Flimsy City prove easy meat for Hamburg

Hamburg 3 Manchester City 1
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The Independent Football

Shay Given decided to quit Newcastle after a game like this in which, offered the usual flimsy protection from his defenders, he had stood up to wave after wave of attacks from a team all in red. The only difference was the scoreline. In December, he had fled to the dressing rooms at St James' Park on the edge of tears after a 5-1 Liverpool victory that, but for his goalkeeping, might have been double that.

Last night, Manchester City lost the first leg of their Uefa Cup quarter-final by two clear goals and, but for Given, the tie would be irrecoverable. On the eve of the contest, Mark Hughes had publicly warned his players that while they could not win the tie in Germany they could very easily lose it.

This, they did not quite manage – Stephen Ireland's goal in the opening minute means Manchester City can still cling to the improbable, gossamer vision of a 2-0 victory at Eastlands that would see them through to their first semi-final since 1981.

"We were not brave enough," said the midfielder. "They created more chances and put us under more pressure. We threw it away. We got off to a great start but we did not defend well enough to get back in shape. We are all absolutely gutted and we will have to return the favour at our place."

In contrast to the way they began, Manchester City ended the night in something close to disarray. Craig Bellamy suffered a recurrence of a knee injury that might keep him out for the remains of the season. On as one of three substitutes, Benjani Mwaruwari, returning from a four-month absence, ruptured his thigh, forcing City to finish the match with 10 men. Wayne Bridge and Shaun Wright-Phillips suffered less serious injuries while Pablo Zabaleta is suspended for the second leg. It was not a complete mess, but it was close.

Had Vincent Kompany and Nigel de Jong, the two players Hughes bought from Martin Jol, been available the Hamburg manager's seventh straight victory over Manchester City might not have been so emphatic. Instead, without a single holding midfielder to support his defence, Given was forced to endure the kind of evening that must have been horribly familiar.

"I would have preferred one more goal," Jol reflected. "But seeing as they scored in the first minute, I cannot be disappointed. If you concede early against a team like Manchester City, you have to be careful but we had seven really good chances."

They finished three of them, all of which featured a contribution from Piotr Trochowski, who demonstrated why Juventus are so interested in his services. It was his corner which Joris Mathijsen reached before Nedem Onuoha to head home via Given's glove. It was his emphatic penalty that put Hamburg ahead after Micah Richards flung himself, arms dangerously aloft, at Mathijsen's overhead kick. It was his low cross which Paolo Guerrero drove into the roof of Given's net.

But there were other escapes. Jonathan Pitroipa's delicate header glanced off the bar while Wright-Phillips was forced to clear off the line in a desperate second half. The Nordbank is a vast, imposing modern stadium with none of the graceful feminine curves of the Emirates or Eastlands. It was designed to intimidate and many times it appeared City were on the point of buckling.

The contrast between start and finish was vivid. Before kick-off the televisions dotted around the Nordbank had been replaying the endless inquests into Bayern Munich's annihilation in Barcelona that seems to signal the beginning of the end of Jürgen Klinsmann's regime. And it appeared, just for a moment, that this might be a bleak 24 hours for German football.

Hamburg actually started worse than Bayern. The last chords from their club song had barely died away before Manchester City had their precious away goal. It was a move beautiful in its simplicity and execution. Ireland found Robinho on City's left and the Brazilian;s orange boots steered the ball past two tackles before squaring it to Ireland. However, if Manchester City imagined this would give them a breathing space, they were to be rudely disillusioned.

SV Hamburg (4-4-2): Rost; Benjamin, Gravgaard, Mathijsen, Jansen; Pitroipa, Jarolim, Aogo, Trochowski; Petric, Olic (Guerrero, 72min). Substitutes not used: Hesl (gk), Ndjeng, Rincon, Schmidt, Torun.

Manchester City (4-4-2): Given; Richards, Dunne, Onuoha, Bridge (Garridge, 45min); Wright-Phillips (Petrov, 83min), Zabaleta, Ireland, Robinho; Sturridge (Benjani, 62min), Bellamy. Substitutes not used: Hart (gk), Elano, Fernandes, Glauber.

Referee: Olegario Benquerenca (Portugal).