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'Fantastic' Dzeko gives City room to breathe

Blackburn Rovers 0 Manchester City 1

When Edin Dzeko won the Bundesliga title with Wolfsburg, he celebrated by lighting up a vast cigar on the pitch. This was another Havana moment.

Fernando Torres's agonies in front of goal have meant the fact that the Bosnian had not found the net in the Premier League since his arrival in January had rather got lost in the wash.

Steve McClaren, who had sanctioned his move from the home of Volkswagen, was high in the stands at Ewood Park commentating for radio when Dzeko, who had been brought on as a substitute, collected David Silva's deflected shot, composed himself and rammed the ball home in front of the City supporters jammed into the Darwen End.

McClaren had been adamant that Dzeko would find his feet in England, though he might not have anticipated such a spluttering start. It may in passing remove some pressure from the shoulders of Mario Balotelli. His manager, Roberto Mancini, thought the Italian striker had one of his better games for Manchester City, although his Blackburn counterpart, Steve Kean, noted that by standing directly in front of Paul Robinson when Dzeko shot, he was in an offside position.

Balotelli needs support on as well as off the pitch and Dzeko might be the man to provide it. The Bosnian's goal was a big moment against a Blackburn side that, after a dreadful start, fought to the very end. Mancini had two tasks in April; to steer City to the FA Cup final and ensure next month's encounter with Tottenham does not become a repeat of last year's bare-knuckle fight for a place in the Champions League.

The first hurdle was triumphantly crossed at Wembley, but a stalemate here would have tightened nerve-endings in Manchester and Abu Dhabi. The lead over Tottenham would have been a flimsy two points and given Tottenham's astonishing record at Eastlands – they have won six of their last seven encounters there – that would have been too thin. Manchester City, who had not won away from Eastlands since Boxing Day, now have room to breathe.

"He is a fantastic striker," said Mancini of the man he had paid Wolfsburg £27m for. "He had problems because he didn't play many games and when he did he didn't score. We played fantastically in the first half and might have scored three times but when Blackburn started to play the long ball it caused us many difficulties. It was important that we fought for every ball because a top squad has to win a game like tonight."

It is three months since Blackburn last won here and they began as if swamped by nerves and overawed by the occasion. They ended it with Robinson charging upfield and Martin Olsson forcing Joe Hart into a fine low save; it was too little and just too late.

"We were excellent in the first 20 minutes of the second half and that was the period in which we had to score," Kean reflected. "We feel very hard done by. We've given everything and we are gutted. Every single point recently has been hard to get but we gave Manchester City's back-four a hard time."

Not for the first 20 minutes they didn't. This was City's first match since they overcame Manchester United in the FA Cup semi-final. Mancini kept the same team that had won at Wembley and they played with a freedom these kinds of victories inspire. Sometimes, it resembled a training exercise with Blackburn playing the part of the cones.

Eventually, the home side did claw their way into the evening and might have had a penalty when Vincent Kompany caught Jason Roberts's ankle in the area. However, it was past the half-hour mark when Blackburn fashioned their first concrete chance when Chris Samba met Salgado's cross. The ball slid wide of Hart's post and the Blackburn captain swore fiercely. It was not to be the last expletive of the evening.

Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Robinson; Salgado, Samba, P Jones, Givet (Diouf, 85); Emerton, Dunn (Rochina, 63), J Jones, Olsson, Benjani (Kalinic, 71), Roberts. Substitutes not used Bunn (gk), Formica, Pedersen, Hanley. Booked J Jones, Emerton.

Manchester City (4-2-3-1): Hart; Zabaleta, Kompany, Lescott, Kolarov; De Jong, Barry; Johnson (Dzeko, 72), Y Toure, Silva; Balotelli (Vieira, 83). Substitutes not used Taylor (gk), Milner, Wright-Phillips, Jo, Boyata. Booked Barry, De Jong, Balotelli.

Possession Blackburn 46% Man City 54%.

Shots on target Blackburn 6 Man City 5.

Man of the match De Jong. Match rating 7/10.

Referee A Marriner (West Midlands). Att 23,529.