Pellegrini’s rest policy backfires at Blackburn as replay adds to fixture congestion.
When Alvaro Negredo volleyed Manchester City into the lead, it seemed a familiar story. Manuel Pellegrini’s all-conquering side were on course for their 12th win in 13 games. They were acquiring momentum and brushing rivals aside.
Yet, football is not always that predictable.
Championship side Blackburn Rovers sprang a surprise, scoring an equaliser through their captain Scott Dann, taking City to a replay that makes a busy January still more crowded and interrupting Pellegrini’s progress.
And so there was nothing to separate clubs who are now worlds apart. City and Blackburn are two of the five clubs to have won the Premier League and have 11 FA Cups between them, but they are separated by one division, 28 places and millions of pounds now.
Yet, it was 10-man City who were happier to hear the final whistle. They sacrificed David Silva for a defender, Pablo Zabaleta, in a bid to prevent a shock defeat.
They limped out of Ewood Park after being hassled and harried by the underdogs.
Yet, this was Rovers’ reward after a traumatic couple of years. They have been relegated and humiliated, enduring a season of five managers and a global advisor, wasting huge sums on declining players.
Now, they are a laughing stock no longer, but a club making quiet progress under the quietly-spoken, eminently sensible manager Gary Bowyer.
He had a rather better day than his City counterpart. Pellegrini paid a price for underestimating Rovers. He selected only four of his strongest 11 and had to bring on Yaya Toure and Jesus Navas in a vain search for a winner.
Instead of resting players, they will have a greater workload because of the replay.
A depleted team never found their finest form. Rovers were the more threatening in an uneventful first 44 minutes.
Then City, a byword for goals, struck. Silva’s corner was flicked on by Edin Dzeko and an unmarked Negredo volleyed in. There was a suspicion he was offside but fortune favoured the favourites.
Yet, while corners gave City the lead, they also cost them their advantage.
Dann had already demonstrated his threat from set-pieces before converting the rebound after Rudy Gestede met Ben Marshall’s corner with a forceful header. Costel Pantilimon, deputising for Joe Hart, only pushed it out feebly towards the Blackburn skipper. It amounted to the best possible response.
While City could have scored a winner – former England keeper Paul Robinson, making his first appearance since 2012 after suffering a blood clot to the lung, saved from Dzeko before Navas shot wide – so could Rovers.
Substitute DJ Campbell and Tom Cairney came perilously close.
Campbell made his mark in another way too when City’s hapless right-back Dedryck Boyata fouled the replacement, collected a second caution and was sent off.
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