FA Premier League
Tuesday 1 January 2013, 15.00 KO
City: Hart, Zabaleta, Kompany (c), Lescott, Clichy, Barry, Y Toure, Silva (Sinclair 83), Dzeko (Razak 90), Aguero (Tevez 77)
Unused: Pantilimon, K Toure, Nastasic, Garcia
Goals: Zabaleta (43), Dzeko (57), Aguero (pen 76)
Booked: Dzeko, Lescott
Referee: Michael Oliver
Man of the Match: Gael Clichy
From the first whistle of the game, City looked in control of the match and were pushing to make their dominance pay off. Inside the first couple of minutes, Aguero had forced Begovic into a good save at his near post, before Clichy put in a good cross towards Dzeko, but it was cleared before it reached the Bosnian.
With ten minutes on the clock, the Stoke back-line had dropped deep into their own half and the visitors were under pressure from the home side. Barry chipped a beautiful pass in for Aguero to volley, but his effort flashed just over the bar. This followed Yaya Toure’s first shot of the game, but he didn’t get hold of it properly and it skewed high and wide from long range.
A free kick from the right wing followed Yaya Toure’s second skewed effort wide: And it should have been the opening goal, as Milner’s cross landed perfectly on the head of Silva, but the Spaniard nodded wide of the target from the middle of the goal. Begovic was a spectator, but fortunately for the Stoke keeper, Silva’s effort flashed the other side of his post.
On 28 minutes, City had a rare opportunity to get men forward without the restriction of facing a sea of red and white shirts, as the blues caught their opponents on the break. Dzeko’s shot, however, from the right side of the box wasn’t troubling Begovic, as he scooped it over the bar when he really should have tested the goalkeeper.
Missing chances, though, was proving to be doubly annoying for the home side’s fans as Stoke – who had clearly come for a point – were taking their time over every dead ball and the supporters were feeling like Begovic was a serial offender. And it earned him a talking to from the referee following Aguero’s header from a Barry cross that struck the post and bounced behind. Yaya Toure then smashed a low drive into the wall, as he took charge of a free kick on the edge of the box.
Just as it looked like the blues would be going into half time frustrated, the lead came from a rather unlikely source. Milner crossed low towards the near post and Begovic got down to push the ball away, but he could only steer it to Zabaleta. The Argentine, on his left foot, prodded the rebound into the open goal and the hosts had the breakthrough.
The second half quickly settled back into the pattern of the first: Aguero was felled mid-way into the Stoke half, but the free kick came to nothing, before Dzeko half-volleyed from a Yaya Toure ball over the top. The crisp, dipping drive, though, dropped just over the bar. It was all City.
But it soon got better for the blues, as Dzeko pounced to double the home side’s lead. Aguero wriggled his way through the line of red and white shirts on the edge of the box and found room to fire the shot away. Begovic made the save, but he could do nothing about the rebound, as Dzeko, in the right place at the right time, tapped the ball home.
With 62 minutes on the clock, the visitors should have pulled a goal back through Walters. Despite having been under pressure for most of the game, a corner from the left wing allowed Stoke the chance to get men in the box – that flag kick left the midfielder with virtually an open goal at the back post, but he, somehow, volleyed wide from close range.
There was controversy about City’s third goal – a penalty from Aguero that wriggled under Begovic’s dive – as it looked like the foul that had been punished was outside the area. The referee, though, decided that it wasn’t and pointed straight to the spot, leaving the Argentine to roll his kick to the bottom right side of the goal. That was to be his last action, though, as he pulled up on his next run from kick off and had to leave the field through injury.
Hart preserved his clean sheet with a brilliant save with four minutes to play: A long range drive from the visitors looked destined for the bottom corner, until the England international sprung low to his left to tip the ball onto the post. At the other end, Milner did well to keep possession all on his own on the right flank, before beating his two opponents and sending in a low drive towards Sinclair. The winger, though, couldn’t stretch to knock it home.
It was a winning start to 2013 for the blues with a very comfortable home victory, leaving Stoke’s fifth Premier League visit to The Etihad Stadium as their fifth without scoring a goal. It was a dominant performance from the home side, who will be looking to build on a good end to the Christmas period.