WHEN they splurged over £30m on Robinho last summer, Manchester City could not have expected that an end-of-season goal from their star man against doomed opponents would provoke the kind of relief associated with a cup final win.
That it did is down to Robinho’s horrendous loss of form, the Brazilian failing to net in 2009 until his sweet volley at Eastlands yesterday put City ahead against rock-bottom West Bromwich.
Even so, it was enough for his manager, Mark Hughes, to challenge Robinho to maintain his scoring momentum in the remaining weeks of the season and ensure a top-half finish for his side.
“We are pleased Robby is back on the goal trail,” Hughes said. ” It is his first in 2009 and important for him.
“As he has not been scoring, people have been highlighting that fact. But hopefully he will now go on a run again.”
When Nedum Onuoha extended their lead in the 20th minute, City looked home and dry against the bottom club.
But West Brom rallied and drew level thanks to a brace from Northern Ireland winger Chris Brunt.
Their revival lasted only a minute with Elano putting City back in front from the penalty spot after he had been floored by Jonas Olsson.
Substitute Daniel Sturridge then went on to complete the scoring in stoppage-time. Hughes defended his decision to replace Elano late on with Gelson Fernandes — a move that infuriated some of the crowd.
“It was no reflection on his play,” said the City manager. “Sometimes we have to protect players.
“That was the thinking behind it as he had indicated to the bench he was struggling.
“West Brom were dominating possession and you have to make changes in that situation.”
The result means City could yet clinch seventh place, which is almost certain to yield a berth in next season’s Europa League.
The only downside was a hamstring injury sustained by Pablo Zabaleta, which could see him sidelined.
Hughes added: “We needed a win to keep in touch and we have done that. We are in the mix.”
West Brom manager Tony Mowbray remained upbeat even though they are nine points adrift of safety with five games to go.
He said: “We will be positive and try to win all five games. We owe that to our supporters, who have had a tough season.” Mowbray felt City’s second goal should have been disallowed as he claimed goalkeeper Scott Carson was impeded.
He explained: “It was an obvious foul that was not picked up. But you have got to take it on the chin.
“Great credit to my players, they came back into the game. Then we shot ourselves in the foot by giving away a penalty straight away.
“Ultimately we were not good enough. We missed chances and conceded four goals.”
MANCHESTER CITY (4-4-2): Given 6, Zabaleta 6, Onuoha 6, Dunne 7, Bridge 6, De Jong 6, Kompany 7, Ireland 7, Elano 7 (Fernandes 74, 5), Caicedo 5 (Sturridge 58, 7), Robinho 7 (Petrov 84, 5).
Subs Not Used: Hart, Richards, Garrido, Evans.
WEST BROM (4-4-2): Carson 6, Zuiverloon 6, Meite 6, Olsson 5, Robinson 4, Morrison 5 (Mulumbu 66, 5), Greening 6, Koren 6 (Simpson 62, 5), Dorrans 5 (Valero 62, 5), Brunt 8, Fortune 6.
Subs Not Used: Kiely, Filipe Teixeira, Donk, Wood.
REFEREE: Mike Jones (Cheshire) 6: The penalty award was reasonable, although City’s second goal might have been chalked off for a push.
MATCH RATING: *** No shortage of attacking incident, although that was largely due to the inept defending on display by both teams.
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