Stuart Pearce is finally starting to see some relief from the injuries which have plagued Manchester City this season. The City manager saw his team come up with the perfect response to their many detractors on Monday night, the captain Richard Dunne scoring the winning goal against Middlesbrough.
The result catapulted Pearce's men back into mid-table after briefly flirting with the relegation zone and helped to erase the memory of their horrific four-goal drubbing at Wigan nine days earlier.
Victory also offered Pearce an opportunity to highlight the constraints he has been working under after being hit by a string of injuries to key personnel which have wrecked any hope the former England captain had of being able to field his best team this season.
"If I had come out after the Wigan game and started talking about having 11 injuries, people would have said I was making excuses," Pearce said. "But the truth is I signed eight players during the summer and, prior to last night's game, between them they had only started 24 matches. You are talking just three games per person, which has to be disappointing."
The Swedish World Cup goalkeeper Andreas Isaksson is still to make his City debut after suffering ankle and knee problems since his summer move from Rennes, while Ousmane Dabo has not appeared since he was sent off at Reading in September after also succumbing to a knee injury.
However, Pearce reports that both men are nearing full fitness again, which can only help to fire the Blues even further up the table. "We need everyone fit," he said. "We want competition for places and those in the team to feel pressure from those outside it."
DaMarcus Beasley, Claudio Reyna and Hatem Trabelsi were all able to play some part on Monday night after recent injuries, while Ben Thatcher enjoyed a quiet night on his return from the eight-match suspension imposed for his horror challenge on Portsmouth's Pedro Mendes two months ago.
"It has been tough for Ben," Pearce said. "He knew what he did was wrong. He has paid the penalty for that but he kept himself mentally and physically sharp. I was pleased with his performance because it is not always easy playing 90 minutes after such a long time out. But he got a good ovation from the fans, so he can move on now."
As he begins preparations for Saturday's trip to the Premiership's bottom side, Charlton Athletic, Pearce will spend the next few days trying to solve a major conundrum over why his team's form is so solid on home soil yet abject away from Eastlands.
In five games on the road, Pearce's team have so far managed to pick up a single point, courtesy of Micah Richards' injury-time leveller at Everton.
By contrast, not only are City unbeaten at home, they are also yet to concede a goal, taking Pearce into territory that he did not experience even as part of Nottingham Forest's mighty defence.
"I can't remember keeping five clean sheets in a row at home," he said. "I would probably have to look at England to see whether it had happened or not. Certainly there is more chance of achieving it at international level than for my club.
"It is something we can be very proud of but now we have to take that form into our away matches because if we can pick up a couple of positive results on the road, all of a sudden our season could be looking very bright indeed," Pearce added.Reuse content