Manchester City 4 Plzen 2 match report: Joe Hart puts in error-free display in Champions League game vital perhaps only for him

City were already assured of a place in the knock-out stage

The Etihad Stadium

For Joe Hart this could not possibly be a dead game. Manchester City may already have qualified for the knockout phase of the Champions League but for the man who is still England’s first-choice goalkeeper this was a cup final of sorts.

In a way, his first game for his club exactly a month after the disastrous mix-up with Matija Nastasic at Stamford Bridge was an impossible one. If he played well, it would be dismissed as against ‘only’ Viktoria Plzen. If he committed another error, the prospect of preparing for a World Cup from the bench would have seemed ever more real.

In the event, Plzen proved far tougher than anyone anticipated and were only denied a point by the combination that for Seville had terrorised defenders in La Liga – a cross from Jesus Navas converted by Alvaro Negredo. A header from Edin Dzeko gave the scoreline rather more gloss than it deserved. Hart was given precious little protection for either goal, especially Plzen’s second, which Stanislav Tecl drove precisely into the far corner of his net. In all, Hart made six saves – one of them a spectacular tip over the bar from Daniel Kolar. The case against him was not proven and nor was it likely to be.

His manager, Manuel Pellegrini, got what he wanted, right down to the booking for Yaya Touré that will see him conveniently suspended for the next dead fixture, a rather more testing one at Bayern Munich. There will be no suspension hanging over him when the knockout phase begins in February.

Plzen is one of Europe’s great brewing centres but, given that the last three teams to come to the Etihad had conceded 18 goals between them, Pavel Vrba and his team might have required something stronger than beer to steady their nerves.

David Limbersky, having once been on Tottenham’s books, would have known what to expect, but had to pull out during the warm-up. Roman Hubnik’s reward for stepping into the breach was to receive an elbow in the face from his own player.

The Czech champions arrived in Manchester pointless, something that since the Uefa president, Michel Platini opened up the Champions League to smaller clubs that could actually claim to have won their own championship occurs with increasing frequency. In the past four seasons 10 sides have finished the group stages with one point or less and Dinamo Zagreb have managed it twice.

Plzen, however, did not begin like a side that knew they were condemned and Tomas Horava’s goal was as good as anything seen in this stadium. The pass from Daniel Kolar cut out three defenders and Horava, running on to the space that should have been covered by Aleksandar Kolarov at left-back, struck his shot right-footed and first time. Joe Hart had not the slightest chance of saving it.

Plzen deserved it. They had been neat, inventive and with the match still goalless, Frantisek Rajtoral, who like the vast bulk of Vrba’s squad is from either the Czech Republic or Slovakia, drove through a flimsy screen of blue shirts and shot wide.

A few moments later, Michal Duris did the same and then, to the disappointments of hopeless romantics everywhere, Manchester City scored and that, briefly, appeared to be that.

It was a penalty and it was most definitely handball. Rajtoral raised his arm to Sergio Aguero’s cross and the Argentine took the penalty in front of the surprisingly large number of fans who had travelled from the city of Pilsner to the birthplace of Boddington’s. Matus Kozacik had as much chance of saving it as Hart would have a few minutes later.

Aguero did not reappear for the second half for tactical reasons but, together with Samir Nasri, he had been Manchester City’s most obvious threat. Before the match, Nasri had spoken vividly of how his head had been cleared and his appetite for the game restored and the way he played now was further proof of that.

There was a wonderful early shot that clattered against the crossbar and then Aguero delivered a little chip from the byline that was meant for Edin Dzeko and missed. It fell instead to the boy from Marseilles who tried a fancy little side-footed shot that crept wide.

Twenty minutes after the interval, a time that had seen Fernandinho denied spectacularly by Kozacik and Joleon Lescott somehow contrive not to stab home Dzeko’s header at the far post,  Nasri struck the dead centre of the net.

Yaya Touré had barely been on the pitch for 60 seconds when his cross found Nasri, if not in acres of space then on a small allotment. The Etihad thought further resistance would be useless but the visitors equalised again before City pulled clear at the end.

Booked: Man City Milner, Demichelis, Touré. Viktoria Plzen Cisovsky.

Man of the match Milner.

Match rating 7/10.

Possession: Man City 54% V Plzen 46%.

Attempts on target: Man City 9 V Plzen 9.

Referee F Aydinus (Tur).

Attendance 41,000.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave long-running series
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
voices
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
Sport
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
athletics
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
music
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
Sport
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam