City clear at the top as Balotelli makes impressive return against Blackburn

Manchester City 3 Blackburn 0

Andy Hampson

Manchester City's three top scorers were all on target as the
Barclays Premier League leaders overpowered Blackburn to move five
points clear at the top of the table tonight.

In the week Carlos Tevez was welcomed back to training, leading strikers Mario Balotelli, Sergio Aguero and Edin Dzeko reminded manager Roberto Mancini of their talents in a one-sided win at the Etihad Stadium.

Blackburn barely mustered a shot on goal as they were completely outplayed and their defeat might have been embarrassing but for a string of superb saves by Paul Robinson.

Robinson was most impressive early on and did brilliantly to keep the scoreline at 1-0, after Balotelli's strike, at the interval.

Yet his mistake led to Aguero's second and he could not prevent City's inevitable stroll to victory.

While Balotelli, Aguero and Dzeko tonight celebrate scoring 52 goals between them this term, relegation-threatened Rovers must regroup quickly for their battle ahead.

The evening was all about City, for whom Balotelli, sporting a mohican, made an impressive return to domestic action after a month away from it due to a four-game ban.

Yaya Toure's return to the Premier League for the first time since January 3, due to African Nations Cup duty with Ivory Coast, was also welcomed as City set themselves up for their final title push.

Balotelli joined Aguero up front and Adam Johnson came in for Samir Nasri in a reshaped attack.

Blackburn handed a debut to new signing Marcus Olsson, who joined his brother Martin in the team, while Radosav Petrovic featured. After illness during the week, Steven N'Zonzi did not enter the fray until the 70th minute.

Yet aside from Robinson, little was seen of any Rovers players as City dominated from start to finish.

The hosts gave an early warning of their intentions as Balotelli tested Robinson with just a minute gone.

David Silva and Johnson combined on the right before the England winger's low cross was turned sharply at goal by Balotelli, but Robinson saved low to his left.

Johnson created space to shoot from distance but Robinson parried and the ball was hacked clear.

Robinson was in action again moments later as a Balotelli free-kick took a slight deflection off the wall and needed to be pushed away.

Blackburn finally cracked on the half-hour as City counter-attacked with Silva releasing Aleksandar Kolarov on the left.

The Serbian powered forward and pulled the ball back for Balotelli who, six yards out, instinctively clipped it past Robinson at the near post.

He celebrated by unveiling a T-shirt with a message telling his girlfriend Rafaella he loves her - a rather more modest offering than the previous 'Why Always Me?', which referred to his notorious madcap, off-field antics.

Blackburn wanted a penalty as they made a rare attack moments later.

Morten Gamst Pedersen was shaping to shoot when he went down under a Nigel de Jong challenge but referee Mike Jones played on.

Despite being beaten, Robinson continued to impress, saving another sharp effort from Silva.

There was better to come from the former England goalkeeper as he palmed away a backheeled Vincent Kompany volley at a corner and he deserved the luck as Toure put the rebound wide.

Toure went close again just before the interval but again fired wide while Aguero shot across goal from a tight angle.

City showed no let-up as the second half began with Toure powering forward to tee up Johnson, whose shot was deflected wide.

The seemingly inevitable second goal came after 52 minutes as Robinson showed his fallibility.

The goalkeeper spilled a Silva corner and Aguero was on hand to blast in on the half-volley.

City suffered a moment of alarm just before the hour as Toure landed awkwardly attempting to cross and Aguero also pulled up.

Both required treatment but were able to continue.

Balotelli left the field to a standing ovation with 12 minutes remaining, moments after taking a knock in an aerial challenge in the area and requiring treatment.

His replacement, Dzeko, wasted little time in making an impression as he headed the third two minutes later.

Kolarov found space down the left and whipped in a superb cross for the Bosnian, who turned in his 18th of the campaign.

Blackburn finally made Joe Hart work in injury time, but Ayegbeni Yakubu's shot was weak and was greeted by ironic cheers from the home fans.

PA

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