MANCHESTER CITY 3, WATFORD 0
Roberto Mancini’s team selection for the FA Cup 3rd Round tie against Watford showed that he meant business in the competition this season and was rewarded with a 3-0 win with a debut and goal for 17-year-old Marcos Lopes.
Early exits in the Carling Cup and Champions League have pushed the FA Cup further up City’s priority list and Mancini made only two changes, one of them enforced, as Gianfranco Zola’s injury-hit Watford came to the Etihad and gave a good account of themselves.
Costel Pantilimon came in for Joe Hart while Javi Garcia replaced African Cup of Nations bound Yaya Toure in what was otherwise an unchanged side from City’s New Year’s Day win against Stoke.
City assistant manager David Platt was delighted with the result and paid tribute to City backup ‘keeper Costel Pantilimon who was given a chance to play against Watford and prevented Fernando Forestieri from levelling the scores immediately after Carlos Tevez’ free kick had put City into the lead.
“We went 1-0 up in the first half and they had the one on one chance straight away you never know which way its going to go.
“Costel stood up well for the one-on-one, he didn’t have a lot to do but what he did he did well.
“After we scored the second goal just before half time it knocked the stuffing out of them and we controlled the game in the second half.” added Platt.
“We didn’t get the 3rd goal till the last few minutes and that really finished them off.”
City fans had waited until the 70th minute to welcome yesterday’s headline grabber Mario Balotelli onto the pitch. Playful shouts of “Fight, fight, fight!” from the crowd weren’t heard by Platt but the Italian went about his business and tested Watford ‘keeper Jonathan Bond with a couple of efforts including one in added time which Bond could only parry out to Marcos Lopes who scored City’s third in added time.
Platt was immensely pleased with the debut and goal from City’s midfielder Marcos Lopes.
Lopes, a Brazilian-born Portuguese teenager barely 17 years old made his debut for City five minutes from the end and scored his first goal for City in added time.
The left-footed attacking midfielder, who was snapped up from Benfica reserves last season, is the youngest foreigner to make his league debut for City at 17 years and 8 days.
“He’s got a big smile on his face at the moment.” said Platt.
“He came away with us in pre-season and did very well.
“For the Under-21 team he’s been scoring goals like that and always wants to get into the box. He’s got great technical ability and a good future ahead of him.
Platt smiled after he was asked if Marcos Lopes had been nicknamed ‘Rony’ after Brazilian legend Ronaldinho.
“I hope not!” laughed Platt. “His nickname is Marcos at the moment. He’s played five minutes of an FA Cup tie and scored a goal and he should be proud of that tonight. Equally he should be ready to train tomorrow and he will be with the under 21 team to play in their game on Monday.”
“He’s a good lad and he’s got a good temperament and won’t let today go to his head.”
City had made the early running with a great early chance for goal-machine Pablo Zabaleta who was denied by Bond in the Watford goal.
It was the home side who had done all the running and the opening goal for Carlos Tevez was just reward for their work as the Argentine picked himself up after being felled by John Eustace and rifled a 25 yard free kick through a gap in the wall and past Bond in the 25th minute.
City were briefly all at sea moments later as Watford almost went up the other end and levelled the scores. Fernando Forestieri beat the offside trap and was clean through one on one with Pantilimon but the Romanian made the save after coming off his line. It was a crucial save and gave allowed City to push on and try and kill the game.
Just before half time City delivered a blow to Watford’s hopes of a shock after James Milner, who had tested Watford throughout the first half with his crosses, was given the ball by David Silva on the left and produced a quality cross that Gareth Barry nodded past Bond at the near post.
With a 2-goal cushion City controlled much of the second half, with Tevez going close a couple of times, and Pantilimon making a brave save before being fouled by Troy Deeney outside his area but after the arrival of Mario Balotelli in the last quarter of the game City closed Watford down and the Italian’s late shot was poached by Lopes after Bond could only spill it into the youngster’s path in added time.
Watford manager Gianfranco Zola refused to make excuses for his injury-ravaged side’s defeat to City but felt the scoreline might have been closer.
“City didn’t rest anybody apart from the goalkeeper, even if I had my best team we would still be behind them. The score was a bit unfair to us even though City deserved to win.” conceded the Italian.
After Carlos Tevez scored Fernando Forestieri had a great chance to level the scores immediately but was thwarted by Pantilimon.
“Considering that he is a very good player I was expecting something better from that. Three quick touches and the ball was in front of him. The goalkeeper stood up quite well though.” said Zola.
Zola briefly managed City striker Mario Balotelli for the Italian under-21 team and spoke to him at length after the final whistle.
Zola said: “I have an affection for Mario, I worked with him for the Italian under-21 team.
“He caused us so many problems when he came on. I do care about him and hope a man with a lot of potential like him can improve his situation and shine.”