So there it was, the last game of one of the most exciting seasons I have ever experienced as a City fan, and a win today would guarantee the Blue`s a place in next seasons Champion`s League group stages. The press were already rife with tittle tattle about who would be signing for Mancini`s men in the summer as City complete their best ever season.
Mancini made two changes. Boyata in for the injured Richards at right back and Barry replacing Milner in midfield. It should be noted that Zabaleta was originally starting from the bench but a late injury forced Mancini to bandage up the brave Zabaleta and send him out.
City kicked off right to left in a very windy Reebok stadium. Bolton were quickly in possession and launched a long ball immediately from the keeper. Davies found himself in possession and was brought down by Kompany. Up stepped Taylor who struck the wall with his kick. The ball broke to Bolton but City forced the ball back to the Bolton keeper.
After several minutes of Bolton possession, City in the shape of Silva cut the ball back from the by line and found Tevez who`s shot hit a Bolton defender when he perhaps should have scored.
City were starting to hold onto the ball more and play it around the pitch with the same verve and fluidity they had found in the previous two matches against Stoke. Bolton were giving fouls away in the middle of the park as their frustration showed early on.
Ten minutes in and Boyata had to play the ball out for a corner after Hart failed to call. The inswinger was met by Davies who out jumped the City defence but luckily for City the header was directed wide.
The game was full of scrappy fouls as Bolton looked to break up the City momentum and Davies was booked on thirteen minutes for a very late challenge on Lescott. Seconds later a high ball over the Bolton defence from Toure found Johnson who was in with a chance but his first touch was poor and allowed the keeper to gather the ball.
Nineteen minutes in and City should have been one nil down after some poor understanding in defence allowed Elmander a clear shot from the edge of the box. Had it not been for the reflexes of Hart the ball would undoubtedly been in the net. From the resultant corner, Tevez broke up pitch with Toure as City went two on two with the Bolton defence, but Tevez`s attempt at a one two with Toure was poor.
First yellow of the game for City was given to Tevez, who carrying the frustration of his poor pass, tackled a Bolton player from behind.
Twenty five minutes in and Hart showed his other side as he flapped at an easy take and missed the ball completely. Luckily Lescott was there to save his blushes. This is a side of his game Hart really needs to eradicate before next season`s Champions League run.
De Jong and Davies were having a right old hoo ha in midfield and in the first thirty minutes, Davies was having the better of the sparring as the ref seemed to favour Davies.
City were letting errors slip into their game and Kompany flicked on a Bolton free kick into his own area and gave Bolton a wonderful chance to score. Hart saved once again down to his right from Davies shot and City cleared the resultant corner.
Thirty two minutes in and City should have made it one nil as Boyata overlapped and put in a lovely cross which found the head of Barry one yard out. Unfortunately the usually reliable Barry hit the cross bar when scoring looked far easier.
On thirty seven minutes lovely work between Boyata and Silva on the City right found Johnson free in the Bolton box. Hit struck the ball well enough but couldn`t direct it and the shot went high and wide.
Bolton had a corner on thirty eight minutes and once again City defended well and broke quickly up pitch with Toure on the ball. Toure found Tevez to his right who shot and brought a neat save out of the Bolton keeper. The ball rebounded out to the feet of David Silva, who instinctively shot with his weaker foot ballooning the ball over the beckoning Bolton net.
With three minutes until half time Boyata again found himself in possession near the Bolton by line. His cross found Toure who couldn`t get his header on target. Boyata was becoming increasingly effective as the side progressed.
City soon had a corner on their left side. The ball was played with pace in to the penalty area, struck a surprised Lescott and ballooned high up then dropped behind the despairing Jaaskelinen into the Bolton net. Lescott looked as surprised as everyone else as it really looked like the ball was going over. Who cares, one nil to City and third spot beckoned.
Two minutes stoppage time was announced and City dealt comfortably with everything Bolton threw at them. The first half had been dominated possession wise by City but Bolton had more chances as City`s play was littered with errors. Lady luck was however siding with the Blue shirts in the first half and City went in one nil up.
No changes at half time as Bolton kicked off. A great start from Bolton as they found the byline and Lee forced a corner with only seconds on the clock. Boyata scrambled the ball clear after Cahill and then Davies had chances to equalise.
There were some hefty challenges going on in midfield as Bolton once more resorted to kicking tactics in a bid to slow City`s midfield down. The ref on a number of occasions let play go on when he should have awarded free kicks to City.
Johnson who had been almost invisible in the first half was switched to the right side to see if he could have more of an impact in the position he had spent most of the season. I have to say though, that since his return from injury he has probably been the biggest underachiever of anyone in the City side, and whilst undoubtedly blessed with talent, he lacks any aggression or speed of thought and seems unable to beat his man.
On fifty four minutes the twinkle toed Silva made space for himself whilst surrounded by three Bolton defenders and struck a shot which was gathered up easily by the Bolton keeper. The game was however settling into the same ebb and flow as the first half.
