Home » Europa League, Europe, Latest » EL Match Report: Man City 3 Sporting Lisbon 2; 3-3 agg; Sporting on away goals

Just like Manchester United, City will not take their place in today’s draw for the last eight, but Roberto Mancini’s team almost pulled off a stunning fightback to overcome Sporting Lisbon.

Trailing 3-0 on aggregate at half-time after Matias Fernandez and Ricky van Wolfswinkel had added to Xandao’s first-half goal, it looked all over for City. But two Sergio Aguero goals and Mario Balotelli penalty, prior to goalkeeper Hart’s valiant late header, almost won it for City.

Although United’s elimination from this competition at the hands of Athletic Bilbao, confirmed just minutes before City kicked off against Sporting, ensured that Sir Alex Ferguson’s players would no longer be distracted by Thursday night commitments during the title run-in, old habits die hard in these parts and news of their downfall in northern Spain prompted a loud cheer around the Etihad.

One senior member of the City backroom staff was not so enlivened by United’s defeat, however, judging by his less than enthusiastic reaction to Bilbao’s victory.

Roberto Mancini’s pre-match insistence that City could cope with the demands of a dual assault on silverware appeared genuine, though.

The Italian subscribes to the theory that success breeds success and, with such a multi-talented and ambitious squad, why should City not embrace the challenge of winning both the Premier League and Europa League?

City’s sluggish start suggested Mancini’s players did not quite share their manager’s bullish approach to potential fixture congestion, however. During the first leg in Estádio José Alvalade, which was won by Xandao’s second-half back-heeled goal, City were similarly one-paced, but whether that was a result of heavy legs or general disdain for this competition was difficult to gauge.

There was clearly something hanging over the hosts’ performance in the second leg, though, and perhaps it was the fear of being subjected to more draining encounters in Europe’s twilight zone when their rivals at Old Trafford were free to put their feet up.

Quite simply, City were flat. Yaya Toure was booked for hurling a ball away in frustration at conceding a free-kick and Balotelli, having been denied at the far post by Anderson Polga, kicked the dead ball so hard that it almost hit the roof of the stadium.

Passes went astray and the fleet-footed Sporting were quick to capitalise, with Fernandez and Diego Capel both making the most of any mistakes committed by the home side, The Portuguese, who had progressed through seven previous two-legged ties against English opposition dating back to 1964, were supposed to be poor travellers and a pale imitation of the team which won on home turf last week. But they were the team that wanted to win this tie. City appeared as though they couldn’t care less.

Brazilian defender Xandao almost opened the second-leg scoring on eight minutes when he narrowly headed over, but having survived that near miss, City almost conceded a 19th-minute penalty when Fernandez fell to the ground under a Stefan Savic challenge.

The Chilean midfielder was then booked for diving while attempting to win another penalty, but he eventually made his mark on 34 minutes when he scored Sporting’s opener.

A needless challenge by Balotelli on full-back Emiliano Insua, 20 yards from goal, resulted in a free-kick and, with the diminutive David Pizarro stood at the end of the wall, Fernandez curled his set-piece beyond the helpless Joe Hart to put Sporting 2-0 head on aggregate.

City now needed to score three to save the tie, but their mountain grew on 41 minutes when Sporting scored again. Van Wolfswinkel, understood to be the reason for Kenny Dalglish’s scouting trip to the Etihad, netted at the far post from two yards after being teed up by Marat Izmailov.

So poor was their first-half performance that City were booed off at half-time, yet the sight of the players emerging from the tunnel at the end of the interval prompted a defiant roar from the home crowd. Maybe there were still a few believers inside the Etihad.

Mancini had clearly not given up, judging by animated actions, although replacing winger Adam Johnson for holding midfielder Nigel de Jong at half-time was an odd move.

Johnson, as he often does when starting games, failed to contribute anything meaningful, but surely the flair of Samir Nasri or energy of James Milner would offer greater hope of contributing to a dramatic fightback than a destroyer like De Jong?

Considering that City are not in action this weekend and do not play again until the visit of Chelsea next Wednesday, there was little to hold Mancini’s players back from an energy-sapping, all-out attack on the Sporting goal. But there was little sign of it happening until 15 minutes of the second half had elapsed and, by the time Sergio Agüero turned and guided Micah Richards’s cross past goalkeeper Rui Patricio, City were starting to run out of steam.

The goal at least gave City the impetus to believe, though, and Mancini sent on Nasri for the tiring David Silva on 65 minutes.

His introduction ensured that City now had four-pronged strike-force and Sporting, clearly worn out by their first-half performance, could not escape their defensive third. But City still required three goals and, as the clock ticked towards 75 minutes, all hope appeared lost. A foul by sub Renato Neto on Aguero resulted in a penalty, however, and Balotelli, nerveless as usual, slotted the spot-kick past Rui Patricio with stunning ease. The miracle was on and, when Aguero volleyed in at the far post on 82 minutes following Edin Dzeko’s flick from Aleksandar Kolarov’s corner, just one more goal was required.

As they proved at Old Trafford in October’s 6-1 derby defeat of United, City know how to rattle in a hatful of late goals. This time, though, they simply ran out of time. But if their second-half performance is any gauge, City will fight United all the way to the bitter end in the title race.

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