City take control as Ireland again drives forward

Schalke 04 0 Manchester City 2: MANCHESTER CITY, who already have a notable chunk of history in these parts, created a little…

Schalke 04 0 Manchester City 2:MANCHESTER CITY, who already have a notable chunk of history in these parts, created a little more with an admirable - if at times fragile - win against the side Mark Hughes had rated the strongest in a group his team now controls with six invaluable points.

"I'm very happy, we've had a great week, beating Arsenal comprehensively," said the manager, "then coming here for a difficult game which we coped with. We never allowed Schalke any clear-cut opportunities.

"I'm pleased in the nature of victory, it was excellent," Hughes added of a display in which his team were vulnerable down the flanks and did not always convince when dealing with the height of Kevin Kuranyi - areas Alex Ferguson will have noted ahead of Sunday's Manchester derby.

On the only occasion City had met Schalke - 28 years ago - Joe Mercer's men lost 1-0 in the semi-final of the European Cup Winners Cup. And they went on to dismantle Schalke 5-1 in the return before lifting their only European trophy, a feat Hughes would dearly love to match by winning this competition.


"We haven't had many excursions into Europe - a club like City need to play in Europe on a regular basis," he said. "Now, it will be very surprising if we don't go through."

In truth, this was an outing that ended in a City stroll after they had begun contending with a team containing quality - Kuranyi, Orlando Engelaar and Ivan Rakitic - and the always fanatical fans who hail from a coal town boasting Germany's biggest slag heap, and not much else.

City were the first to threaten. Daniel Sturridge, the player of the half, whose pace and left foot could attract interest from Fabio Capello, flashed one across Manuel Neuer's goal that Benjani Mwaruwari missed.

Seconds later Schalke's Jermaine Jones drew the tie's first save when Joe Hart sharply touched wide for a corner. The same player would later cause a gasp from the packed Veltins-Arena when letting go from long range on 21 minutes.

And, while that proved an easy catch for Hart, City, at this stage, were doing more of the defending. Rakitic, playing in the hole, connected cleanly with a shot that, fortunately for Hughes's team, hit a defender. Kuranyi then made it awkward for Hart by attacking a cross to which the goalkeeper only barely beat him.

In between these chances - the match was now entering the half hour - City's best opportunity had arrived on 13 minutes. City's German midfielder Dietmar Hamann strongly won the ball to the right of Schalke's area. His pass to Mwaruwari was played on to Micah Richards whose cross, aimed at Sturridge, was collected by Neuer.

City's prospects of doing real damage seemed best when exploiting the speed of Sturridge and Shaun Wright-Phillips, who was playing behind the front three. Yet only once before the break did the former Chelsea man threaten seriously. This came in the 31st minute when the midfielder's pace took him away from his marker, though the break came to nothing.

Now, the next time Sturridge collected it finished in City's opener. His run down the left panicked the home team and when his sliding cross was missed by Stephen Ireland - making a superb run from midfield - Mwaruwari could hardly miss.

Six minutes before half-time Sturridge and Ireland again linked in a move which was a doppelganger of the goal. This time Ireland did connect and, when Neuer's save came back to the midfielder, he forced it home. The assistant referee ruled offside.

But it got better. When Ireland was allowed to finish unchallenged from a Mwaruwari deflected shot, it was 2-0, tie over.

SCHALKE 04: Neuer, Westermann, Rakitic (Asamoah 63 mins), Bordon (Howedes 73 mins), Pander, Engelaar, Jones, Rafinha, Farfan, Altintop (Sanchez 80 mins), Kuranyi. Subs not used: Schober, Kobiashvili, Ernst, Zambrano.

MAN CITY: Hart, Richards, Kompany, Dunne, Garrido (Ball 46 mins), Wright-Phillips, Hamann, Ireland, Vassell, Mwaruwari (Jo 84 mins), Sturridge. Subs not used: Schmeichel, Evans, Ben-Haim, Berti, Logan. Booked: Richards, Ireland, Mwaruwari.

Referee: Alexandru Dan Tudor (Rom).