Man City fans will no doubt be cursing Santa this Christmas after he stole their 100% home league record with a dramatic late equaliser on Thursday night.
As I politely accompanied the family to panto, such is our annual tradition, I kept a keen eye on events at Eastlands courtesy of the wonder of technology. Alas, I couldn`t believe what was unfolding in that bizarre three minutes in the first half, but embarrassingly found myself cheering Santa Cruz as the cast belted out a chorus of ‘Celebrate tonight`!
Mark Hughes once again re-shuffled his defensive line with Bruno Berner making his first start of the season in place of the suspended Stephen Warnock. Also returning was Chris Samba.
The game opened with signs of a Christmas hang-over evident. Too many players appeared to have over-indulged in Turkey especially Zurab Khizanishvili at right-back. Not the quickest of defenders on the best of days but when he was given the duty of nullifying the fleet footed, rocket propelled boots of Martin Petrov he was horribly exposed on no less than three occasions in the first half.
The first, which in turn created the first real opening of the game, saw Petrov exploit the gaping space at right-back to deliver a perfect low cross for an unmarked Rolando Bianchi to tap in. Alas, in true slapstick pantomime tradition the haphazard side-kick failed to deliver.
Rovers` goal was blessed but there is a saying that goes once is a mistake, twice is just stupid. Well having learnt nothing from Petrov`s last foray it was inevitable the opener would come from that source. It duly arrived moments later.
Again Petrov broke this time his cross was headed into an empty net by Darius Vassell.
However, Rovers did wake up and Santa Cruz stole a march on his marker to glance home a pinpoint Bentley cross from the left.
The plot was nicely established at this point with Santa happy to play the villain in this contemporary Christmas panto tale.
Yet Nelson the clown had his input just 60 seconds after Rovers` equaliser, comically putting through his own net on 27 minutes following another explosive break from Petrov. In many ways he was a tad unlucky as he did his utmost to divert the ball around the post instead slotting it home.
The remainder of the half was played out at a canter with neither side creating any sufficient openings.
However, a half-time re-shuffle saw Benni McCarthy emerge from the dressing room in place of Zurab Khizanishvili with Brett Emerton reverting back to full back.
Rovers showed a keener attacking instinct in the second period but despite enjoying large quantities of possession they couldn`t create any clear openings. In fact it was City who looked the more like scoring with substitute Elano demonstrating wonderful technical ability to chest control a high ball before volleying at goal, all in a single movement.
Rovers were being stretched by City`s counter attack skill but lacklustre finishing brought more than a few laughs from a packed auditorium. Then came the controversial moment that once again confirmed Santa Cruz`s status as the bad guy. He headed home at the near post following a whipped ball into the area by Bentley. The goal stood despite David Dunn being in an offside position and trying to head the ball.
Initially the referee`s assistant had raised his flag but referee Howard Webb over-ruled the decision and the goal stood thus bringing an end to City`s unbeaten home run in the Premiership this season.
Out of position for both goals but exposed.
Got his angles all wrong for the opener.
A top centre-back, a much lesser full-back.
Struggling at the moment, compounded by the own goal. Did make an awesome tackle late on though.
Is shrinking in stature at the moment.
Failed to provide much.
Got stuck in but we are still waiting for his form to return to him…and it will.
Worked tirelessly once more but needs to show more creative spark.
He’s getting there.
Set up both goals and is the single creative spark at the moment. A determined lad who keeps improving.
Santa Cruz 9
Two brilliant headers. Let’s hope he can continue this form.
Fails to have an impact but he is a top player so his form should return.
Let sub but missed a sitter.
No time for an impact.