Manchester City call on their reserves to seal Champions League place
Manchester City 1 West Bromwich Albion 0: This was such a dead match that the players ought to have been accompanied on to the pitch by a hearse and a fly-past of dead parrots.
It did, however, resolve something; Manchester City are now guaranteed automatic qualification for the Champions League, as if anyone doubted they might fall short.
It ended, equally predictably with a home win, Manchester City’s 14th of the season, but the match was played out to some disgruntled rumblings and the odd shout that City had their minds on other things.
Certainly, the night did not drain them as it drained and exhausted Wigan, their opponents in Saturday’s FA Cup final, and in the first half the now-deposed champions were both superior and committed.
However, you could have said the same of West Bromwich Albion after the interval when they struck the frame of the goal and forced Joe Hart, who will make way for Costel Pantilimon for the FA Cup final, into several reaction saves. Given the way he commanded his area, it seemed more than a calculated risk.
The presence of the FA Cup could be felt everywhere inside the Etihad Stadium. It was not just in the pictures of young supporters holding up Wembley tickets but the fact that there were plenty of empty seats and that City’s manager, Roberto Mancini, made eight changes from the side that drew tamely and goallessly at Swansea.
The bulk of Mancini’s Cup final side was either on the bench or in the directors’ box. However, it was perhaps typical of the man that, although he was the only one whose Wembley place was absolutely guaranteed, Carlos Tevez looked utterly driven by what appeared a routine assignment.
He had already slammed a shot against the bar when, taking the ball from Jack Rodwell, the Argentine pounded down the right flank to deliver a cross that Edin Dzeko met on the volley. Boaz Myhill got a hand to it but nothing more.
It was Dzeko’s 13th league goal of the season and his third against West Bromwich. The move began with Samir Nasri wrestling the ball from Youssouf Mulumbu, displaying the kind of grit with which he is not usually associated. To those on the pitch, this mattered. It might have been settled before the interval. James Milner, like Tevez, will probably play on Saturday, but the Yorkshireman has never taken starting places for granted.
He could have scored twice before half-time, once when Dzeko flicked on Nasri’s corner and Milner, almost unmarked, somehow screwed the shot wide. The other was a drive from outside the area that struck the post.
If this suggests that West Bromwich were here to accept their fate as bit-part players, it would be wrong. When the fixtures came out in June there would have been a sharp intake of breath that two of their final three games would be against Manchester clubs.
Steve Clarke’s side have performed well enough to make that a mere footnote to their campaign. With Romelu Lukaku forging three early chances, they began the more confident side and in the opening exchanges after the interval Marcus Rosenberg sent a free-kick against Hart’s crossbar.
Gabriel Tamas, certainly, would remember this game if only for the stitches in the head wound inflicted by Aleksandar Kolarov’s studs. There was plenty of blood on his face and, from his team-mates, no little guts.
Man of the match Tevez.
Match rating 6/10.
Referee P Dowd (Staffordshire).