Weary Man City suffer FA Cup stumble at Blackburn

Alvaro Negredo and other Man City stars underwhelmed vs. Blackburn. 

As January dawns and the good old FA Cup trundles into place, I was casually thinking of joining a pal of mine in avoiding alcohol for the entire month -- a sponsored act of abstinence for a good cause. Then I remembered I support Manchester City. I will just send in my bank account details and hope they understand.

In the 90th minute of this game, agonising in its myriad loose passes and sloppy defending, the 7,500 travelling City supporters witnessed the first overlap by the right-back since the match had started. That it was carried out by Pablo Zabaleta, who had joined the fray a minute or two earlier, was clearly a pointer to what had gone before.

Six minutes before that, Dedryck Boyata, who had been wearing the face of a man petrified by his own existence, had needlessly removed the legs from beneath D.J. Campbell, the heavily tattooed Blackburn substitute. The ball had long gone, a scenario painfully familiar to Boyata, who had spent the previous 83 minutes arriving late for just about everything. Campbell crashed to the floor and referee Michael Oliver put the young Belgian out of his misery with a second yellow card.

One gets the feeling it will be quite some time before he is seen on the playing fields of England again.

- Jolly: Blackburn take advantage

- Recap: Man City, Blackburn draw

Boyata had not been alone in a display of lethargic clumsiness that bordered on the negligent when, in the game's later stages, Blackburn equalised and pressed for what began to look like an increasingly likely winner. The ghosts of Halifax, Shrewsbury and Middlesbrough, of Nottingham Forest, Oldham and, indeed, Blackburn Rovers, could be heard rubbing their hands together frantically as Costel Pantilimon whacked yet another panicked clearance high into the Jack Walker Stand.

City seemed stunned by their surroundings, perhaps weary from a particularly dense December fixture list and wary of an opponent set up sensibly and simply by young manager Gary Bowyer, the offspring of ex-City Cup final man Ian Bowyer. Half the team looked like they had perhaps taken advantage of a tempting "six pies for six pounds fifty" offer that could be found outside the ground before kick-off.

In freezing with fear with their 1-1 draw at Ewood Park, City only managed to add another fixture to a similarly well-stocked January programme. The one ray of sunlight will be the cancellation of a friendly chalked in for the Middle East in a week's time, the kind of fixture and travelling that begs the question of just how much sponsors come ahead of athletes' legs and muscles these days. The players surely need a rest, not a long-haul flight and another fixture squeezed in to an already packed diary.

Visiting Blackburn, now that the Chicken Revolution has had time to make a difference, is an edifying sight. In place of the old Alan Shearer and Chris Sutton SAS axis, we were treated to Rudy Gestede and Chris Taylor. Even the likes of Matt Derbyshire, who had (under Stuart Pearce's creative management skills) scored last time City visited this ground in the FA Cup, have long since moved on. Only the familiar bulk of Paul Robinson's whoopee cushion buttocks were there to link us to their Premier League days.

With the Ronnie Clayton Blackburn End closed on the upper tier -- the Darwen End that housed City's support was bulging on both levels -- dwindling support was also evident. Blackburn have never been a side backed by great numbers but the magic of the Cup had not brought the locals out in any significant form. If they are offered a similarly generous allocation for the replay as that which City received for this game, they will need to bring practically every supporter they had at this match to fill it up.

City have visited Wembley Stadium for the FA Cup final twice in the past three seasons, a remarkable feat given that before that one has to go back to 1981 to find the last final adorned with Manchester's sky blue. Although last year's final was lost in truly abject conditions to a game but limited Wigan Athletic, memories of the final versus Stoke are still vivid and represent one of the most glorious recent memories for fans of the club. That run to final glory began in similar circumstances to the ones we were treated to today -- a half-baked display at Notts County, where the Blues very nearly exited at the first hurdle. A carbon copy was being produced for all to enjoy in Blackburn, with a strong side misfiring in every department.

Perhaps it is salient to report that City's strength in depth is not quite as solid as some may have thought. Costel Pantilimon flapped and dropped the ball for Rovers' simple equaliser. Boyata carried the air of a lame antelope who has just smelt the bad breath of a pride of lions coming down the road. James Milner, Alvaro Negredo and Javi Garcia attempted to copy Edin Dzeko's frequent trick of trapping the ball further than the man in the street can kick it.

As the ball wobbled apologetically from blue and white halved shirts to black and grey halved shirts and back again, one began to feel a little sorry for it, being whacked black and blue, white and grey. That it was actually pink in colour meant that it perhaps belonged on a snooker table and not on a football pitch.

All that was left for the bulging away end was a spell nervously sitting through increasingly perky Blackburn attacks as the clock spun its tired fingers. By the end, there was more than one fan in there needing a good stiff drink.