Balotelli makes positive contribution

This Is Wiltshire: Mario Balotelli, pictured, helped secure a dream debut for Marcos Lopes on Saturday Mario Balotelli, pictured, helped secure a dream debut for Marcos Lopes on Saturday

Mario Balotelli has been at the centre of a number of controversies in his Manchester City career but struck a more positive note against Watford in the FA Cup - and helped secure a dream debut for the club's most promising young player.

Manager Roberto Mancini's decision to bury the hatchet with Balotelli following their training ground bust-up on Thursday may pay further dividends after Sergio Aguero confirmed he has a torn hamstring muscle that could keep him out for several weeks.

He told the club's website: "It was my first game for the first team and my first goal. I have no words to express my feelings. I trained on Friday and the coach told me I was in the squad to play but to come on after 86 minutes and score a goal... I have no words to explain it."

Balotelli will have to help fill that gap and the Italian striker played for 20 hugely influential minutes in the stroll to a 3-0 win over Watford, including the assist for an injury-time goal by Marcos Lopes, a Portuguese attacking midfielder who turned 17 only last week.

Mancini, only 16 when he made his Serie A debut, had been planning to give Lopes his debut for some time and the player, a late substitute in the dying minutes, was dumbstruck at his achievement.

Carlos Tevez's rocket of a free-kick which fizzed into the net from 25 yards opened the scoring and Gareth Barry's header just before the break "knocked the stuffing out of Watford", to use City assistant manager David Platt's words.

City's thoughts will now turn to once more trying to rein in league leaders Manchester United. Mancini's men did so last season, and Spanish midfielder David Silva said the target was to cut the gap by the end of February.

Silva said: "It won't be easy but our challenge is to be back level with Manchester United by the end of February. Last year we saw how they were in front by quite a lot of points and we won the league anyway, so it can be done."

Watford will now concentrate on promotion to the top flight but manager Gianfranco Zola insisted the six changes he made were enforced rather than a case of resting players for the league.

And he said: "I believe it was the best team I could put out."

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