The notion of Emmanuel Adebayor striding into a sunlit opposition penalty box two minutes and 29 seconds into Manchester City's new journey and putting them ahead with a swish of his corporate blue right boot, is one which would have stretched even the evangelical self-belief which the club have exuded at times this summer.
But that is how it was for City and for the fans who had marched through east Lancashire streets just about believing that the names on their backs – Tevez, Robinho, Adebayor – were theirs. A dreamlike pageant it might all have seemed but one of the main reasons for the smile Mark Hughes wore as he left Lancashire last night was that he had just seen earthy, proletarian qualities, too, and in places where many had least expected them.
Adebayor was the summer acquisition who seemed least to fit into the work ethic which Hughes has demanded from a club who he believes have lacked professionalism for years. But to go with his goal – a work of beauty – was the distance the striker covered deep in midfield linking with Craig Bellamy, who finished with a huge distance run, as well as Robinho.
"I thought his general play and attitude to team-mates was excellent," Hughes said of Adebayor last night. "If you've got front men who will chase and harry and try to rectify mistakes, those are great qualities. Everyone was bouncing off everyone else."
The display suggested that Adebayor can be deployed playing off Carlos Tevez, when fit, as well as part of a two-man strike force. "I'm happy to be at this club where the fans are behind me 100 per cent," he said. "It was difficult at Arsenal because the fans would boo me so it's nice." Plenty of motivating factors for him.
Hughes decided that Tevez's mere two training sessions with City's main squad were not enough to warrant a start, reducing the value of his starting debutantes – Gareth Barry, Adebayor and Kolo Touré – to £52m. Sam Allardyce had Lars Jacobsen and Frenchman Steve N'Zonzi – total outlay £400,000.
But City started perfectly well without the Argentinian. The box-to-box move that propelled them away could hardly have been finer, Adebayor firing a ball out to Shaun Wright-Phillips who left Steven Warnock sitting on the turf as he cut inside him and released the short return ball which Adebayor, unwatched and striding comfortably into the area, lashed in.
Then the industry. Robinho actually seemed quite happy when the board summoning Bellamy to leave the field to make way for Tevez was changed to his own number.
The rain sheeted in from the Pennines and Rovers were inhospitable too, dominating the first half and showing an uncompromising aerial presence when they recovered their poise. City, for whom this was only a second win on the road in 2009, would have conceded last season but Barry in front of defence, holding the midfield, made the difference.
"At times last year we struggled when we came under intense pressure and didn't have the reliance to withstand intense pressure," Hughes said. "There's a real big shift in the qualities we have." The first half workload thrust on to Barry as the sole holding midfielder might give Hughes grounds to reconsider if the 4-2-3-1 formation that some expected, with Nigel de Jong alongside Barry, might work better against stronger sides. There was nothing in City's occasional frailty to suggest Joleon Lescott is not needed.
No matter, given Rovers' profligacy. Jason Roberts lifted a volley over the bar from 12 yards in the first half and headed over when Jacobsen landed a cross on his head early in the second. It was as Allardyce's side ran out of steam that City discovered the benefits of their enhanced numbers. Tevez's arrival in place of Robinho allowed Ireland to operate a good 20 yards further forward than he had throughout the game. That's why he was in a position to receive the ball from Wright-Phillips which Gaël Givet allowed through and slip it inside Paul Robinson's near post a minute into second-half injury time.
As he reached for Allardyce's hand, Hughes slipped on the Ewood Park matting and nearly came a cropper. It was the first sign of anything but sure-footedness and the way Allardyce talked about City last night – "It would have been a big result I we'd won today because they are among the big boys now" – showed they are a different proposition, whatever his old mate Sir Alex Ferguson might say.Reuse content