"When people see Rocky in a Manchester City shirt they will understand very quickly why I wanted to bring him here." Unfortunately for Mark Hughes, his statement back in July and confidence in Roque Santa Cruz has yet to be shared by others. Injuries meant the striker barely figured under the former City manager, who knew him so well from their time at Blackburn.
His start at Fulham on Sunday was only his fifth of the season in the league; his goal only his third, the other two coming against Sunderland in December on the day Hughes lost his job. The remaining two months offer a frustrated Santa Cruz the chance of redemption and to show Hughes's words were not hollow. Roberto Mancini, the incumbent manager, would like nothing more than to have the Paraguay striker available for the remainder of the season. Fit and on form, he can be a handful in the air and on the ground. With Emmanuel Adebayor's campaign affected by suspension and the African Cup of Nations, it is a threat that City have missed up front.
Santa Cruz said: "For me, as a striker, I was very pleased to score [against Fulham] and it was massively important for me. It gives you the confidence to keep going." The importance was greater for City. A follow-up win against Everton tonight at Eastlands will put them a point clear of Tottenham in fourth place. "Just to feel that we are close to that fourth spot is important. We need to make sure we win this game," added Santa Cruz.
But while City have more options in attack, the defence has constantly been unsettled. They have not kept a clean sheet since their last home game against Liverpool a month ago and the loss of Joleon Lescott for up to four weeks yesterday with a hamstring injury was not welcome news for Mancini. Lescott, who had been in commanding form recently, will miss out against his former club for the second time since his controversial £22 million (Dh121.9m) switch from Goodison in September.
"I am not happy about Joleon, but we have other players who can do a good job in the next games," said Mancini. "It's important we do our job well. We work to get into the Champions League; we want to get fourth position. But if we didn't get it, the world is not finished. "Manchester City will continue to play and we have other years, but we will do our maximum to get fourth." The pressure, however, is on Mancini's side to deliver and Sylvain Distin hopes Everton will take full advantage of that tonight.The defender spent five years at City and said: "They are doing OK, but I think some people are still disappointed. They have spent a lot and when you spend that kind of money everybody expects you to win and compete for the title immediately. "It takes time though to make a team. You can have as much money as you want, but you can't just build a team in a few months." firstname.lastname@example.org
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