BARNSLEY boss David Flitcroft was hurting after his side’s humbling at the hands of Manchester City.
No wonder Flitcroft was wounded as Carloz Tevez proved the Reds’ tormentor-in-chief to help City motor into the FA Cup semi-finals.
Arrested on suspicion of motoring offences just 48 hours before the match, Argentine striker Tevez shrugged off his off-field problems to turn in a man-of-the-match performance at the Ethiad Stadium.
Tevez bagged his first hat-trick for nearly a year and also provided an assist for another goal as the defending Premier League champions never looked back having taken just 11 minutes to break down the visitors’ weak defences.
And just to rub salt into what proved to be a gaping hole by the end, the Reds slipped back to the bottom of the Championship as strugglers Bristol City won and Peterborough United drew to leapfrog them.
Flitcroft’s team have two games in hand on some of the teams above them, but with only 11 games left to beat the drop he knows his side have a real fight on their hands.
The festivities of an impressive cup run, the club’s best run for five years, will now pale into insignificance as they return to more pressing matters at home to Brighton at Oakwell tomorrow night.
“We’re going to have to a draw a line under this game, there’s bigger games than Man City – and I’ve always said that,” stressed Flitcroft.
“The players were all in agreement that we couldn’t have done any more to prepare for this game.
“At half time [and 3-0 down] it’s over. The game is lost. You could see the energy had drained out of the players.
“What can you salvage in the second half? City came out and just wanted to drill us into the floor.
“Some of the players got caught up in the moment, but I’ll forgive them. And they’ll forgive me because I didn’t feel as though I got the balance right.
“We got ridiculously dominated in the first half and couldn’t move up the pitch. I had too many pressers on the pitch and not enough passers.
“I should have started with Jacob Mellis today. I’ll agonise over that. If Mells was on then he could have made things happen.
“It’s given me food for thought, but it was a disappointing day because I wanted to send the fans home with something to get their teeth into. I’ve not given them that.”
Flitcroft left former Chelsea midfielder Mellis on the substitute’s bench. A surprise given that Mellis had been an influential playmaker in the club’s nine-game unbeaten run that had helped lift them out of the relegation zone.
However, Tomasz Cywka deserved his starting chance having scored three goals in his last three games.
Manchester United loanee Ryan Tunnicliffe also returned to the starting line-up with Sheffield Wednesday loan striker Chris O’Grady cup-tied.
But the Reds were no match for the Blues in the first half as Tevez, in particular, ran riot.
Luke Steele pulled off a fine fingertip save to keep out David Silva’s shot against his right upright, but Tevez was ready and waiting to poke home from close-range.
Tevez headed over soon after from Aleksandar Kolarov’s left-wing cross, before teeing up the left-back to double City’s lead with a clinical strike.
Five minutes later the 2011 FA Cup winners were 3-0 up and out of sight. Tevez on target again after some poor defending allowed him to slot home from inside the six-yard box.
Just before the break Chris Dagnall glanced a header well wide from Scott Wiseman’s right-win cross as the Reds failed to get a shot on target in the first half.
And five minutes after the break any hopes of a valiant comeback were emphatically ended. Tevez found the bottom right corner with a miscued left-foot strike to complete his hat-trick.
Flitcroft made a triple substitution and six minutes later sub Mellis rifled a shot straight at Costel Pantilimon, the first save the keeper had made all evening.
Fellow sub Jason Scotland fed Tunnicliffe, but the midfielder saw his low shot blocked by Pantilimon and the keeper then saved with his legs from Mellis.
Edin Dzeko’s stinging left-foot shot flew wide of the target soon after before Silva was denied by a close-range save from Steele, only for the ball to run loose to give the Spaniard a chance to fire home to make it a five-star performance.
Marlon Harewood shot well wide, but the Blues finished the stronger as Dzeko fired wide from distance and then sub James Milner struck Steele’s right post with a thunderous left-foot strike.
“We’ve got a lot of improvement to do,” admitted Flitcroft. “We’ve got to get back to work in the Championship and then we’ll assess things then. It’s unfair to assess them against Premiership players.
“Tuesday night is a massive game, but I’m glad it’s coming because I wouldn’t like a full week to reflect on what I’ve witnessed.
“At half-time we starting thinking about the Brighton game and the significance of that game.
“The fans have been incredible since I took this job. I’m hoping next week we can re-group as a town, as a club and as a group of players.
“We need to kick-start and really get going now because the hullabaloo of the FA Cup is over and we can focus on the league now.”