Manchester City 1, Birmingham City 0: Flying Elano sends City's hopes soaring

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The Independent Football

The blue half of Manchester has found itself with uncharacteristically little to argue about in these heady autumn days, when the manager's name is sung more loudly than any since Peter Reid and a procession of visiting teams depart the city with no points. But the subject of Europe is suddenly starting to fill the gap.

For every Manchester City fan willing to tell a phone-in that Sven Goran Eriksson's side will be bound for the Continent this time next year, there are as many who will shout them down as naive, and misguided, untutored in the side's ability to self-destruct.

And yet, after six home wins on the trot – a sequence which Eriksson could not recall bettering and which, he declared with a grin, he has certainly not equalled in England – even the perennial pessimists are harbouring the thought.

Publicly, Eriksson is having none of it. "I keep not answering the question," he said after City's best start in 50 years continued. He insists he is waiting for December, to see how players like Elano and Martin Petrov – who have always had a Christmas break – will cope when the games come "every second or third day for four weeks."

Yet City's ability to emerge with the points from a relatively indifferent display like this – the true sign of class, as Sir Alex Ferguson likes to say – revealed as much about their potential as the way the same players dispatched Newcastle and Middlesbrough in previous weeks.

There were certainly flaws which better sides – like Chelsea, next weekend – might exploit. Birmingham deprived City of the possession they thrive on in the game's last half-hour and limited Elano's influence by sending long balls over the top.

Vedran Corluka's attacking forays also left the right flank looking vulnerable at times and an exquisite reverse pass by Wilson Palacios sent through the impressive Olivier Kapo, only for Joe Hart to save with his shoulder.

Bruce, who fears for his future with the Hong Kong businessman Carson Yeung circling the club, also changed the game by sending on two strikers and it took another imperious display from Micah Richards to deal with the threat. Bruce says he will "be at the training ground all week" if the investors wish to talk to him and, on this display, they should heed his offer.

What Bruce wouldn't give for the extraordinary versatility of Elano who only returned to the fold from Brazil on Friday lunchtime and hadn't kicked a ball until the warm-up.

His inclination to score only exceptional goals was illustrated for a third successive week when exquisite placement allowed him to deliver a ball, struck with modest pace, beyond Maik Taylor's left hand on the 37th minute.

The Brazilian looks like the close season's best piece of business by some distance and Eriksson agreed on Saturday night that he is a player Arsenal or Manchester United would probably both covet.

Bruce raged for most of the afternoon about the goal, insisting that Michael Johnson fouled Fabrice Muamba in the tackle which led to it, though the only crime was Birmingham's willingness to give the Brazilian such space.

So how did it feel to go second – ahead of Sir Alex Ferguson's side, Eriksson was asked. "I think it will [only be] for a question of minutes or hours," the Swede replied, studying his watch. Prescient words these and enough to put thoughts of Europe on hold for some time yet.

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