Shay Given says it's strange to be in a new place with new fans to impress after 12 years on Tyneside, and the novelties extend to exchanging pleasantries in a tunnel with Craig Bellamy.
The man garlanding him with praise and passing him a magnum of champagne on Saturday evening was the same Bellamy that Given has had his share of ups-and-downs with, in tunnels across the country, down the years. Given was remembering one from their playing days together at Newcastle. "He's had a few spats with his own team-mates, Craig, and we did have one at Newcastle," said the man whose match-winning debut suggests he was a steal at £6m. Given confirmed he had come out on top of that argument. "He's too small," the Irishman responded, a twinkle in his eye. "He left his driver at home."
The reference to that golf club Bellamy wielded at John Arne Riise while at Liverpool two years ago, taken with the slanging match between the Welshman and Middlesbrough's Emanuel Pogatetz as the side left the field on Saturday and the tunnel row which Given and Bellamy are understood to have had when West Ham visited St James' Park only three weeks ago reveal that some Welsh strikers never change their spots. But an abrasive edge has its uses and it is certainly one which has been missing amid the intricate, often flimsy, football City have played for 18 months or so. "He's always complaining about something, but it's just the way he is," Given said. "He is a fiery sort of character and demands the best of all the players which is a good trait to have."
Given brings the same steel, albeit not in the form of a crowbar like Bellamy. It was not so much the four impeccable one-on-one saves he made from Afonso Alves on Saturday – each, ironically, a trademark Joe Hart stop – as the confidence he engendered in a back four with an average age of 23, which proved his worth.
Little wonder Mark Hughes allowed himself a dose of self-satisfaction. "This [shows] the value of getting guys who have experience of the Premier League. As a consequence, they can come to your club and hit the ground running," he said. That's precisely what he told his Arab owners during the transfer window as they went off looking for marquee names.
City are less than brilliant, despite their £100m outlay, but Gareth Southgate's Middlesbrough are less than adequate, their defence robust but their powers of creation poor, even though this was a better performance than many of late. Southgate could take heart from another immaculate collection of three saves from keeper Brad Jones and he believes chairman Steve Gibson will persist with him. But it is 13 games since a win – two more than the run which saw Paul Ince sacked at Blackburn – and Gibson, with a club debt of £85m, cannot maintain his famed patience at all cost.
Goals: Bellamy (51) 1-0
Manchester City (4-2-3-1): Given; Richards, Kompany, Onuoha, Bridge; Zabaleta, De Jong; Wright-Phillips, Ireland, Robinho (Caicedo, 82); Bellamy. Substitutes not used: Hart (gk), Vassell, Elano, Garrido, Fernandes, Evans.
Middlesbrough (4-4-2): Jones; Wheater, Riggott (Hoyte, 67), Huth, Pogatetz; Johnson (Tuncay, 73), Digard (O'Neil, 60), Bates, Downing; King, Alves. Substitutes not used: Turnbull (gk), Hoyte, Emnes, Shawky, Arca.
Bookings: Middlesbrough O'Neil.
Referee: A Marriner (Birmingham).
Man of the Match: Brad Jones.
Attendance: 40,558.Reuse content