Manchester City had goalkeeper Joe Hart to thank for a point as their Premier League title bid started with a goalless draw away to Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane yesterday.
For all the millions at City’s disposal, it was their bargain signing from fourth-tier Shrewsbury in 2006 who excelled on the opening day of the season.
The 23-year-old, after making his first England start during the week, pulled off save after save in the first half to keep out the side that denied City a place in the Champions League last season.
City manager Roberto Mancini has overseen huge spending that has left him with intense competition in his squad, meaning the likes of Emmanuel Adebayor and Joleon Lescott were on the bench.
Republic of Ireland goalkeeper Shay Given was also among the substitutes as Mancini started with Hart. In the early stages, Hart gave three example of why he has edged ahead in the race to be City’s first choice. His first save was an instinctive effort from Jermain Defoe’s close-range volley, after Aaron Lennon had carried the ball to the goalline and lofted a cross for Peter Crouch to head down.
Tom Huddlestone then went close, returning the ball from a cleared corner with a powerful volley that Hart saved at full-stretch.
To complete his hat-trick of early saves, Hart tipped over the crossbar after Benoit Assou-Ekotto unleashed a volley that was deflected and headed towards the top corner.
England manager Fabio Capello was in the stands to watch his goalkeeper and would have been impressed with his early saves. Hart also drew applause from Given from his seat in the dug-out.
Spurs edged closer to a goal, but when Hart was finally beaten, by Gareth Bale with an angled drive, the ball cannoned off the post.
Hart was called into action again just after the half-hour mark when Huddlestone’s long ball released Defoe, who had his finish blocked and was beaten to the rebound by Kolo Toure with the goal unguarded.
Spurs also had a decent appeal for a penalty when Bale was challenged by Micah Richards as he carried the ball into the penalty area. It was a tough start for City debutants Aleksandar Kolarov, Yaya Toure and David Silva, who were adjusting to the pace of the English game.
It took 38 minutes for the visitors to muster their first shot, courtesy of midfielder Toure, but it was a deflected effort that Heurelho Gomes claimed comfortably.
Kolarov, after a difficult half against Lennon and picking up a knock, was taken off at the break and just after the restart City almost made Spurs pay for failing to get past Hart in the first half.
Midfielder Toure lofted the ball through for Shaun Wright-Phillips and the winger was through on goal, only for Assou-Ekotto to dash back and steal the ball off his toes.
Wright-Phillips failed to impose himself on the game, and was replaced by Adam Johnson, while Spurs took off their two strikers and brought on Robbie Keane and Roman Pavlyuchenko.
The substitutes were involved immediately, with Johnson setting up a chance for Carlos Tevez that was deflected just over before Pavlyuchenko twice tested Hart at the other end.