Bolton had two shots in quick succession on fifty six minutes but each was blocked comfortably by a City defender and City were quickly attacking in the Bolton half as their superior passing skills and short game forced Bolton back once again.
On the stroke of sixty minutes Tevez picked the ball up twenty five yards out and waltzed through the Bolton defence. His shot was well struck but cannoned of a Bolton defender for a City throw in. This signalled the last kick of the game for Johnson who was replaced by Dzeko as Mancini once again expressed his disappointment in the underachieving winger.
This was a masterstroke by Mancini as Tevez found Barry out on the left who ran with the ball and placed a perfect low cross into the path of Dzeko who side footed into an empty net. Two nil City, third place pretty much guaranteed and Tevez was playing with a smile on his face, hardly a sign that he was playing his last game for City.
On seventy minutes Coyle withdrew Elmander and replaced him with Bolton fan favourite the Israeli international, Tamir Cohen as he endeavoured to slow down the City midfield which was becoming increasingly effective as the game wore on.
With fifteen minutes to go, a double substitution for Bolton as Klasnic and Rodriguez came on for Lee and Taylor. But in truth, the game was passing Bolton by as City created chance after chance and seemed to be able to waltz through the Bolton midfield with ease.
Two minutes later and Silva was replaced to as City standing ovation with the industrious and hardworking Milner whose first task was to defend a Bolton corner. This was done with aplomb and City were on the attack almost immediately after.
Milner was looking good on the right and had done more in a short time on the pitch than Johnson had done in his entire seventy. This is something that I have said far too often this season and unless he shows a distinct improvement next year will find himself a squad player only and on the fringes of the first team. A shame for someone who showed such promise early on in the season.
Drama was to follow as Dzeko found himself with the ball thirty yards out from the City goal. Whether it was frustration or not, I don`t know, but Sturridge, who seconds earlier had challenged De Jong with two feet, leapt high and caught Dzeko on the knee. The ref did not hesitate and brandished a red card.
City`s final substitution quickly followed as with three minutes to go, Mancini withdrew Zabaleta and replaced him with the promising youngster Reece Wabara.
Two minutes of injury time followed as City played out a two nil win which saw them finish third, their highest ever finish and biggest ever points tally in the Premier League, replacing Arsenal in the automatic Champions League places and surely making United and Chelsea sweat over what would happen next year.
This season there have been a number of outstanding performances from the likes of Tevez, De Jong and Kompany, but the highlight for me has been the team mentality and Mancini`s unorthodox but highly effective style. The future`s bright, the future`s Blue!
Joe Hart – 7
Pulled off a couple of good saves, flapped at a few crosses and kicked a few balls out. Needs to iron out the flaws in his game to become a true great.
Dedryk Boyata – 7.5
Got better as the game went on and put in a couple of good crosses. Not as good as Richard’s in the attacking aspect of his game, but a solid reliable defender who is still learning the game.
Vincent Kompany – 8
Looked great in the air today but did give away a couple of needless free kicks. Could be one of the best Centre Halves City have ever had.
Joleon Lescott – 8.5
Solid at the back, strong in the tackle and great in the air. Was going to get and eight but earned the extra half point for the look of surprise on his face when he scored.
Pablo Zabaleta – 8
Came in as a late replacement for the injured Richards. Patched and bandaged up he gave 100% as usual and made some good forward runs.
Nigel De Jong – 9
Put in some ridiculously good tackles and broke up all the Bolton plays. Was happy to get up and shake hands when at the receiving end of some harsh tackles. The first player on my team sheet every week.
Gareth Barry – 7.5
Reliable as always. Got forward on occasion and put in some good crosses. Set up one of the goals.
David Silva – 8
Looked good on the ball and was at the heart of the City play. Moved about the park and did damage wherever he played. A brilliant signing this season.
Yaya Toure – 7.5
Looked a bit tired today. Did well going forward and had at least two great breaks from Bolton corners. Whilst I doubted his value for money at the start of the season, has become invaluable to the team.
Adam Johnson – 6
Started on the left and looked poor, he struggled to make and impact. In the second half was moved to the right and made no more impact than in the first. I don’t know exactly what happened to him this season but to be honest he’s the only player I can say has been rubbish.
Carlos Tevez – 7.5
Played with a smile on his face which really doesn’t look like he wants to leave. Chased and harried and defended from the front, but struggled to get his shooting boots working.
Dzeko – 8
Scored having been on the pitch for seconds. Starting to find his first touch and made a good impact on the game. Got Sturridge sent off for having such long legs.
Milner – 7.5
Came on for Johnson and showed how a right midfielder should play. Strong brave and industrious, he can’t always beat a man like Johnson but he gives so much more to the team
Came on too late to mark.
Roberto Mancini – 9.5
Third spot and the FA Cup in his first full season. Not a bad return. Can’t wait to see how he does with a team bolstered by one or two new signings. Champions League here we come and I thank you, Sir Bobby Manc.