Significant step for Hargreaves on a night when City stroll home

Manchester City 2 Birmingham City 0

Etihad Stadium

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 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 have 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, 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 a more significant moment than the one which makes the 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'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 this summer.

The midfielder's onward journey at City will certainly bring far tougher competition than this. Never has the title "holders" less befitted a side than it did Birmingham last night, and though the home side could draw on a £106m team which included Carlos Tevez and Mario Balotelli, they barely had need to draw breath.

Kolo Touré, captain on his first appearance since suspension for failing a drug test in February, provided the one rescue, clearing off the line a bicycle-kick from Curtis Davies, the opposing captain. There were also first starts for Stefan Savic and Abdul Razak and the sight of transfer-listed Wayne Bridge as a left winger on his first start of the season.

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 Balotelli, starting his first game since the Community Shield.

Tevez's distance run revealed that he never shirks when the white line separates him from the distractions, though he should have capped the game with a breakaway goal five minutes from time. It was to Hargreaves that the night belonged, though. A sliding challenge across a greasy surface to halt Keith Fahey was his second and last serious stretch of the night and manager Roberto Mancini's initial plan to limit him to 45 minutes was dispensed with.

He left the field just before the hour, to a standing ovation. The challenge of Everton is next, on Saturday, with Hargreaves' place on City's bench having been contingent on last night going well. After just six minutes' competitive football in the previous three years it will feel like he 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, Ibañez, 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).

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Day In a Page

Major medical journal Lancet under attack for 'extremist hate propaganda' over its coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Lancet accused of 'anti-Israel hate propaganda' over coverage of Gaza conflict

Threat to free speech as publishers of renowned medical journal are accused of inciting hatred and violence
General Election 2015: Tories and Lib Dems throw their star names west to grab votes

All noisy on the Lib Dems' western front

The party has deployed its big guns in Cornwall to save its seats there. Simon Usborne heads to the heart of the battle
How Etsy became a crafty little earner: The online market has been floated for £1.2bn, but can craft and capitalism coexist?

How Etsy became a crafty little earner

The online market has been floated for £1.2bn, but can craft and capitalism coexist?
Guy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to tackle King Arthur - one of our most versatile heroes

King Arthur is inspiring Guy Ritchie

Raluca Radulescu explains why his many permutations - from folk hero to chick-lit hunk - never cease to fascinate
Apple Watch: Will it live up to expectations for the man or woman on the street?

Apple Watch: Will it live up to expectations?

The Apple Watch has apparently sold millions even before its launch tomorrow
Don't fear the artichoke: it's a good cook's staple, with more choice than you'd think

Don't fear the artichoke

Artichokes are scary - they've got spikes and hairy bits, and British cooks tend to give them a wide berth. But they're an essential and delicious part of Italian cuisine
11 best men's socks

11 best men's socks

Make a statement with your accessories, starting from the bottom up
Paul Scholes column: Eden Hazard would be my Player of the Year – but I wonder if he has that appetite for goals of Messi or Ronaldo

Paul Scholes column

Hazard would be my Player of the Year – but I wonder if he has that appetite for goals of Messi or Ronaldo
Frank Warren: Tyson Fury will be closely watching Wladimir Klitschko... when he wins it'll be time to do a deal

Frank Warren's Ringside

Tyson Fury will be closely watching Wladimir Klitschko... when he wins it'll be time to do a deal
London Marathon 2015: Kenya's brothers in arms Wilson Kipsang and Dennis Kimetto ready to take on world

Kenya's brothers in arms take on world

Last year Wilson Kipsang had his marathon record taken off him by training partner and friend Dennis Kimetto. They talk about facing off in the London Marathon
Natalie Bennett interview: I've lost track of the last time I saw my Dad but it's not because I refuse to fly

Natalie Bennett interview: I've lost track of the last time I saw my Dad

Green leader prefers to stay clear of her 'painful' family memories but is more open about 'utterly unreasonable' personal attacks
Syria conflict: Khorasan return with a fresh influx of fighters awaiting the order to start 'shooting the birds'

Khorasan is back in Syria

America said these al-Qaeda militants were bombed out of the country last year - but Kim Sengupta hears a different story
General Election 2015: Is William Cash the man to woo Warwickshire North for Ukip?

On the campaign trail with Ukip

Is William Cash the man to woo Warwickshire North?
Four rival Robin Hood movies get Hollywood go-head - and Friar Tuck will become a superhero

Expect a rush on men's tights

Studios line up four Robin Hoods productions
Peter Kay's Car Share: BBC show is the comedian's first TV sitcom in a decade

In the driving seat: Peter Kay

Car Share is the comedian's first TV sitcom in a decade. The programme's co-creator Paul Coleman reveals the challenges of getting the show on the road