Belfast Telegraph

Manchester City aim to win league the United way

By Martin Hardy

Just like United. The comparison may sit uncomfortably with Mancunians of a blue persuasion, but this was consummate; a textbook answer to the question of whether City were losing their bottle.

It was 16 years ago when Newcastle beat Manchester United five-nil at St James' Park that Sir Alex Ferguson opined the city would still be celebrating when his team picked up the league title six months later. It was a perfect reading of the situation.

After City's own red letter day, Roberto Mancini walked into his dressing room within Old Trafford and effectively told everyone to shut up. United followed up the result with five victories.

If there is a lesson in this, it is to shut off an individual match as quickly as possible and move on. That becomes more difficult when there are three of them, the late, dramatic defeat to Sunderland, a derby defeat that could have been far greater and a lethargic semi-final showing against Liverpool.

That represents a major wobble, and the rookie will always face a question about nerve until they have faced and passed such tests. Avere il braccetto, the Italian phrase for the shortening of the arm (or the over-quoted squeaky bum moment) that Mancini himself recently used in an interview to reveal it is his major worry for his new team.

Wigan presented a major concern, through form – having lost five and drawn three of their previous eight games at the DW Stadium.

If Manchester City had lost or shown a weakening in their collective desire, then everyone would have sniffed blood, certainly their nearest rivals. They did not, slipping only once (literally in the shape of James Milner) to cause alarm, but then as JamesMcCarthy's angled shot was stopped by Joe Hart late on in the second half, there was a reminder of just how good some City players are.

Hart was largely untroubled other than that. In front of him were more polished displays. Joleon Lescott was in control, Gareth Barry was dominant in midfield and Edin Dzeko's goal will be crucial in giving his own confidence a timely boost. Typically it was from a David Silva free-kick that he headed in what proved to be the game-winning goal, midway through the first half.

And there will always be a Sergio Aguero moment to cherish, even if his endless dribble in the Wigan penalty area in the 55th minute did not result in a goal and led to Mancini threatening to hurl his gloves on to the field.

A second would have done much for his own state of mind, but it did not come, despite late chances.

Do not mistake any praise here as the result of a swash-buckling showing. It was not, and that is the point. City were solid and largely suffocated inferior opposition; just like you should do if you want to win the league.

That was what Barry had reiterated on the eve of this match. "You can't dominate the whole league playing fantastic football and winning every game easily," he said. "If it means going there, not playing great football and battling to get a victory, we might have to do that. Sometimes you have to battle and scrape a result. Wigan is set up for that sort of game. Everyone has to roll up their sleeves and be ready to do it."

And they were. Moving three points ahead of Manchester United does not exactly create breathing space, but this title race could be decided by the most narrow of margins, thus any chink of light can illuminate belief.

It felt as if some of that had come back when five thousand supporters looked collectively relieved in their celebrations when Martin Atkinson finally ended four minutes of injury-time.

What was also impressive was the reaction to Dzeko's goal in an executive box in the corner of Whelan's arena. There, Mario Balotelli and Micah Richards punched the air (fill in appropriate gags here) in delight. Unity, resolution, cohesion; the description of a football club ready to go the distance.

Belfast Telegraph


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