Lacking their sharpest two strikers they struggled to turn a wealth of possession into a commanding lead until Carlos Tevez struck in stoppage time to give the scoreline a flattering gloss.
The defending champions have yet to keep a clean sheet this season and, though they answered back smartly enough when QPR roused themselves to make a game of it in the second half, there were more defensive aberrations than Roberto Mancini has been used to. "It is important that we improve because we cannot concede a goal in every match," the City manager said. "We played well in the first half but our big problem is that we are not taking our chances."
City survived an early scare when Joe Hart had to backpedal to prevent Jack Rodwell claiming the own goal of the season, but that apart the much-altered QPR were unrecognisable in the first half as the enterprising side who gave the Etihad such palpitations in May. City were ahead after 16 minutes and it was an indication of how one-sided the action was that they scored from their sixth corner. David Silva sent over a deep cross from the right, and though Tevez's far-post volley did not quite come off the rebound off Bobby Zamora was tucked away by Yaya Touré.
City enjoyed a near monopoly of possession for the rest of the first half but failed to do an awful lot with it. Without Sergio Agüero and Mario Balotelli, the latter on the bench before an operation to correct his eyesight in Italy next week, City lacked a certain sparkle up front, where Edin Dzeko's first touch let him down on a couple of occasions. José Mourinho was present to check out City in advance of their Champions League meeting with Real Madrid later this month and, while there is a possibility Mancini will still be without his two first-choice forwards when the first game comes around at the Bernabéu, the club are confident Balotelli's laser surgery is a minor enough procedure for him to return straight after the international break.
City opened the second half on the offensive, with Robert Green stopping a shot from Tevez and Pablo Zabaleta hitting the bar after being sent in on goal through one of the passes of the afternoon from Silva. Zamora managed his first attempt on goal just before the hour but could not keep his header down, so when he came up with an equaliser just seconds later it counted as something of a surprise. Perhaps the greatest surprise was that Silva was to blame for losing the ball in his own half, allowing Andy Johnson to advance to the edge of the penalty area, and, though Hart produced a marvellous save to keep out a stinging shot that took a slight deflection, he ended up on the floor and was powerless to prevent Zamora nodding the loose ball over the line.
If that seemed to suggest another tense finish may be on the cards for City after all, on this occasion Rangers held their lead for only two minutes. Tevez did well to seize on Aleksandar Kolarov's cross from the left and turn it into something more threatening with a single touch, and when he put the ball back across the face of goal Dzeko was in an ideal position to score with a straightforward header.
Dzeko was in an ideal position to put the match beyond reach a few minutes later, presented with the ball at his feet by another impeccable pass from Silva, yet with only Green to beat he contrived to miss the target. Dzeko's next big chance came right at the death, and again he mis–hit, though at least he hit his shot right at Tevez, who stuck out a slightly lucky leg to divert it past Green.
"I don't think we deserved that third goal but I was pleased with the shift we put in in the second half," Mark Hughes said. "We imposed ourselves on a very good team, and we can only get better once the new guys bed in."
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image: © Tsutomu Takasu