QUEENS Park Rangers came up just short as Manchester City showed the mark of champions to edge out the spirited visiting side.
While the stage was not quite as ominous as last term, the game was played out in the same frenetic manner – despite City grabbing the upper hand early once more.
Yaya Touré latched onto a tepid clearance to power through a group of players – handing the champions City the lead.
While they played within themselves at times, Rangers once again rocked the Etihad with Bobby Zamora poaching when Joe Hart spilled a fearsome Andrew Johnson drive.
City stepped up their energy levels and re-took the lead when Carlos Tevez squared well for Edin Dzeko – a goal barely two minutes later would surely crush the spirit of the visitors.
Rangers appeared inspired however as they frustrated the champions and came inches short of equalising on no less than three occasions – Ryan Nelsen twice guilty of missed opportunities.
City were able to pick Rangers off on the counter-attack however with Tevez turning in a Dzeko shot to end the fixture as a contest but certainly give QPR some positives if not points.
Hughes made a solitary change from the side that beat Walsall in the Capital One cup during the week with Esteban Granero – signed from Real Madrid during the week – replacing Junior Hoilett in midfield.
Rob Green started the fixture behind a back four of Jose Bosingwa, Anton Ferdinand, Ryan Nelsen and Fabio da Silva. The midfield consisted of Shaun Wright-Phillips, Granero, Alejandro Faurlín and Park Ji Sung – Bobby Zamora partnered Andrew Johnson in attack.
The champions started with Joe Hart behind a back four of Pablo Zabaleta, Vincent Kompany, Joleon Lescott and Aleksandar Kolarov. Jack Rodwell, Yaya Touré and David Silva were the trio in midfield with Carlos Tevez and Samir Nasri playing off Edin Dzeko.
KICK OFF: MANCHESTER CITY v QUEENS PARK RANGERS
The fixture that captured the imagination of millions last season, one can be forgiven for thanking that the sound of Martin Tyler spontaneously combusting can be put to rest and the real business can now resume as QPR looked to repeat their Etihad heroics.
With the sun creeping through the cloud in Eastlands it was more in trepidation than hope that Rangers travelled to the home of the champions, and certainly early on there was a marked difference between the two sides in approach and intent.
Rangers were once again content to defend and attempt to pick off City on the counter attack – however chances for the visiting side to spread their wings were fleeting. The host pressed with all the vigour and intent of last season.
Edin Dzeko glanced a header wide of the upright after useful work from Samir Nasri and while all of possession seemed to lie with the hosts, the genuine opportunities and chances were fleeting as Rangers defended manfully.
City continued to plough men forward in search of an opener – Carlos Tevez and the aforementioned Nasri combined well to find Yaya Touré – the resultant header was well fielded by Rob Green – a man whose confidence must be rock-bottom considering the capture of Julio Cesar.
The hosts roared forward once more with their typical vibrancy – David Silva once again at the heart of a fine move that resulted in a City corner. Nasri picked out Dzeko who brought the best from Fabio da Silva – the ex-Manchester United man clearing acrobatically off the line.
Rangers best chance to date came courtesy of City – a hacked clearance in the wrong direction drifted worryingly towards an underworked Joe Hart – it eventually nestled on the roof of the net much to the relief of England’s first choice stopper.
The resultant corner was tame by comparison however with Shaun Wright-Phillips rolling a daisy cutter towards the near post to rather highlight the difference between the two sides – City were firmly in control and perhaps more galling, quicker to every loose ball.
It was all hands on deck for Rangers on the 15 minute mark but sadly the defence could not nullify the hosts’ attacking intent. City’s persistence and intent paid off with a deserved lead courtesy of their midfield talisman.
The goal was being peppered with Tevez drawing an excellent stop at point-blank range from Anton Ferdinand – YAYA TOURÉ laid in wait on the edge of the area and his drive buried its through a crowd of players and beyond a rooted Green.
Hughes will be as disappointed as the supporters behind the shot as the ball managed to make its way through several Rangers defenders and beyond a ‘keeper that cannot buy a clean sheet at present.
While Rangers were evidently disappointed in the goal and indeed the manner in which they conceded, a positive could be noted in the middle of the park with Alejandro Faurlín and Esteban Granero forging an excellent partnership.
Despite a flurry of City attacks, the midfield partnership started to bear the fruits of creativity. Granero received the ball from Park Ji Sung – a player himself looking a tad accommodated in his left-wing berth – the Spaniard struck low and left-footed in an effort that was well-fielded by Hart.
Green had a nice little confidence booster when he was forced into action moments later. Tevez and Nasri had a nice interchange that saw the Frenchman drawing the best from Green who threw out an instinctive hand to deny City once more.
The hosts were playing within themselves to a point, much to the frustration of the home support that urged their side on in a bid to try and kill the encounter. Rangers were now looking more comfortable on the ball and given space to create opportunities.
With space in front and a little more attacking endeavour, invariably there will be gaps to exploit and City nearly exemplified that adage. The back four was tugged to and fro in a move that saw David Silva in acres of space behind the back four.
Two touches was perhaps one too many as Fabio recovered to produce a fine last ditch challenge to deny what appeared a certain a goal. Another warning shot for QPR who were on the back foot for the majority of the half.
