Sam Allardyce is, for a certain profile of Premier League football club, the pragmatist’s choice as manager. If you strip away the rampant ego and the tendency to strap a Bluetooth headset to the side of his head, Allardyce has a job that he can do. It just happens that the job is to finish somewhere between twelfth and fourteenth in the Premier League, though. For a couple of years, it seemed as though he had ideas above his station. He announced loudly and to anybody that would listen that he was the perfect choice to manage the England team and deserted Bolton Wanderers for Newcastle United. Neither tactic were especially successful. Now, though, he’s back in the bottom of the Premier League doing what he does best – ensuring no significant relegation battles but very little excitement of any other sort either.
What Sam would do with the money thrown at Manchester City over the last few months is anybody’s guess, but it’s not completely unthinkable that he could have been the man in charge of this suddenly distended budget. Mark Hughes was selected as Sven Goran Eriksson, reportedly as the first choice of Thaksin Shinawatra, though, and Hughes has spent the last nine months or so half looking as if he has won the national lottery after a forty week rollover and half looking as if he is being tracked by an assassin’s crosshair target. The truth, for Hughes, is that both of these assessments have an element of truth behind them. Hughes was in the right place at the right time, and the riches bestowed upon him have been almost unprecedented. Having said that, however, the blue half of Manchester, for the first time in years, now expects. No-one knows for certain what City have to do on the pitch this season for Hughes to keep his job – Qualify for the Champions League? Win the Premier League? Win every match they play this season? – but they needed to start the season with a win at Ewood Park, for sure.
It took less than three minutes for Manchester City to stamp their authority upon proceedings. Adebayor stroked the ball wide to Shaun Wright-Philips and continued his sprint through the middle of the pitch. The winger rolled the ball and he stroked it into the corner of the net. City rode their luck after this, with Shay Given making a couple of decent saves but this, if anything, proved the wisdom of his signature. Andrews’ shot was blocked by Richard Dunn’s arm and Blackburn should really have had a penalty (there is no question that penalties for handball have been awarded for less), but City continued to break effectively with Robinho bringing an excellent save from Paul Robinson they and held onto their lead until half-time. The second half saw the introduction of Carlos Tevez – a single substitution which proved the power that they now wield – and Tevez himself managed one opportunity with a break bringing another save from Robinson, but in the dying seconds of the game it was one of the old school, Steven Ireland, who rolled the ball into the corner of the goal with a shot that looked more like a pass to an invisible team-mate on an overlap, who finally settled the visitors’ nerves.
A reasonable amount has been made of the fact that City scored at the very beginning and close of the match, and this was a performance of solid, old-fashioned hard work punctuated with a moment of clinical flair at each end. If Manchester City intend to look towards the top of the Premier League this season, it is worth considering how the other sides managed on Saturday. Arsenal eclipsed everybody else with their 6-1 win at Everton but Manchester City, if they wish to consider themselves serious contenders for a place in Champions League, can take heart from the fact that they outshone Chelsea (who were dependent on a massive slice of injury time luck from Didier Drogba to see off Hull City), Manchester United (who looked disjointed in beating Birmingham City 1-0 at Old Trafford) and Liverpool (who started their season with a defeat at Tottenham Hotspur). Both managers took something to be bullish about to their post-match press conferences. Sam Allardyce – never one to miss an opportunity to remind the press of his abilities – could be satisfied, if not with the result then at least with a spirited and obstinate performance from his team. while Mark Hughes could at least feel satsfied with the result, an opening day away win that gives Manchester City exactly half of the number of away league wins that they managed during the whole of last season. It’s a little early to be able to say for sure whether this is significant progress or not, but Hughes will have had a good night’s sleep on Saturday. The knives will stay in their sheaths for the next few days, at least.