Manchester City, who overcame stubborn Southampton resistance to win this FA Cup fourth-round tie at a canter, last night put a temporary block on their manager Stuart Pearce's hopes of becoming England Under-21 manager.
The Football Association has targeted Pearce as the successor to Peter Taylor, who resigned from the post last Wednesday. A first approach was made last Thursday, since when Pearce has made no secret of his desire to take on the role, which would oversee England's campaign at the European Under-21 Championship finals in June .
After the victory over Southampton, the former England captain revealed he had accepted the job, stating his belief that the extra work would not impinge on his day-to-day duties with City.
However, Pearce's announcement came as news to club officials, whose fears about the manager's ability to combine the twin roles have not been eased by conversations with the FA director of football development, Sir Trevor Brooking, over the weekend.
While Pearce had expressed the belief that he would be in charge when England tackle Spain in a friendly at Pride Park, Derby, on 6 February, City have immediately cast doubt on the claim.
"The club has not given permission for our manager to be released for England duty," said a statement on City's official website. "We recognise Stuart's patriotism and enthusiasm to assist the Football Association, and Manchester City in turn understands the FA's desire to have him contributing to the Under-21s' European Championship campaign. We will remain in dialogue with the FA and hope to reach a solution suitable to this club in the next few days."
On the pitch, it was City who were in the ascendant early on, their pressing tempo producing the first opportunity. Joey Barton gave Steve McClaren, the England manager, a gentle reminder of his talents when he ghosted in unmarked. However, Southampton frantically managed to scramble the ball away.
City's best chance to open the scoring fell to Georgios Samaras after Stephen Ireland had delicately threaded a through-ball into his path, but the Greece international could not apply the final touch.
It appeared a costly miss as Southampton took the lead straight away. A long ball led to a race between Nicky Weaver and the Southampton striker Kenwyne Jones and the Trinidad & Tobago international won the sprint to lob the ball over the advancing keeper.
However, the lead lasted only three minutes before City equalised. Hatem Trabelsi's persistence led to the ball falling to Darius Vassell who, with his back towards goal, swivelled swiftly to fire home.
Ireland's dribbling skills complemented the running off the ball by Barton and it paid dividends in first-half injury time. Ireland's direct run at the retreating Southampton defence allowed him to weight a precise pass into the path of the roaming, Barton who fired home.
The game was put beyond any doubt in the 70th minute when DaMarcus Beasley lost his marker, Jermaine Wright, and then ghosted past the Southampton keeper, Kelvin Davis, to tap in to the empty net.
Afterwards, George Burley, the Southampton manager said: "Manchester City deserved to win the game. They got the goals at the right time. It was a good Cup tie, the goals came at the wrong time. Overall, no complaints.''
Pearce was pleased with his side "It was a job well done" and added about t he Under-21 job: "It is down to the club and the FA to both be comfortable with the situation. Hopefully, they can finalise one or two things, but I don't see any reason why that should not be the case."
Goals: Jones (23) 0-1; Vassell (26) 1-1; Barton (45) 2-1, Beasley (70) 3-1.
Manchester City (3-5-2): Weaver; Richards, Dunne, Distin; Trabelsi, Dabo,
Ireland, Barton (Hamann, 87), Vassell (Abdoun, 88); Beasley, Samaras (Miller, 77). Substitutes not used: Isaksson (gk), Corradi.
Southampton (4-4-2): Davis; Ostlund (Licka, 63), Powell, Baird, Bale; McGoldrick, Viafara, Pele, Wright; Rasiak (Wright-Phillips, 63), Jones. Substitutes not used: Blalkowski (gk), Makin, Dyer.
Referee: M Clattenburg (Tyne & Wear).
Booked: Southampton Ostlund, Jones.
Man of the match: Ireland.