Manchester City 3 Scunthorpe Utd 1: Fowler does the trick to save City's pride

Former England star returns to propel patchy Sky Blues past worthy Scunthorpe
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The Independent Football

Scunthorpe United do not play Manchester City very often, and for their own well-being it is probably just as well. They have met just four times and the aggregate score stands at four goals for, 21 against. Routs come as standard; the Iron corrode at the sight of the Sky Blue shirts.

But, if they concede with abandon against City, the three goals they yielded yesterday were felt more keenly than most. Leading 1-0 at half-time thanks to Andy Keogh, the League One side dreamed of erasing nightmares from the past with an FA Cup third-round upset. Within 20 minutes they had been dismantled by Robbie Fowler.

The former England striker, who missed a penalty in the closing minutes of last season, to deprive City of a place in the Uefa Cup and who had not started a game since, hit a hat-trick, including one goal from the spot, to drag the Premiership sideinto the fourth round.

"He didn't do too badly did he?" Stuart Pearce, the City manager, said of Fowler. "For various reasons he has barely kicked a ball this season, but I speak to Robbie on at least a weekly basis and I have told him that he had to take his chance when he got it. You can't answer any better than scoring three goals."

Fowler, who was injured until late November and then kept out of the first team by the form of Andrew Cole and Darius Vassell, could not have timed his goals better because, for the first 45 minutes, City looked like Premiership giants, cowering as they waited for an upset to happen. Nerves disfigured their every move.

Scunthorpe, 52 places below City, started with a swagger and were ahead after 17 minutes when the home defence bought Billy Sharp's dummy with the eagerness of bargain hunters. Keogh, a 19-year-old former Leeds United trainee, surged through a gaping hole in the home defence and deceived David James with a side-footed pass into the net.

City, who were fractions away from going 2-0 down when Sharp almost got to Keogh's cross after 36 minutes, could only get better and Pearce's decision to replace the struggling Nedum Onuoha with Lee Croft at half-time was rewarded within three minutes. Joey Barton played a clever ball inside the full-back, Cliff Byrne, and Croft drilled over a low cross that found Fowler alone at the far post. For a supposedly rusty striker, the crashing shot into the roof of the net was quite a revelation.

At last, City were playing like a Premiership team and they took the lead after 56 minutes with a goal from Fowler worthy of a man once described as England's most natural goalscorer. Receiving the ball 25 yards out, he advanced, turned to make space and as the Scunthorpe defence moved accommodatingly, he side-footed in off the post from the edge of the area.

The tie was virtually over but Fowler made sure when he completed his hat-trick after 64 minutes when he scored with a penalty after Michael Rose had been adjudged to have handled in the area. This will look like routine David-bashing by the Goliaths in the record books. Those present yesterday will know better.