More counter-attacking impetus from City, who now appeared to be playing more like the away side, nearly yielded the desired result – Aleksandar Kolarov linked up nicely with Tevez only for his final ball to be lacking the direction and purpose required.
The two sides went into the break with City needing to kill the game off and Rangers content to take just the one goal disadvantage into half time. It was tough viewing, albeit inevitable, for the visiting supporters but the second half would hopefully promise more.
HALF TIME: MANCHESTER CITY 1-0 QUEENS PARK RANGERS
The first half was rather one way traffic with brief flurries of activity from the visiting side – it was rather a blip on the radar for City to seemed to control the tempo and flow of the fixture with Touré pulling all of the strings in the centre of the park.
While City had their foot off the gas at the end of the first half, their renewed endeavour was nearly rewarded with an early goal. Tevez pealed away from his marker to curl goal-bound – a shot that was well-fielded by Green.
The stopper could do little about Zabaleta’s fine drive just over five minutes into the half. The Argentinean defender was laid in down the right before opening his body and produced a curling left-footed effort that crashed back off the bar.
Ten minutes into the half and Rangers got going – Fabio worked smartly down the left before crossing for Zamora – his header rather looped over Hart’s bar but nevertheless showed a bit of intent to mix things in the final third from the visiting side.
Rangers were now providing a bit more attacking impetus and this was highlighted no more than when Johnson played architect to firstly steal the ball from City, come inside and rifle a drive goal-bound.
Hart allowed the rasping drive to slip through his fingers and fly into the air. BOBBY ZAMORA stole in at the far post to nod home an effort from an acute angle, albeit into an empty net – rewarding their new-found attacking endeavour.
City seemed to be stirred by this and set about restoring their advantage with immediate effect. Only a Johnson effort sandwiched a pair of goals as City netted what proved to be a decisive goal – stepping up their levels as required.
Kolarov laid in Tevez down the left and his snap-shot was blocked at point-blank range – he was first to the rebound as he intelligently volleyed into the heart of the area. EDIN DZEKO shrugged off the attention of the Rangers rearguard to burst the bubble and restore the lead.
A few successive speculative drives from Dzeko failed to yield the desired results – twice offside but placing wide, while Green made a useful save to deny the Bosnian his brace to gift City a third goal – City were powerful in attack but defensive shortcomings were starting to appear.
Rangers made a necessary change as Keiron Dyer replaced Alejandro Faurlín – while looking excellent – two sets of 90 minutes in a week for a player returning from a long-term injury was
probably not ideal in his rehabilitation.
Nedum Onuoha had also entered the fray in place of the injured Anton Ferdinand – Dzeko going without a caution or indeed a foul for ploughing through defender after a routing clearance from the back – baffling albeit unnoticed by referee Chris Foy.
Dyer had slipped seamlessly into the fray with Park now proving some worth down the left wing. Excellent passing play promised much for a potential leveller as QPR now had the champions on the back foot.
Every time City received the ball they relinquished possession cheaply as the visitors poured forward. Bosingwa fired a tame shot with his left at Hart, while Nelsen’s scissor kick should have perhaps levelled after an Onuoha knock-down.
Wright-Phillips rolled back the clock to his City days to put in a stirring stint down the right flank beating Kolarov on numerous occasions to carve out an opportunity – this is the player Rangers envisaged when they took him from City a year ago.
Rangers started to dominate, much to City’s chagrin and Nelsen once again came inches away from securing the leveller he desperately deserved after a useful performance. The ball drifted beyond the unsure Hart for the New Zealand captain to see the ball narrowly evade his outstretched leg.
Granero’s afternoon came to a premature end after being taken off with ten minutes remaining, an accomplished debut for the Spaniard. He was replaced by Djibril Cissé in a bid to turn the screw on a City defence that was teetering on the brink.
City however would have the last laugh, sensible and patient attacking play saw them stretch Rangers as Dzeko had an acre of space to play with on the right of goal. His wayward effort was diverted home expertly by CARLOS TEVEZ to put to bed any doubt in injury time.
Rangers beaten but not disheartened after positives in spadefuls could be taken from the Etihad – the siege mentality of the school of 2011-12 had been taken into this fixture and despite no points once again, this was a fixture with plenty to take forward.
City undoubtedly the winners, particularly given a dominant first half display, but few could doubt the commitment and ingenuity of the visiting side today in a dramatically improved second period.
FULL TIME: MANCHESTER CITY 2-1 QUEENS PARK RANGERS
MANCHESTER CITY: Joe Hart, Pablo Zabaleta (Kolo Touré 75), Joleon Lescott, Vincent Kompany, Aleksandar Kolarov, David Silva (James Milner 81), Yaya Touré, Jack Rodwell, Samir Nasri (Abdul Razak 89), Carlos Tevez, Edin Dzeko.
QUEENS PARK RANGERS: Rob Green, Jose Bosingwa, Anton Ferdinand (Nedum Onuoha 67), Ryan Nelsen, Fabio da Silva, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Esteban Granero (Djibril Cissé 85), Alejandro Faurlín (Keiron Dyer 72), Park Ji Sung, Bobby Zamora, Andrew Johnson.