Sunday, June 13

Mancini off to winning start


Man City boss reiterates top four target after warm welcome

MANCHESTER, England: Roberto Mancini has reiterated his belief that Manchester City can break into the Premier League’s top four this season after watching his new charges secure a 2-0 win over Stoke in his first match in charge.The Italian was given a warm reception by the City supporters and he described himself as equally moved by the welcome he received from a squad that includes several players with close ties to his ousted predecessor Mark Hughes.

But the former Inter Milan manager clearly has still to resolve the situation concerning Robinho, who has been widely criticised for his perceived role in the failure of Mancini’s predecessor Mark Hughes.

Robinho started for Mancini, with known Hughes ally Craig Bellamy left on the bench, and the Brazilian had a hand in the first goal, scored by Martin Petrov.

Carlos Tevez secured the victory with a goal in first-half injury-time although Robinho’s lack of fitness and industry saw him brought off with 20 minutes to play.

The Brazilian was replaced by Bellamy, who was afforded a hero’s welcome from the supporters before putting in an energetic cameo in which he almost scored a third goal for City.

Mancini hinted broadly afterwards that Bellamy may be preferred to Robinho for Monday’s visit to Wolves and the status of the Brazilian, consistently linked with a move away from City, is still one of the biggest issues facing the new manager.

In the meantime, Mancini could feel delighted with the way the day went. “I’m very happy with what the fans did before the game,” he said.

“They clapped me and I was very happy with that. I can only answer the fans with my hard work and, at the moment, I think we can play well and do a good job here.

“Mark was a fantastic player, here in England and for Wales. He is popular. I’m not popular in England but I am popular in Italy. I like Italy, obviously, but the atmosphere here was beautiful and I’m very happy to be here. I love the crowd in England and the players responded.”

Asked if his target of securing a top four finish was realistic, Mancini replied: “It is possible but to arrive in the top four we must work, work every day.”

The new manager insisted Bellamy had been one of the many City players to offer him a warm welcome.

“Bellamy is my friend!” he said. “I spoke with him before the match two days ago and I think when the squad wins, all the players are happy.

“I spoke with him because we have two games in three days and I need all the players at 100 percent. Today, I played Robinho, it is possible I could play Craig (on Monday).

“Robinho played a good game. But after 65 minutes he was tired and I wanted to change and bring on          another player. I think he could improve his fitness but I think all the players, and me, we can improve. That is our job but we can only do it with hard work during the week.”

Mancini also enjoyed a joke with Italian media who informed him that fans in his homeland, watching the game live on television, had bemoaned the fact he was wearing an unfamiliar sky-blue-and-white City scarf on the touchlines.

“It is my colour. This colour – Sampdoria, Lazio, Inter- it’s the same colour,” he laughed.

Opposite number Tony Pulis, meanwhile, bemoaned a tough run of fixtures that have seen his team slump to within four points of the relegation zone.

“We’ve had four of our last six games away from home, that’s a tough run of games and, as a Premier League club, you have to accept there are runs of games when it is going to be difficult to pick points up.” — AFP