MAN CITY 0, MIDDLESBROUGH 2
The wisdom of the mid-season break to Abu Dhabi was questioned as Manchester City crashed out of the FA Cup, losing at home to Championship club Middlesbrough.
It was as though City, who only arrived back 19 hours before the fourth-round tie were either jetlagged or still in the sunshine Middle East state.
After a promising goalless opening period, in which City could conceivably have sealed victory had it not been for the heroics of former Real Madrid and Spain under20 international keeper Tomas Mejias.
It all went horribly wrong in the second half as goals from Chelsea loanee Patrick Bamford and substitute Kike helped Borough cause a giantkilling act.
Indeed, Boro could easily have won by a wider margin as they carved open the City defence time and time again and only keeper Willy Caballero saved them from an even heavier loss.
City manager Manuel Pellegrini disagreed that the trip to Abu Dhabi had an adverse effect on their display against Boro when quizzed about the matter.
He said: “I do not agree with you, but you can have your own opinions.
“We had two games in the same match and, before they scored their first goal, we had six or seven clear chances and they didn’t have one.
“We conceded an easy goal and the game changed, and we were nervous. They are a good team who work well and that’s why they are second in the Championship. Boro deserve to continue in the cup.”
Pellegrini added that his side’s defensive ills – they have conceded two goals in each of the last four games is a worry while they have failed to score in their last two matches.
He attributed the disappointing form to the loss of all his senior strikers and accordingly having to change their style of play.
“The strikers are back, but need time to get back to their best performances,” he said.
Boro player Aitor Karanka described the victory as the highlight of his 14 months saying: “I cannot find words to explain my feelings, but I’m so proud of the players, the crowd, the fans, the staff and the club.
“They had a lot of chances to score in the first half and I was concerned because they have a lot of quality. They always had an attacking threat and it was our third game in one week.
“We could have won by more as we were well organised and have quality up front.”
Apart from the inclusion of goalkeeper Willy Caballero and defender Dedryck Boyata, it was very much a full strength City side with the remaining nine starters all having featured regularly.
And it included Vincent Kompany, David Silva and Sergio Aguero who all looked to sharpen their game after recent injury lay offs.
City enjoyed the lion’s share of early possession without seriously threatening to find the net while Lee Tomlin had the ball in the net for Boro in the 20th minute only for Jelle Vossen to be flagged for offside in the build up.
It was not long before City start to carve out openings as Aguero fired into the side netting, Aleksandar Kolarov, Stevan Jovetic twice, James Milner and Silva were denied by super stops by Tomas Mejias while Boyata blazed over from in front of goal.
City also had a penalty appeal rejected just before half time as they claimed Daniel Ayala handled in the box.
The start to the second half followed a similar pattern to the first as Jovetic was denied by a smart save by Mejias.
Then completely against the run of play, Boro stole ahead in the 53rd minute when a clearance by Fernando Reges was charged down and the ball ran loose to Bamford who beat Kompany to slide the ball into the empty net.
City could easily have fallen two behind after Caballero pulled off a great save to deny Tomlin and Grant Leadbitter’s follow-up shit was blocked as they lived dangerously.
They were in disarray as Tomlin ought to have added a second but his lob was caught by Caballero then the same player produced a dazzling turn to burst clean through only to see his shot strike the inside of the upright before somehow rebounding to safety.
Boro had yet another great chance of the break when Adomah teed up Jelle Vossen whose volley was brilliantly kept out by Caballero.
City threw on Frank Lampard and Fernandinho midway through the second period and then introduced Edin Dzeko with 11 minutes left, their last throw of mthe dice.
Lampard came agonisingly close to equalising in the 89th minute when his drive was deflected by Adam Clayton on to the inside of the upright as the ball bounced to safety to the relief of the visitors.
Boro sealed victory in the third minute of stoppage time when Adomah and Bamford linked to set up substitute Kike as the former Spain under-21 international slotted the ball past Caballero to send the 5,500 visiting fans into delirium.