Middlesbrough 0 Manchester City 1
Striker Benjani Mwaruwari edged Manchester City into the draw for the FA Cup fourth round with a narrow victory at Middlesbrough.
The former Portsmouth frontman scored the game’s only goal on the stroke of half-time to ease the Barclays Premier League side through against a spirited Boro on a bitterly cold winter’s afternoon in the north-east.
Gordon Strachan’s men more than made a game of it against a City team featuring five changes from their league trip to Wolves, and after substitute Carlos Tevez had passed up a glorious opportunity to double their lead, might have snatched an equaliser in front of a crowd of just 12,474.
Ultimately though it was Roberto Mancini who left Teesside with a third successive victory under his belt and looking forward to Wednesday’s Carling Cup semi-final first-leg clash with arch-rivals Manchester United.
Strachan had insisted in the run-up to the game that it was one he was looking to win in an effort to restore some of his team’s battered confidence after a run of just two victories in the 10 matches since he replaced Gareth Southgate, and he was as good as his word as he fielded his strongest available side.
By contrast, opposite number Mancini was afforded the luxury of being able to leave influential midfielder Gareth Barry and in-form strikers Craig Bellamy and Tevez sitting on the bench, while the absence of Stephen Ireland through injury and Kolo Toure because of the African Nations Cup forced him to make further changes.
For the best part of 45 minutes, the Italian saw his reshuffled team enjoy the greater share of the possession, although they rarely looked like making it count.
They went close with seven minutes gone in the unlikely shape of full-back Pablo Zabaleta, who saw his initial shot blocked by a combination of David Wheater and Rhys Williams, and was then denied by Julio Arca when his follow-up struck his fellow Argentinian’s back and dropped wide.
But despite dominating play in the middle of the field, where Vincent Kompany and Nigel de Jong were seeing plenty of the ball, they were rarely able to stretch the Teessiders, who grew in confidence as a result.
That said, Boro were no more effective in putting any great pressure on Mancini’s centre-half pairing of Micah Richards and 18-year-old Belgian Dedryck Boyata, although the teenager had to make one vital interception to deny substitute Marvin Emnes a clear run on goal.
The Dutchman had arrived as a 32nd-minute replacement for leading scorer Adam Johnson after he once again limped off with a hamstring injury amid ongoing speculation that he could be sold during the transfer window.
Strachan’s men survived a 39th-minute scare when Martin Petrov and Benjani combined to carve them open, although the Bulgarian midfielder shot wildly past the post.
However, Petrov returned the favour in the final minute of the half to slide the frontman in, and his right-foot shot past goalkeeper Danny Coyne was unerring.
Despite his side’s lead, Mancini introduced two of his big guns at the break when he replaced Richards and De Jong with Barry and Tevez, a move which saw Kompany drop into the back four.
But City’s advantage might have evaporated within two minutes when Gary O’Neil went down under Sylvinho’s challenge inside the box.
The Boro captain was convinced he had been tripped, but referee Stuart Attwell rewarded his protests with a yellow card.
Strachan’s cause was not helped when Emnes limped off gingerly after landing awkwardly following an aerial challenge and was replaced by Mark Yeates.
Tevez served notice of his intent within seconds of Yeates’ arrival when he fired in a firm right-foot shot which Coyne claimed gratefully, and he passed up an opportunity to double his side’s lead when he rounded the goalkeeper with 68 minutes gone, but shot wide of the empty net.
In the meantime, Williams had looped a header just over the crossbar with the Teessiders refusing to throw in the towel, and Kompany had to head a Wheater effort out for a corner after he had met O’Neil’s 72nd-minute corner with the home side pushing for an equaliser.
It was then that Mancini introduced Bellamy as a replacement for 20-year-old Slovakian Vladimir Weiss, although it was Tevez who went close again with nine minutes remaining when he curled a free-kick just wide.
Coyne kept out Bellamy’s injury-time effort with a fine low save and Tevez and Petrov went close with follow-ups, but the job was already done.