After arguably the finest month of his promising career, Joe Hart erred at Eastlands yesterday and, as a result, Manchester slipped up.
Mix-up leaves City shaken up
MANCHESTER // Mistakes are an occupational hazard for goalkeepers but the singular nature of their job means they tend to be both highlighted and costly. After arguably the finest month of his promising career, Joe Hart erred at Eastlands yesterday and, as a result, Manchester City slipped up. In the wider picture, both Roberto Mancini and Fabio Capello, his respective managers for club and country, have been vindicated for installing Hart as their first choice. In Hart's defence, Kolo Toure was equally culpable for the goal gifted to Blackburn Rovers and the scorer, Nikola Kalinic, was subsequently denied a second by the City goalkeeper. Nevertheless, it was a day when the theory that England goalkeepers are cursed gained credence.
"This is a fluke," Mancini said. "Joe Hart is a good goalkeeper but it can happen in football." Nevertheless, it was a calamitous goal to concede, one that was effectively presented to Blackburn in the 25th minute. Even the most partisan Rovers fan would struggle to argue it was created. Instead, a volleyed clearance by Morten Gamst Pedersen was allowed to bounce, Kolo Toure left it to Hart, to the goalkeeper's surprise, and Kalinic dispossessed the former Shrewsbury Town goalkeeper before sliding the ball past the diving defender and in.
"The key element was Niko capitalising on their mistake," said Sam Allardyce, the Blackburn manager. "It was an unexpected opportunity to score and we are glad he took it." That the loss of a goal - just the second conceded by City this season - was accompanied by the loss of two points was the consequence of missed chances as much as Hart's mishap. "We had 25 chances to score," said an irritated Mancini.
However, a draw against unfancied opponents provided unwanted echoes of City's home form last autumn and, albeit at an embryonic stage of the season, leaves them seven points off the pace in the Premier League title race. Patrick Vieira's 55th-minute equaliser apart, it was an afternoon of frustration for City. Rovers' resistance reached its apogee in injury time when Gael Givet blocked from Carlos Tevez on the goal-line and, as Jo, a second-half substitute for Shaun Wright-Phillips, attempted to convert the rebound, Christopher Samba flung himself heroically in the way of the Brazilian's shot.
For the opening quarter of an hour and the last 35 minutes, the Blackburn defence were overworked. The goalkeeper to excel was Paul Robinson, who has made his share of high-profile mistakes but is undergoing a quiet rehabilitation in Lancashire. "He's played much better than that for us," Allardyce said. "We are very, very pleased with our team performance and we feel we have got what we deserved.
"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. But I know a good, organised team with ability can cause an upset. For Manchester City and their fans, it was an upset." For Mancini, it was disturbing. Following a bright beginning, his side were insipid after Kalinic struck, as though taken aback either by the goal or the manner of it. Once Tevez crossed and Vieira levelled from close range, urgency was restored to their game and Mancini's first two replacements, Gareth Barry and Jo, could each have won the game.
Inspiration, however, came from a familiar source. Adam Johnson maintained his stellar start to the season, evading would-be tacklers with ease and, twice, almost scoring. On each occasion, James Milner was the creator and theirs is a promising combination. There is pride at Eastlands that they supplied six members of the England side to win in Switzerland on Tuesday. This, however, was not to be another heartening tale of the exploits of young Englishmen.