Quick feet of Silva bring hope for the future
It had been 90 minutes of gentle grazing for Edin Dzeko. There was a lot of grass out there and he wandered around testing much of it, stamping, trotting and generally keeping warm. Dzeko is a bit of an enigma at Manchester City, one whom the fans don't quite know whether to encourage or shout at. Sometimes a damn good weep suffices. Every man and his dog remembers the awe-inspiring four goals he netted at White Hart Lane in the sunshine two years ago, a feat that sometimes feels like it took place centuries back. Suddenly, with this game staggering into extra time without a conclusion in sight, the big Bosnian decided it was time to act.
And act he did.
Firstly, a quick burst of pace on the left of the box took him to the byline, where he squared for Alvaro Negredo to touch home. Then, minutes later, he was slid through by a cute ball from James Milner and, avoiding a lunging challenge, placed the ball securely in the back of the net to put the tie to bed and earn City an away game in Leicester in the quarter finals.
In truth it was not the slowly awakening Dzeko that had made the difference, but a small substitute of familiar features, brought on in the 64th minute of what had until then been a somewhat stodgy Capital One Cup tie. City, carrying many changes to the personnel unlucky to lose at Stamford Bridge on Saturday, had been making heavy weather of a Newcastle side that was willing but off target. Manuel Pellegrini, surely aware of his paymasters' desire for more grand European nights at the Etihad, had brought in the likes of Micah Richards, Joleon Lescott, Milner and Dedryck Boyata with progress in the two grand leagues, Premier and Champions, in mind. As the game began to get bogged down in a frenzy of flailing limbs, on came the Little Magician to conjure a problem or two for the home defence.
Not to talk lightly of Milner's lungs nor Jesus Navas' penchant for chalk dust, but David Silva's introduction had an immediate effect in two vital ways: firstly the little Spaniard galvanised a tiring City midfield and secondly his fleet-footed appearance demoralised a Newcastle side, who had up to then, competed for every ball and had had their own moments of potential glory. Suddenly, with extra time stretching out before them, there was QuickSilver to deal with. Almost immediately, passes were being played that nobody on the pitch had hitherto been able to see, never mind measure out and deliver.
Whilst Silva galvanised the show, others had by then already made their mark: Boyata solid in defence, Milner full of energy and drive and Costel Pantilimon deserving of the highest praise after a solid, safe performance between the sticks. The giant Romanian beat his chest at the end as he saluted the loud and large City contingent high in the Gods at St James' Park. It was a sign of solidity, unity and brotherly good feeling. The collective hearts amongst the away following had been beating hard for other reasons during the 120 minutes that had gone before. A Newcastle side lacking in confidence and restricted in its creativity, had still managed to show City how to get close to the opponent's goal. Indeed, without the doughty frame of Pantilimon, things might have been different. Joe Hart's deputy, looking assuredly like a man whose chance had finally come, did more than enough to suggest he might keep hold of the gloves for the weekend visit of Norwich City.
So City progressed, eventually, bringing back memories of a time, nearly forty years ago, when these two great old sides met in the final of this competition. On that day City prevailed thanks to a Geordie, Dennis Tueart providing an iconic football moment with an overhead kick winner at Wembley. City's win qualified them for European competition the following season, where they ran into the Juventus of Gaetano Scirea and Marco Tardelli and were eliminated. The black and white stripes of Newcastle provided less of a problem, but Pellegrini knows that grazing on the Capital One Cup will not suffice.
By winning in Newcastle, City secured a third win out of four consecutive away games. That they were only a Hart misjudgement away from exiting this tough run of games unbeaten will provide the side with a necessary boost as they gear up for five home games out of the next six. Where they stand after that little run will allow us to start to make proper judgments about where this 2013-14 season might yet take them.