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Zenit sign Bart Simpson

The Toe Poke 14 hours ago
Read
Jan 28, 2009

Bellamy steals the show

They haven't got Kaka but they have got Craig Bellamy. That was the result of one of the stranger days in Manchester City's history, though even Garry Cook wasn't quite misguided enough to use those exact words. Minus the world's costliest footballer, they had the striker signed for City's equivalent of loose change. Without the devout Christian, the model for clean-cut living, they had the nutter with the putter. Whether Cook's humanitarian project persuaded him to join City remains to be seen.

This could have been Kaka's bow, the day when the ridicule ceased and City's evident ambition acquired a realism. Instead, it marked the bows of Bellamy and Nigel de Jong. They may not command quite the same global profile, but they were far too good for Newcastle as the world's richest club belatedly returned to the top half of the Premier League.

The Dutchman de Jong enjoyed a decent debut at the base of the midfield, but he was overshadowed, inevitably, by Bellamy. Having scored against Newcastle in his valedictory appearance for West Ham, Bellamy repeated the trick to commence his City career.

''I was really pleased with both Craig and Nigel,'' said Mark Hughes. ''They were two impressive debuts to follow on from Wayne Bridge's. Craig was always willing and determined. Once he beds in here and other players understand the qualities he has with his pace, I think we'll release him on more occasions. I was really pleased with the interplay between himself and Robbie [Robinho].''

It is somewhat typical that Newcastle have endured a season of conceding costly goals to their former players. Now they appear Bellamy's favourite opponents. Booed after his acrimonious departure from St James' Park, when he was publicly vilified by Graeme Souness, a player who thrives on confrontation excelled.

Yet Newcastle's fortunes have declined since Bellamy's exit, and their finest days of the past decade coincided with his partnership with Alan Shearer. They may not like the Welshman, but he was effective.

His fearless front-running makes him well-suited to City's system, where a prominent lone striker is imperative, and he allied his industry with a fine finish. Following Pablo Zabaleta's pass, a sharp turn was followed by a shot that wrong-footed Steve Harper.

Don't google him, Bellamy had said, but there might be a few rave reviews from City fans appearing in cyberspace. The ludicrous lime green footwear weren't exactly the choice of an introvert, but it wasn't just the boots that shone.

''It's helped that we've been able to bring quality players into the club,'' added Hughes. ''They have improved us.'' So Kaka wasn't needed against Newcastle. In any case, City still possess one Brazilian with stardust in his boots.

Undaunted by a £320,000 fine for returning to Brazil - making it one of the more expensive birthday parties in history - and being on bail, Robinho produced a carefree display of trickery in the first half.

''I had no qualms about putting him in,'' Hughes said. ''His mentality was in the right place.'' Despite the mid-air backheel, Robinho's most significant contribution was a seemingly simple ball. It brought City's opening goal.

It was a move begun on the left flank by Wayne Bridge, who crossed for Robinho to tuck a short pass into Shaun Wright-Phillips' path. He drilled in a low shot for his first league goal since September. He is savouring life at the City of Manchester Stadium. It was less pleasant for a former team-mate.

Joey Barton sustained a suspected metatarsal injury at his former club, to follow an ankle injury for Michael Owen. ''He's cracked a bone,'' said a despondent Joe Kinnear. ''The doctors are saying six to eight weeks. Joey will be out for a minimum of 10 weeks. That's how it's been going out week in and week out.

''We need help. We need players. I'd dearly love to go and spend millions. I can see why other people bottled taking the job. Lots of big names out there didn't have the backside to take it. The credit crunch is killing us. Mike Ashley's lost £2 billion.''

A forward who cost nothing earned Newcastle a lifeline with their first meaningful shot on target. The hitherto excellent Bridge, a comparative veteran in his second City game, was dispossessed by David Edgar. His low cross was tucked in at the far post by Andy Carroll, a reward for unstinting effort for Newcastle's raw but eager striker.

His sparring partner, Charles N'Zogbia, was absent. While others appear to want to leave Newcastle, Mike Ashley returned. This was his first game since August, but it represented an inauspicious return.

With Ashley in the stands, Bellamy in the City attack and an abject team on the pitch, it must have been hard for the Toon Army to know where to look.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Pablo Zabaleta
He surged forwards to set up City's second goal to cap a fine evening's work. Moving the right-back into midfield seems one of Hughes' better decisions and Zabaleta helped City dominate possession there.

MANCHESTER CITY VERDICT: Hughes' signings are starting to make an impact. Besides Bellamy, de Jong was quietly effective in the midfield and Bridge has ended the long wait for a reliable left-back. Vincent Kompany's assured display at centre-back may not bode well for Richard Dunne when the increasingly error-prone captain returns from suspension. Against such substandard opponents, judgment may be unwise but City are starting to look a top-eight team.

NEWCASTLE VERDICT: The scoreline flattered them. There was a lack of ambition to them, and Carroll was stranded alone in attack for much of the match. Playing Fabricio Coloccini in midfield was a gamble that didn't pay off and, with injuries increasing, the prognosis is increasingly bleak. Kinnear's record gets worse and so does Newcastle's season.

GIVEN GO: Officially injured, Shay Given was omitted from the Newcastle team to face his prospective employers. When even Newcastle's most loyal and dependable player wants out, it is a sign of the problems at St James' Park. ''I've said for quite some while that I feel an experienced keeper to complement the talented young keepers we have,'' Hughes explained.

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