Belfast Telegraph

Mancini: Manchester City must hold their nerve in title race

Manchester City boss Roberto Mancini feels his players now face a test of their nerve as they head into January after a frustrating draw at West Brom.

City saw their two-point lead at the top of the Barclays Premier League wiped out as they were kept scoreless — for the first time this season — at The Hawthorns yesterday.

Mancini's men could now begin 2012 in second place as title rivals Manchester United are in action before City play at Sunderland on New Year's Day.

The trip to the Stadium of Light comes at the start of a hectic month for City, with the first of three games against Liverpool coming two days later and an FA Cup tie with United also to follow.

Mancini said: “I'm disappointed only because we play January 1 and January 3, and Liverpool play December 29 and the third against us.

“I'm not happy with this situation because two days in this moment is not correct.

“I don't know why this is — well maybe, it's for TV.

“To play twice in 48 hours will make a difference in this moment but we have good concentration and in January that is important.

“I think United will win the next game and it's more difficult for us against Sunderland away and then within 48 hours again.

“But I'm confident we can do a good job by the end. It's important to stay in with a chance of the title at the end. If you want to win the title, we have to try to play well against United. United have a strong team but we are strong enough to do this.”

City lacked their usual bite but were unlucky as Mario Balotelli hit the bar from distance and had a goal ruled out for offside.

The Italian also had a free-kick deflected wide while David Silva side-footed a good chance over.

Yet West Brom thoroughly deserved a point and had good chances themselves with Jerome Thomas hitting the post, Chris Brunt shooting wide and Paul Scharner testing Joe Hart.

Mancini said: “Sometimes you don't win. We know that it's impossible to stay top for all 38 games.

“Every team has a plan but if we don't score in the first half it's difficult.

“We will probably have another eight or nine games in next 20 days like this.

“West Bromwich played with

all their players around the ball and you have to find a solution if you don't score quickly in the first half.”

West Brom head coach Roy Hodgson was proud of the effort of his players, which backed up an impressive victory at Newcastle.

Hodgson said: “We have got to be pleased with that, we knew the magnitude of the task. We had to be at our best to try to keep them at bay.

“It was a very disciplined, hard-working performance defensively.

“It was one of those games when we deserved the point we got and we got it by playing in the right manner.

“We don't stop many sides scoring — we are not a great clean-sheet team — so it was great to do it against a side of Man City's calibre.

“It's a bit concerning when you're the opposing manager watching the likes of (Edin) Dzeko and (Adam) Johnson coming on, when already you are dealing with (Sergio) Aguero and Balotelli.

“You think you are doing okay then someone else comes on to cause you different problems.

“I thought in the first half we could have done better and in the second half we started to do better.

“Maybe had the game gone on longer, we seemed to be growing in confidence, we might have done even better.”

Chris Brunt wasn’t the only Northern Ireland international celebrating at the final whistle as his international team-mate Gareth McAuley also played a key role in shutting out City.

Mancini had tried to freshen up his City side and Kolo Toure, Pablo Zabaleta and James Milner also came in but West Brom were not intimidated.

Hodgson's side were clearly buoyed by their thrilling win at Newcastle last time out and went close inside the opening three minutes. Brunt went close with a powerful left-foot drive but no-one produced a killer touch.

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