Roberto Mancini continues to have the Midas touch as Manchester City claimed their place in the fourth round of the FA Cup.
Benjani steers City through the snow
Roberto Mancini continues to have the Midas touch as Manchester City claimed their place in the fourth round of the FA Cup. Despite injuries and absences, the Italian still rested many of his key men for the trip to the Riverside Stadium. Yet his gamble paid off with a comfortable third successive victory - and clean sheet - since he took over as manager. A cool finish in first-half injury time by Benjani - one of those to get a surprise call - was enough to overcome Middlesbrough and put City in the perfect mood for Wednesday's Carling Cup semi-final with Manchester United.
City fans will no doubt be dreaming of reaching Wembley in both cup competitions, especially as the side who have beaten Middlesbrough in the FA Cup have gone on to reach - and lose - the final in the past five seasons. Mancini was delighted with his winning run and said: "When you start a new job, it's important you start well, but you must work hard in the next week to maintain this. "I was very happy for my players. We have a big problem with injuries, but they did well.
"Benjani is a good player, an experienced player and he did very well." Benjani was making his first start in just over a year and his goal came after a similar length of time - a 1-1 draw at Fulham in December, 2008. The Zimbabwean striker has been plagued by injury, but took his chance to impress Mancini after he had left Carlos Tevez and Craig Bellamy on the bench. With Robinho joining Roque Santa Cruz on the injured list and Emmanuel Adebayor on African Cup of Nations duty, Benjani and Martin Petrov were the strike pairing. But they combined well for the winner.
Petrov, normally stationed on the left wing, drove forward before releasing a pass to Benjani, who took a touch before sending an angled shot past Danny Coyne. It settled what was expected to be a difficult tie. Mancini may not have been up to the Riverside before, but Middlesbrough would have been familiar to him. Fabrizio Ravanelli and Alen Boksic, two of his teammates at Lazio when they won the Serie A championship in 2000, spent time on Teesside. They were glamour signings when Boro were in the Premier League.
Now in the Championship, the club are reliant on homegrown talent such as the winger Adam Johnson. With his contract ending in the summer, he has been tracked by several clubs and showed why with a lively performance before his game was curtailed by a hamstring injury in the 32nd minute. With him went any hopes of a home upset. Boro had very little to offer in attack with Dedryck Boyata, 19, afforded a comfortable City debut in the heart of the City defence alongside Micah Richards, who went off at half time with a thigh injury.
Boyata, a Belgian of Congolese descent, is another to come through City's famed academy and Mancini said: "He played very well. We have defenders out and I have watched him in training. He's a young player and has a good future." One perfectly-timed sliding tackle on Marvin Emnes was decisive. As the snow fell, City were in no mood to let this game slip. Tevez, with eight goals in seven games, came on and was forced wide by Coyne with one chance before he sent a 25-yard free kick inches wide.
Late Boro pressure followed, but Shay Given's only save was from a tame header by David Wheater. It meant a seventh defeat in 11 games for Gordon Strachan since he replaced Gareth Southgate. "We are having a rough time at the moment, but what doesn't kill you makes you stronger," he said as he bemoaned the fact he had to call upon a 16-year-old Luke Williams. "What we saw out there was players who want to play for the club and for their teammates. I must find more players like that." Man of the match: Martin Petrov (Manchester City)