Ruthless Manchester City condemn Wolves to relegation
Wolverhampton Wanderers 0 Manchester City 2: The Manchester City coach was just pulling into Molineux at around 2.30pm when Sir Alex Ferguson issued the words he would have wanted to be heard by those on board: "We've given them the initiative..."
It does not require 25 years at the top of football management to know that Roberto Mancini – with flicks of grey hair showing around his fringe yesterday and the blue scarf draped around his neck seeming rather like an albatross – might be susceptible to a turning of the screw. But the Italian would not be frustrated again. He reverted to something distinctly, pragmatically Italian to seal these points – relegating Wolves in the process. City's goal difference is six better than United's and a win of any kind when the two titans collide at the Etihad Stadium a week tonight would mean that it will not come down to goals.
The win allowed Mancini to maintain his public pretence last night that only United can win the title – a pretence his defender, Joleon Lescott, revealed last week he does not maintain behind closed doors. "No, it's not in our hands. We are three points less and we play two other difficult games after the derby," Mancini claimed. "Congratulations [to United] for this season, this title. Maybe you can [bet] 100% on United winning it. We don't have any pressure because we don't have any chance of winning [the title]." This self-serving line is wearing a bit thin now that City's destiny is in their own hands. But he insisted that United's result had not created pressure either. Only after the United game would he re-appraise his position on title prospects. "We can talk about this on Monday night..." he said.
The scaffolding on the Molineux North Bank stand bears the name of Pyramid Access Solutions, but as they went clambering in search of English football's apex, City were not initially sure-footed. Matt Jarvis had the beating of Pablo Zabaleta and there were efforts from distance by both Sebastian Bassong and David Davis, the latter forcing Joe Hart into the game's first, strong-handed parry. If there were a moment when you sensed a case of City-itis, then this was it.
But the storm clouds had just rolled through the west Midlands, the sun was sitting high in a clear blue sky and it was like shooting fish in a barrel soon enough for City and, in particular, Carlos Tevez and Sergio Aguero, starting together for the fourth time in the Premier League. City have now won on all those occasions, with the two Argentines scoring 12 of their 15 goals. Bassong and Richard Stearman simply couldn't handle them.
Samir Nasri would have put City ahead after 16 minutes had he done better than navigate Zabaleta's clever reverse pass fractionally wide of the post after making a clear run, right-to-left, across the box to receive it. Within a minute, there had been an air shot from Tevez, a blocked shot from Aguero and a shot fully 15 yards wide from Gareth Barry. But after Aguero had created two moments of terror for Steadman – almost seizing on a desperate back header, then going around him easily to shoot – Gael Clichy numegged Michael Kightly and swept a fine 30-yard ball around the back of Bassong where Aguero, City's top scorer, was waiting to steer it in.
Wolves, knowing only a win would preserve Premier League survival hopes which were already all-but extinguished, were not entirely moribund. Stephen Fletcher, a threat in the air throughout, forced Hart to dive and claw his header away just before the hour. The Wolves South Bank cried "boring" when David Silva, who has faded almost entirely these past few weeks, made way for Nigel de Jong moments later. Mancini later called it safety.
The Wolves goalkeeper Dorus de Vries, making his Premier League debut in place of the injured Wayne Hennessey, had not played a top-flight match for six years, but as the storm clouds began gathering again, City looked less and less capable of testing him.
The euphoria which greeted City's second and confirmed Wolves' demise – half of Mancini's technical staff raced from the bench – revealed the extent of the concealed tension.
Wolves were deeply unhappy with the free-kick – a Davis foul on Tevez – which brought it. But it was a moment of fatally poor concentration from Wolves which allowed the kick to be processed rapidly through the Argentine to Samir Nasri, who lashed home.
The Wolves gallows humour set in immediately. "How shit must you be. You've only scored two." And "Whatever will be, will be. We're going to Barnsley." Mancini was in no mood for humour even with his side ahead and was incandescent when Aguero promptly scuffed a shot after Adam Johnson sent him racing through.
Wolves' interim manager Terry Connor later gave a deeply moving press conference, as he struggled to come to terms with relegation. "I can't put it into words," he said, close to tears. "I've been here 13 years and it's a real raw emotional, tough day for everybody. This club has had some great days but we have not been good enough in the league this season."
Mancini's emotions were firmly in check, however. By the time Yaya Toure had sent a shot scudding past De Vries' right-hand post, the rainstorm had reached biblical proportions, forcing the Italian to run for cover. Ferguson's missiles missed him, though. He came through the storm.
Booked: Manchester City - Y Touré.
Man of the match Tevez
Referee L Probert (Wiltshire)