Owen Hargreaves marked his return to competitive football with a debut goal for Manchester City in a 2-0 win over defending champions Birmingham in the League Cup on Wednesday.
The England midfielder, who struggled through three injury-plagued years before being released by City’s neighbour Manchester United in the off-season, fired in City’s opener from 25m in the third-round victory over the Cup holders.
Hargreaves, who has had operations on both knees in recent years, managed to complete 57 minutes before being substituted. It was the Canadian-born player’s longest appearance since completing United’s match against Chelsea exactly three years ago.
“After so long out, I don’t think it was easy for him before the game,” City manager Roberto Mancini said. “But he worked well and scored a fantastic goal.”
On a night of comebacks, Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard returned after six months out in a 2-1 victory over Brighton.
Two of Wednesday’s games were settled by penalties. Chelsea beat Fulham 4-3 in the shootout after a 0-0 draw through 120 minutes, while Cardiff beat Leicester 7-6 on spot kicks after the second-tier clubs were level at 2-2 after extra time.
Hargreaves proves his importance
Everton also reached the fourth round by beating West Bromwich Albion 2-1 after extra time, and League Championship leader Southampton defeated Preston 2-1.
Hargreaves had managed just six minutes of playing time in the three years since that Chelsea match, and many thought his career was over at the age of 30 when his United contract ended.
But the former Bayern Munich midfielder posted videos on YouTube to prove his fitness, and was given a surprise contract across the Manchester divide at City.
Three weeks later, Hargreaves showed it was a gamble worth taking by Mancini.
It took him just 17 minutes to score against Birmingham, seizing on a loose ball as Carlos Tevez and Mario Balotelli had their route into the penalty area blocked and unleashing the ball from distance past goalkeeper Colin Doyle and into the top corner of the net.
“Owen is a fantastic player, who can become a very important player for us,” Mancini said. “He hasn’t had any problems in the last three weeks. At the moment his knee is fine.”
Hargreaves was still on the pitch when Mario Balotelli scored his first goal of the season to make it 2-0 in the 38th minute.
The Italy striker steered Aleksandar Kolarov’s low cross from the left flank into the bottom corner.
Former City striker Craig Bellamy rewarded new club Liverpool for its decision to re-sign him on August 31 by scoring on his first start since returning after four years.
On the south coast at Brighton, Bellamy’s shot went in off the post in the 7th minute from an awkward angle after linking up with strike partner Luis Suarez.
Gerrard came on as a substitute for the last 15 minutes after a recurring groin injury kept him out since March.
Dirk Kuyt doubled Liverpool’s lead in the 81st before Ashley Barnes pulled one back from the penalty spot after Jamie Carragher fouled Vicente Rodriguez.
At Stamford Bridge, Chelsea manager Andre Villas-Boas said it was a “superhuman effort” surviving with 10 men after Alex was sent off at the start of the second half.
The match ended in confusion as it was unclear whether the final penalty from Fulham’s Bryan Ruiz crossed the line after bouncing down off the crossbar. Referee Chris Foy adjudged that it did not.
In the first half, Chelsea striker Daniel Sturridge found the net but was ruled to have been offside, and he injured himself in the process of beating Stephen Kelly to the ball. The hamstring injury could rule him out of Saturday’s match against Swansea.
Goalkeeper Petr Cech was also hurt after colliding with Orlando Sa and was replaced at half time by Ross Turnbull.
“He felt a bit dizzy,” Villas-Boas said. “Petr went for a scan in hospital but is ok … he felt it was better not to take risks.”
Alex was sent off after bringing down Kerim Frei in the 47th, but Pajtim Kasami blasted the resulting penalty kick against the crossbar.
“The result was good, but I still feel at the back of my mind I could have beaten them for the first time in 32 years [at Stamford Bridge],” Fulham manager Martin Jol.
At Goodison Park, Everton captain Phil Neville scored the winner in stoppage time after Marouane Fellaini had forced the game into extra-time with an 89th-minute volley that cancelled out Chris Brunt’s penalty kick for West Brom. — Sapa-AP