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Sep 11, 2010

Mancini's Blue Moon stalling

These are eventful times at Eastlands. Not content with supplying six members of the England side who triumphed in Switzerland, Manchester City have entered the movie business. Blue Moon Rising premiered this week. It is a title that seems to reflect the worries of their Premier League rivals, operating under the assumption that, propelled with the momentum money provides, the ascent of the Blue Moon will be unstoppable.

• Report: Man City 1-1 Blackburn
• Blog: Paupers prove point to princes
• Premier League: Blues press on
• Palmer: Grant on borrowed time
• Premier League gallery

Students of City's bittersweet history may argue it is merely wishful thinking. Because, while there is insufficient evidence at this early stage of the season, Blue Moon Stalling may have been a more appropriate name. Four games have brought five points with one terrific performance, against Liverpool, surrounded by three that may be mediocre or middling, but weren't magnificent and, more significantly, didn't result in victory.

That Blackburn departed the City of Manchester Stadium with a point was a combination of several factors; most obviously an uncharacteristic error from Joe Hart, in combination with Kolo Toure, but also some fine goalkeeping from Paul Robinson and an outstanding example of defiance from Christopher Samba. Opportunities were squandered - "we missed 25 chances," sighed Roberto Mancini - but a lack of ruthlessness cannot always be dismissed as mere misfortune.

Nor, indeed, can last-gasp heroics be merely good luck. That was especially evident in injury time when Samba flung himself into the path of Jo's goalbound effort. "A mighty block," said Sam Allardyce, who felt it was indicative of his side's spirit.

"The immense difference between the two clubs means we have measured up to somebody who should have brushed us aside today with the players they can afford and the wages they can pay," he added. "I know good organisation, team spirit and a hard-working side can cause an upset. For Manchester City and their fans, it was an upset."

It was. Equally accurate was Mancini's analysis. "Today we played a team with all the players behind the ball because they came here only to get a draw," he said. "We need to find a solution when we play against these teams. At Sunderland, it was the same."

Yet City's predicament is that opponents can be excused for parking the bus, to borrow the phrase Jose Mourinho used six years ago when Spurs attempted to halt a side constructed by a billionaire. Moreover, injuries, something cited by Mancini, attract precious little sympathy when his seven chosen replacements still cost in excess of £80 million.

A safety-first approach, coupled with a Nikola Kalinic goal forged by a mistake, proved a successful formula for Blackburn against Everton. It had its merits against City, too. Rovers led when Morten Gamst Pedersen punted the ball forwards, Kolo Toure left it for Hart and Kalinic capitalised, dispossessing the goalkeeper and finishing. "A fluke," added Mancini. "It can happen in football. Joe Hart is a good goalkeeper."

While England goalkeepers have an indelible association with unfortunate errors at the moment, Hart tends to be more reliable than the other blunderer. Toure constituted part of the soft underbelly who undermined Mark Hughes; that, with six summer additions and £126 million spent, he remains a first choice is surprising. To paraphrase a piece of sledging directed at the Australian cricketer Mark Waugh, Toure isn't even the best footballer in his family. Shielded rigorously earlier in the season, his indecision proved costly on this occasion.

Thereafter, Patrick Vieira earned City a point, seemingly reprising his earlier role as a box-to-box midfielder by advancing to the near post to finish from Carlos Tevez's cross. While City's new captain assumed a greater prominence in the closing stages, his was a lonely lot for periods of the game. The issue of the balance between defence and attack has been a constant in Mancini's reign and it remains unresolved. Switching James Milner to a central role helped, enabling him to release Adam Johnson with regularity and allowing the winger to sashay past defenders at will.

Yet the vacancy on the left flank was filled first by Shaun Wright-Phillips and then Jo while David Silva, the £24 million recruit, remained on the bench until the last five minutes. It meant only two of the summer arrivals started and, while there was a chant of "it's just like watching England", that may not have been a compliment.

Indeed, with a frustrating home draw and a defensive error, it was rather like watching City last autumn, rather than the dawn of the Blue Moon era.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Adam Johnson - Scintillating so far this season, he continued his fine form. Accepting the ball on the turn, he was forever ready to spin away from an opponent and appears to be running at defenders more than before.

MANCHESTER CITY VERDICT: The quest to find the strongest side continues. Milner's move into the middle was a positive step, allowing Yaya Toure to operate at the base of the midfield, but there was a lopsided look to City, with Johnson posing far more threat on the right flank than anyone did on the left.

BLACKBURN REPORT: Ever conscious of the statistics, Allardyce was delighted to ensure his record of never losing three successive league games at the club continued. That is especially admirable after the loss of two defenders - Ryan Nelsen and Michel Salgado - to injuries. Kalinic, meanwhile, continues to progress with the unenviable task of leading the line alone. But for a fine stop from Hart, he may have scored a winner, even though he gets precious little support.

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