was assured, suggests that the managerial switch has met with the approval of the rank-and-file City support.

The home side still displayed the familiar defensive frailties that undermined Hughes' tenure, however, and it took a magnificent save from Hughes' loyalist Shay Given to help City on their way.

Danny Collins's 19th-minute pass allowed Tuncay to ghost past the ineffective Kolo Toure and forced Given to sprint from his line to make a brave block and receive a blow to his knee from a collision with his own defender in the process.

At that point, City were still a work in progress, the players switching positions, and formations, as Mancini clearly worked through some ideas on the fly and, given those circumstances, that save would prove vital for, by the 28th minute, City's teething problems were clearly solved.

Tevez, not for the first time, proved unstoppable as he powered past a group of markers and crossed. Robinho helped the ball into the path of Petrov at the far post and the Bulgarian rammed home the opener.

It was not until deep into first half injury-time that City doubled their lead through the lively Tevez. Pablo Zabaleta swung a deep, high cross into the Stoke box, which Gareth Barry helped towards goal, with Tevez doing the rest with an accomplished, close-range finish.

The opening attack of the second half might have put the game beyond all reasonable doubt as Robinho surged into the area where he was stopped by a brilliantly-timed tackle from Andy Wilkinson.

The ball broke kindly for Petrov whose low shot was saved at the second attempt to Sorensen with Robinho poised to net the rebound.

For all their energetic attacking play, however, it was still the same old City in defence and substitute James Beattie almost started an unlikely Stoke fightback just after the hour.

City failed to deal with Matthew Etherington's free-kick which substitute Robert Huth headed back across goal and Beattie's fierce far-post volley drew another blinding save from Given.

Mancini had seen enough and decided he needed the height of Micah Richards for those set-pieces with the former England defender thrown on for Sylvinho.

Still, Stoke were threatening and another Etherington free-kick found the head of Ricardo Fuller who steered his effort beyond the far post.

As chairman Khaldoon and Cook watched on from the directors' box, Mancini brought on another Hughes loyalist, Craig Bellamy, as a substitute with 20 minutes to play, as City, and Robinho in particular, appeared to be running out of energy.

Bellamy almost marked his popular introduction with a goal as he chased onto Stephen Ireland's pass but was denied by Thomas Sorensen's save, the City man appealing for a penalty in the process as Huth seemed to push him in the back.

Danny Higginbotham missed embarrassingly from six yards in injury-time but the afternoon belonged to City and the new manager in charge of their fortunes.

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