LONDON, England, September 22 – Owen Hargreaves made a dream debut for Manchester City as the injury-plagued midfielder scored the opening goal in his side’s 2-0 victory over holders Birmingham in the League Cup third round on Wednesday.
Hargreaves was making his first appearance for City after being released by their bitter rivals Manchester United at the end of last season following a series of knee injuries over the last three years.
The 30-year-old, who had managed just six minutes of action since September 2008, took just 17 minutes to mark his return in style as he smashed a fine long-range strike past Birmingham goalkeeper Colin Doyle for his first goal since April 2008.
He eventually completed 57 minutes before departing to a standing ovation from the City fans after being substituted to avoid provoking any muscle problems in his first prolonged outing for three years.
Birmingham’s last match in this competition was that memorable 2-1 win over Arsenal in the final at Wembley, but much has changed at St Andrews’ since then and the Blues are now languishing in the Championship after relegation on the final day of last season.
They were no match for City and Mario Balotelli increased the hosts’ advantage with his first goal of the season, a powerful effort from inside the penalty area, in the 38th minute.
“It was good for him,” City boss Roberto Mancini said. “Owen is a fantastic player, who can become a very important player for us.
“He hasn’t had any problems in the last three weeks. At the moment his knee is fine.
“We said before the match we would give him between 45 and 60 minutes.”
Hargreaves wasn’t the only England international making his long-awaited return from injury on Wednesday.
At the Amex Stadium, Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard made a 15-minute substitute appearance in the closing stages of his side’s 2-1 win at Championship club Brighton.
Gerrard was back in action for the first time since March after surgery on a recurring groin injury and his presence helped Liverpool finish off Gus Poyet’s Brighton.
Craig Bellamy, in his second spell at Liverpool, opened the scoring in the seventh minute as he ran onto Luis Suarez’s pass and drilled a low shot into the far corner.
Dutch forward Dirk Kuyt got the decisive second goal in the 81st minute when he struck with a low shot via the far post.
Ashley Barnes notched a 90th minute consolation for Brighton when he converted a penalty after Jamie Carragher’s foul on Vicente.
“If it had been four or five goals we’d have maybe given Steven a bit longer,” Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish said.
“We’re not going to throw him in and give him too many minutes. It’s fantastic to see him back so don’t let’s spoil it by being irresponsible.
“He’s suffered a lot and he’s been through a lot and he’s made a lot of sacrifices to get where he is.”
Ten-man Chelsea won 4-3 on penalties against west London rivals Fulham after a 0-0 draw after extra time at Stamford Bridge.
Andre Villas-Boas’s side had Brazilian defender Alex sent off early in the second half and saw Fulham’s Pajtim Kasami miss the resulting penalty.
And the Blues rode their luck in the shoot-out as well as Frank Lampard missed their first kick before Fulham’s Moussa Dembele and Bryan Ruiz failed from the spot to send Chelsea through.
Villas-Boas had made nine changes from the team beaten 3-1 by Manchester United at Old Trafford as the Portuguese coach gave full debuts to Romelu Lukaku, Oriol Romeu and Ryan Bertrand, with Josh McEachran and Paulo Ferreira making their first appearances of the season.
Everton needed extra-time to see off West Brom 2-1 at Goodison Park.
Chris Brunt’s 57th minute penalty gave Albion the lead but Marouane Fellaini equalised in the 89th minute and Phil Neville got the winner in the 103rd minute.