Saturday, February 7, 2009

Manchester City 1 - 0 Middlesbrough

Shaun Wright-Phillips is available for Manchester City's encounter with Middlesbrough after successfully appealing for more time to respond to his violent conduct charge.

Wright-Phillips will be landed with a three-match ban unless he can successfully avoid further punishment for his petulant kick at Rory Delap last Saturday.

But Wright-Phillips is free to face Boro along with debutant Shay Given as City look to extend a three-match unbeaten run on home soil.

Mark Hughes has warned Manchester City fans they will not truly see the benefit of his extensive squad reshuffle until next season.

The arrival of Given from Newcastle completed a hectic transfer window for the City manager.

Although he missed out on Brazilian superstar Kaka, Hughes signed Wayne Bridge, Nigel de Jong and Craig Bellamy.

With Given also added to a squad that contained four new faces from the Sven-Goran Eriksson era, including British record signing Robinho, the Blues have undergone major surgery.

It means Hughes is expecting major improvement during the second half of the season. But the former Wales chief feels it will be the start of next season before the true measure of the changes he has made are seen.

"People don't understand how much of a change has been undertaken here,'' he said.

"The alterations we have made on and off the field have been vast.

"Certainly I am confident about the impact they will have and I am looking for a strong second half to the season.

"But in addition, the way we do our work on a daily basis will have a positive impact going into next season.''

Middlesbrough boss Gareth Southgate is boosted by the return of midfielders Didier Digard and Gary O'Neil.

Both men missed the 0-0 home draw with Blackburn last weekend through suspension, with the Frenchman completing a three-match ban, but are now

available once again.

Andrew Taylor and Jeremie Aliadiere (both ankle) remain on the casualty list, although the striker has resumed light training.

Southgate will not be fazed by Middlesbrough's fight for survival because he has spent most of his career on Teesside battling to stay up.

The 38-year-old former defender - who became the first Boro captain to lift a major trophy when they won the Carling Cup in 2004, and then led them into their debut season of European football - is now attempting to guide them safely through the most troublesome of times.

However, for all the glory of their big day at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium and a UEFA Cup adventure which took them all the way to the final in Eindhoven two seasons later, his eight years at the Riverside Stadium have been spent largely in less glamourous circumstances.

The trip to City will see Boro attempt to end their wait for a league win at the 13th attempt, a run dating back to November 9 at Aston Villa, with the club just one place off the bottom of the table, and that only on goal difference.

Southgate said: "Bar one season, every season I have been here has been in the bottom half of the table, so it's not something that has just crept up on us overnight.

"We finished seventh one year - every other year of the eight years I have been here, we have been in the bottom half of the table, so it shouldn't be a great surprise that we are where we are.

"We are possibly a few points lower than we would have hoped and so many matches have swung on a late goal or a decision or whatever. The margins are incredibly tight.

"But what's gone is irrelevant now, it's what we do for the next 14 games. That's what we can affect and that's what we are focussed on.''

Southgate firmly believes five victories, and the draws his side would pick up along the way if they embarked on a morale-boosting run of positive results, would ease the club out of trouble.

However, he will not be setting his troops a points target.

As a young player, he was part of the Crystal Palace squad which slipped out of the top flight at the end of the 1992-93 campaign despite collecting 49 points from a 42-game season, and they went down again two years later with 45.

Southgate said: "It's impossible to do that. You never know.

"People have been saying it could be the highest needed - I went down one year at Crystal Palace and I think we had 45 points, so you can never tell how many are going to be needed.

"But I think if we get five wins, coupled with the draws you would hope to pick up over a series of games, it's both an achievable target and one I think would keep us in this league."

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