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Apr 25, 2009

Brazilians shine as Man City finally win away

There are times when the chant of ''we've got Robinho'' is designed to induce envy from opponents. There are occasions it serves as a reminder that the Brazilian, who has descended into expensive anonymity, is still on the pitch. There are times when it is a simple assertion of a flamboyant superiority created by wealth and manifesting itself in outlandish trickery.

But such days are normally confined to the City of Manchester Stadium. Robinho has forged a reputation as the footballing equivalent of a recluse. He was rarely seen away from home. Manchester City, meanwhile, were challenging West Bromwich Albion and Stoke City for the unwanted title of the Premier League's worst travellers which would have made an unusual double with their tag as the world's richest club.

This, however, provided that rarest of occasions. City won away from home in the Premier League and Robinho provided rival supporters with evidence of his considerable quality. He was a distinctly disenchanted Real Madrid player when City, then owned by Thaksin Shinawatra, triumphed at Sunderland in August.

Fourteen subsequent away games have brought a series of embarrassments at the hands of more impoverished opponents. Yet, having lost at each of Middlesbrough, Bolton, West Brom, Stoke and Portsmouth, City, in trademark fashion, duly defeated one of the division's toughest teams. While Manchester United and Chelsea could not muster a goal in 210 minutes against Everton this week, City, albeit against an exhausted side, managed two.

Both were memorable and not just for the reward they brought the long-suffering supporters who have followed City around the country since last summer. The first, David Moyes lamented, came from an Everton freekick. But a counter-attack swiftly followed and Joseph Yobo's headed clearance only fell to Elano, who swept the ball into his compatriot and close friend's path with a majestic first-time pass. Robinho finished clinically, driving his shot past Tim Howard from an acute angle.

Having scored one goal, Robinho supplied another. His curling, cross-field pass was perfectly placed for the advancing Ireland to finish nonchalantly. ''He's having an outstanding season,'' said Mark Hughes of the Brazilian. ''He's scoring goals; 13 is an outstanding return for a midfield player in the Premier League. His understanding of the game when to join in and he joins in with pace so opposition teams can't track him each and every time.''

That the two goals came from the attacking midfielders was fitting. The trio combined terrifically throughout. Robinho's fondness for Elano, who has revived his City career in the last nine days, is well known, but it was significant he established an alliance with the typically excellent Ireland. It could have brought further goals, with Tim Howard sparing Everton a heavier defeat and denying Robinho a hat-trick.

''He was excellent today,'' added Hughes. ''He has had criticism in regard to his performances away from home. It has been unfair on occasions and justified on others but he was outstanding today. There was a real focus to his play. He was able to express himself.''

That is something the showman savours. There was trickery in abundance - he seemed intent on challenging his own unofficial world record for step-overs in the opening minutes - but there was also a welcome marriage of style and substance, especially when Everton were forced to chase the game.

The two Brazilians occupy curious positions. Robinho's position as the poster boy for the new regime may not make him immune from a summer sale. Elano appears to be held in higher esteem by the City crowd than his own manager. When Shaun Wright-Phillips is absent - as he was on Saturday - he can assume a pivotal role. When the winger returns, the bench may still beckon.

Whether this was a valedictory display remains to be seen. Like Robinho, Elano's future remains unresolved and much depends on whether Hughes still deems the duo disruptive influences. Yet they had provided a reminder that City possess the talent to defeat most sides. The enduring problem is they lack the consistency to challenge them.

That is something Everton possess. They have had the season City envisaged for themselves, with a top-six finish highly likely and a cup final appearance secured, but they endured a miserable day. After the FA Cup semi-final and the stalemate at Stamford Bridge, this was a game too far.

Dan Gosling's goal, deep into added time, was little consolation for a first home defeat of 2009. The loss of Phil Jagielka was especially depressing. The defender has gone to hospital for a scan on a knee problem. It was evident from Moyes' expression that he fears the man who took Everton to the FA Cup final will miss the showpiece occasion. Given Jagielka's fine form this season, a terrific day for Manchester City may also produce a benefit for Chelsea.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Robinho
Surely his best performance away from home for City. If he performed with such verve more frequently, his position would be unquestioned.

EVERTON VERDICT: Only Howard and Leighton Baines produced the sorts of performances we have become accustomed to witnessing from Everton. Jo, loaned out by Manchester City, was ineligible to face his owners. They might not have missed him but Everton did.

MANCHESTER CITY VERDICT: This was an altogether different away performance. With Vincent Kompany and Nigel de Jong forming a solid base in midfield, Ireland, Elano and Robinho were allowed to flourish further forward. Ireland is short-listed for the PFA Young Player of the Year award, but he is thought to be an outsider. He would be a deserving winner, though.

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