Hargreaves goal seals bold return as City ease past sorry holders

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The Independent Online

Owen Hargreaves will not be getting carried away, not least because he has experienced promising new beginnings on this Manchester City turf once before – and just look where those took him.

His Manchester United debut came in this very stadium over four years ago when his muscular tackling, too much for Elano that Sunday afternoon, was the sole source of United optimism as his new side fell away to a bad 1-0 defeat. Little attention was paid to Sir Alex Ferguson's disclosure, that evening, that Hargreaves would not be joining up with England the next day because of a knee problem.

Privately, City's staff had been excited by the physical condition of Hargreaves, who has not troubled the club physiotherapists once in the 23 days since he underwent a medical at the club, but they knew the only true test would come in the heat of competitive football. The stadium clock had marked 13 minutes last night when that test came – the first serious, unflinching challenge Hargreaves made, right leg outstretched, on Birmingham City's Irish striker Adam Rooney. For a second after he emerged from it you held your breath to see if he would be running or hobbling. He ran.

This was actually a more significant moment than the one which takes this morning's headlines, wonderful though the sweetly struck, 25-yard shot was, four minutes later, when Hargreaves took a touch and arced a ball into the top right-hand corner of Birmingham City's net.

The muted celebration – hands briefly aloft before he turned back to the clamour of team-mates – was not of a typical debutant who had taken 17 minutes to produce an act of genius. "Fergie, Fergie, sign him on!" City's crowd sang out to a player whose offer to play for nothing at Old Trafford was declined.

His onward journey at City will certainly bring far tougher competition than this, though Kolo Touré (left), captain on his first appearance since suspension for failing a drug test in February, provided the one rescue City needed, clearing off the line a bicycle kick from Curtis Davies, the opposing captain.

Wayne Bridge began the move which yielded City's second goal – a pass for Aleksandar Kolarov whose cross was swept in first time, left-footed on 38 minutes by Mario Balotelli.

After only six minutes' competitive football in the past three years it will feel like Hargreaves has climbed a mountain, though he knows he is only hacking around in the foothills.

Manchester City (4-4-2): Pantilimon; Onuoha, K Touré, Savic, Kolarov; Hargreaves (Milner, 57), Razak (Scapuzzi, 86), Zabaleta, Bridge (Rekik, 78); Tevez, Balotelli. Substitutes not used Taylor, Clichy, Suarez, Aguero.

Birmingham City (4-4-2): Doyle; Spector, Ibanez, Davies, Murphy; Burke, N'Daw, Beausejour, Fahey (Gomis, 67); Redmond (King, 78), Rooney (Zigic, 67). Substitutes not used Myhill, Caldwell, Asante, Jervis.

Referee K Friend (Leicestershire).

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