Gerrard's penalty leaves City with a mountain to climb

 

Before Sunday, Manchester City had not lost at home in a year. By last night, they had lost twice in four days and, already out of the FA Cup, they now face the prospect of this Carling Cup semi-final slipping away.

The absence of Vincent Kompany, dismissed with City one goal down to Manchester United on Sunday, was felt again last night as the television cameras picked him out through the rain, looking down balefully from his executive box. With Kompany, would City have conceded the penalty, which Steven Gerrard scored in the 11th minute to decide this match?

It is debatable, given how shaky Stefan Savic was early on but what is not in doubt is that City are missing their captain, who will be absent for the next three games including the return leg of this tie in 13 days' time.

Joe Hart began the game in magnificent form and he had already stopped three Liverpool chances that a lesser goalkeeper would not have been equal to when Gerrard slotted home.

The penalty was conceded by Savic who raked his studs down Daniel Agger's leg when he misjudged the ball in the penalty area. Gerrard struck his penalty into the inside of the side-netting to Hart's right and it was too well-placed even though the City goalkeeper dived the right way.

Mario Balotelli was in combustible mood. He reacted to being patted on the head by Charlie Adam as he lay prone following a foul from the Liverpool midfielder. On that occasion, James Milner intervenes. But with two minutes of the first half to play, Roberto Mancini replaced Balotelli with Samir Nasri and the former, who has been carrying an ankle injury, went straight down the tunnel.

By half-time it had been established that it was Balotelli's ankle, rather than simply his temper, that had been troubling the forward. Having failed to get into the game, City were better without him. They carved out numerous attempts in the second half, Pepe Reina doing extremely well to shepherd Sergio Aguero away from danger the Argentine intercepted a back-pass. Micah Richards met a corner first time and forced a good save from Reina at close range.

However, Liverpool parked the bus late on and it worked. At Anfield, they will be hard to beat.

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