Robinho strikes late to ease pressure on Hughes

Blackburn Rovers 2 Manchester City 2
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The Independent Football

Manchester City fans should have known, from the moment West Bromwich's win at Tottenham sent Blackburn to the bottom of the table before kick-off, that this was going to be an awkward afternoon. It is a measure of the fact that anyone is capable of beating Mark Hughes' side that four bottom-placed sides – Wigan, Tottenham, Bolton and West Bromwich – had beaten them before yesterday and the club were 25 seconds away from an embarrassing nap hand before home-grown talent – the kind that Arab billions cannot buy – showed there can be a different way.

Daniel Sturridge had already displayed his worth with a calmly taken 87th-minute finish when he jinked past the tackles of Morten Gamst Pedersen and Andre Ooijer to provide Robinho with five yards of open space to equalise and help blow away more of the storm clouds which keep gathering over his manager. It was only the second time City have salvaged anything after going behind this season and, though it was barely deserved, Hughes could at least take comfort from the fact that his side had not been the usual soft touches.

"I'm as pleased with the qualities we showed today as I was with the way we played against Hull," Hughes said after going 13th. "We've showed qualities of character that some people suspected we didn't have. Qualities we need if we're going to be consistent in the Premier League."

There was also an indication from him that contract talks with 19-year-old Sturridge are "very close" to completion and that he would not have allowed him to reach the last year of his current deal. Chelsea have been watching Sturridge for some time. "We've tried to introduce him bit by bit. We want to keep him at this club, we want to bring good players in, but we can create the sort of environment in which he can thrive," he said.

But the City manager's escape from a ritual humiliation on his old turf owed more to Blackburn than City – despite Hughes throwing Micah Richards and Richard Dunne up front towards the end to make it a six-man strike force. Rovers had nine behind the ball by then but, as Sam Allardyce ruefully observed, still left "Robinho all alone as we were ball watching". Even Hughes admitted that Robinho had been "quiet", tamed as he was by the physical presence of Tugay and a Rovers side who offered scant opportunities.

Robinho picked up in the first 10 minutes where he had left off with his two-goal salvo against Hull, slaloming past two defenders into the Rovers box to force a panicked tackle in which Ooijer seemed to clip him but Howard Webb, unsighted, turned down the loud appeals. More clear-cut was the opportunity Felipe Caicedo's impeccable cross created for Robinho a minute later but the Brazilian, unmarked and a just few yards from goal, inexplicably directed his angled header wide.

But City succumbed to their usual away form after that and it was in first-half injury time that Jason Roberts managed to turn both Nedum Onuoha and Dunne with one swivel and Benni McCarthy, a man rejuvenated under Allardyce, ran in to thump the loose ball past Joe Hart. City might need Roque Santa Cruz, in the stands nursing the calf injury he sustained on Allardyce's first day, but Rovers evidently do not. McCarthy has three goals in three games and Jason Roberts, who threatened Dunne all afternoon, impressed again with the headed goal he took from Chris Samba's deft lob.

Goals: McCarthy (45) 1-0; Roberts (83) 2-0; Sturridge (87) 2-1; Robinho (90) 2-2. Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Robinson; Warnock, Samba, Nelsen, Ooijer; Emerton, Andrews, Tugay (Mokoena, 73), Pedersen; Roberts, McCarthy. Substitutes not used: Brown (gk), Khizanishvilli, Vogel, Treacy, Derbyshire, Olsson. Manchester City (4-1-4-1): Hart; Zabaleta, Dunne, Onuoha (Richards, 63) Ball; Kompany; Wright-Phillips, Ireland, Elano (Vassell, 70), Robinho; Caicedo (Sturridge, 70). Substitutes not used: Schmeichel (gk), Jo, Garrido, Fernandes. Referee: H Webb (South Yorkshire). Booked: Blackburn Tugay, Nelsen; Manchester City Ireland. Man of the match: Roberts. Attendance: 25,200.

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