MANCHESTER // Owen Hargreaves enjoyed a sensational Manchester City debut as he opened the scoring in his side's 2-0 Carling Cup triumph over Birmingham City at the Etihad Stadium.
Released by Manchester United in the summer after three injury-ravaged seasons, the midfielder drove home a superb 25-yard shot after 18 minutes and was deservedly named man of the match.
The goal and performance delighted Roberto Mancini, the City manager, who took the risk to sign he player who had only plaued six minutes of competitive football in three seasons.
“It was good for him,” said the Italian. “Owen is a fantastic player, who can become a very important player for us.
“He hasn’t had any problems in the last three weeks. At the moment his knee is fine.
“We said before the match we would give him between 45 and 60 minutes. As it turned out, he was okay for 60.”
Mancini must now decide the best way to plot Hargreaves’ progress, knowing the new arrival will be denied an emotional reunion with former club Bayern Munich in the Champions League next week as he was not registered in City’s 25-man European squad.
“We didn’t know what his condition would be when we had to decide,” Mancini said of the midfielder, who even used YouTube as a method of chronicling his fitness during the off-season for prospective clubs. “It was difficult. It is possible we could bring him in during January.
“But he has only played 60 minutes. Now it is important that he recovers properly because he can be good for us and England.
“After so long out, I don’t think it was easy for him before the game. But he worked well and scored a fantastic goal.”
It was some goal, with Hargreaves seizing on a loose ball as Carlos Tevez and Mario Balotelli had their route into the penalty area blocked and letting fly from 25 yards on 18 minutes. The shot went like an arrow past Birmingham goalkeeper Colin Doyle and into the top corner.
Balotelli added a second before the break to secure City's passage into the last 16 and end the holders' interest in a much-derided competition.
Although it was anticipated Hargreaves would be replaced at the break, the former England man reappeared and lasted for another 12 minutes before departing to a standing ovation.
With Tevez dropping deep, Balotelli was the focal point of City's attack and when Aleksandar Kolarov crossed from the left seven minutes before the interval, the former Inter Milan man neatly swept home his first goal of the season.
It was a good night all round for City as Kolo Toure also made his comeback after serving a six-month ban for a failed drugs test.
Toure made his mark too, being perfectly placed to clear off the line after Romanian goalkeeper Costel Pantilimon had dropped Jean Beausejour's free-kick, offering Curtis Davies the chance to send an overhead kick towards City's otherwise empty goal.