Blackburn throw a spanner in the works for Manchester City

Goalscorer Scott Dann hails attacking play to secure replay against Premier League side.

Alvaro Negredo opened the scoring for Manchester United against Blackburn Rovers. Phil Noble / Reuters
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Blackburn // Some 24 hours before Manchester City kicked off at Ewood Park, Manuel Pellegrini was asked if they could win four trophies this season. It proved a rather premature inquiry. A day later, City diced with the earliest of exits from the FA Cup.

When Alvaro Negredo gave last season’s beaten finalists the lead against Blackburn Rovers, it seemed a 12th win in 13 games was on the cards.

Some 45 minutes of football later, they were depleted and almost defeated. After Dedryck Boyata’s dismissal, the usually attacking Pellegrini adopted a damage-limitation strategy. David Silva was removed, Pablo Zabaleta introduced. The aim was to prevent defeat.

And so an already packed fixture list contains an extra game. Pellegrini’s attempt to spare many of his premier players an exhausting afternoon against fired-up Championship opponents backfired. He had to summon Jesus Navas and Yaya Toure in the quest for a winner. They may be required again in the replay.

Pellegrini only fielded four of his strongest XI from the start. Two were involved when City struck on the stroke of half time. Negredo applied the finishing touch when Edin Dzeko met Silva’s corner with a glancing header.

Yet if a corner seemed to smooth City’s progress into the fourth round, another proved their undoing. Rudy Gestede met it with a powerful header. Costel Pantilimon spilt it and Scott Dann was on hand to convert the rebound.

“I will analyse the game with the players, as a team,” said Pellegrini, refusing to criticise an individual in public.

Nevertheless, after Joe Hart’s errors harmed City earlier in the season, his deputy’s blunder cost them this time.

It spurred Blackburn on. “It was an absolutely phenomenal effort from our lads playing against a world-class team and they restored some pride in the club,” said manager Gary Bowyer.

Pride, indeed, was lost in a dreadful two years when they became a laughing stock. Yet they have quietly rebranded, exchanging embarrassing failure for low-profile progress, and they produced a performance of coherence and commitment.

The midfielder Tom Cairney was terrific, justifying Rovers’ decision to buy him. Captain Dann was defiant in defence. Substitute DJ Campbell made a catalytic cameo in which he almost delivered a winner. Instead his greater impact came as City were reduced to 10 men. Boyata, an unconvincing deputy for the rested Zabaleta, had been cautioned for a foul on Josh King. Then he chopped down Campbell to collect his marching orders.

“I have no complaints,” Pellegrini said. “Boyata had the first yellow card and I think that the foul was for another yellow card so it was a correct decision.”

He denied his side were lucky to draw, citing the chances Dzeko and Navas had to deliver a winner.

Both were denied by Paul Robinson, the former England goalkeeper who was making his first appearance since 2012 after suffering a blood clot to the lungs. For him, like Blackburn, it has been a miserable time. Both can sense they have turned a corner.


MAN OF THE MATCH: Tom Cairney – The most skilful and inventive player in the midfield. A revelation.

BLACKBURN VERDICT: Outstanding. Superbly organised, they outworked City but also played with intelligence. They were well managed. 9/10

MANCHESTER CITY VERDICT: A substandard performance. They were never at their most fluent and right-back Boyata endured a harrowing time. 4/10