As the nerves jangled and hearts beat that little bit faster, the penultimate game of the season was upon us and City`s fate was in their own hands. Win their remaining two games and due to their vastly superior goal difference over United, the League title would be theirs for the first time in over a generation. But City wouldn`t have everything their own way, playing a resurgent Newcastle side that, after Arsenal`s poor result yesterday, were playing for third place and a guaranteed Champions League spot.
Mancini kept faith for a third game running with the side that defeated arch rivals United and despatched Wolves. So the team sheet read as follows: Hart, Zabaleta, Kompany, Lescott, Clichy, Yaya, Barry, Silva, Nasri, Tevez and Aguero. The subs bench consisted of Pantilimon, Richards, Kolarov, Milner, Johnson, De Jong and Dzeko. This was a team of world class players in every position who were working toward a common goal, united by a superb manager and cheered on by the best fans in the land.
Both teams began the game in a cagey fashion and the nerves showed and passes were misplaced. The first five minutes were dominated by edginess and a total lack of cohesion being shown by both sides. Clearly the magnitude of the occasion had gotten to both sets of players.
In the 6th minute, Cabaye caught Barry with a high boot earning City a free kick in the middle fo the park. Two minutes later and City were on the attack as Tevez broke free a passed a great looking ball to Zabaleta making the overlap, but the ball skidded just in front of the full back and out of play.
City were starting to take command of the game and in the 9th minute, first Silva and then Yaya have shots blocked. The latter earnt a corner which Newcastle defended well. Only a minute later and City played a wonderful through ball out of midfield which Silva ran onto unleashing a wicked shot which Krul got down to save well.
City continued to look the stronger team and in the 13th minute, Newcastle gave the ball away to Tevez who jinked one way then the other and found Nasri in the box, but the French man`s first touch was poor and it took him away from the opposition goal. Newcastle were retreating on every City attack and inviting the visiting team onto them. .
In the 17th minute, Silva carved the Newcastle defence open with a magnificent pass to Aguero who makes space for himself, but then finishes with a poor shot which was easily saved by the busy Krul. City then caused chaos in the Newcastle box after Krul left himself in no man`s land after coming out to meet Aguero who had run onto a long ball by Kompany.
Halfway through the half and the Blues were looking the more likely team to score as Krul again kept the score even saving at Silva`s feet. The frustration was beginning to show in the Newcastle players as Ben Arfa was booked after losing the ball to Clichy then chasing the man twenty yards to bring him down 25 yards out on the Newcastle left. Tevez stepped up to take the shot which bounced just in front of Krul whose reflexes were good enough for him to adjust and make the save.
With two minutes to the half hour, Newcastle pick up a loose ball after Zabaleta miscontrolled and Ba took a speculative shot from way out which went close to being on target but never threatened Hart.
Next man in the book was Barry giving Newcastle a free kick in the centre of the pitch, thirty yards from the City goal. The free kick into the box is easily dealt with and City are quickly on the break and this time City earn a free kick after Tiote brought down Silva whilst in full flight, earning himself a yellow card. Silva floated in the free kick but it was too far advanced of any City players to be effective.
In the 34th minute, Newcastle first real chance to score came after Zabaleta slipped in midfield, giving the ball away. The cross went in toward the middle and Ben Arfa came up with a peach of a volley which brought a world class save out of Hart who had been reduced to a mere spectator up until this point.
The next yellow card followed soon after as Newcastle earnt their third of the day when Perch tripped Tevez on his third attempt. The excitement continued as Yaya found Zabaleta on the right with a superb pass. The City full back got into the box and to the by-line, cutting a great ball back, but there was no one in the box to get on the end of it.
Another yellow then followed as this time Yaya went into the referees book for a poor challenge on Newcastle`s Italian full back Santon. Ben Arfa stood over the ball and floated a great ball into the City box which was met by the head of Ba. Fortunately for City, Hart wasn`t called into action as the prolific forward`s header ballooned over the bar.
What followed was City`s best chance of the half as Barry found himself in a wonderful position in the Newcastle box as he shot and saw his first effort cleared. Somehow the ball found it`s way back to Barry and with Krul stranded on the ground he looked destined to score, but Colloccini made a wonderful goal line clearance to keep his side in with a chance.
As the half drew to a close there was no doubt that City had been the dominant force in the opening 45, but credit to Newcastle, they had looked dangerous on the break and had forced Hart into one outstanding save. Credit to the ref to who had had a busy afternoon in what had been up to now, with so much at stake, a somewhat feisty affair.
The second half kicked off with no changes to either team and City settled back into the same rhythm that they had finished the first half. It took only two minutes for the Blues to register their first half chance as Zabaleta once more got forward to swing a ball in, but his cross was poor and overplayed, when Aguero wanted it to feet.
Five minutes in and City earnt a free kick on the left of the Newcastle box 20 yards out after Perch, already on a yellow card, held Tevez back. Yaya stepped up to take the set piece, but his poor effort was always rising and drifted harmlessly over the bar.
By the 53rd minute, City had cranked up the pressure yet again as Tevez struck a sweet shot from 25 yards out, only to see Krul gather the ball. Tevez was looking very positive and seconds later exchanged a one two with Aguero, but the return ball was too heavy. Then it was Silva`s turn to shoot from distance only to see his shot blocked.
In the 61st minute, Mancini made a tactical switch, bringing off Nasri and replacing him with De Jong, who was welcomed on the pitch to a chorus of boos. This allowed Yaya to move further forward and help out in attack.
The second half had been all City and in the 64th minute, Newcastle had a rare breakaway which ended with Ben Arfa taking aim at Hart`s goal, but his shot flashed wide of the City post.
Despite this Newcastle attempt City were soon pressing again up the other end and Zabaleta and Tevez combined wonderfully in the 65th minute to earn City a corner, but nothing comes of it as Lescott was adjudged to have fouled Krul and Newcastle were awarded a free kick.
City`s second substitution then followed on 69 minutes as with 21 minutes of normal time left and with a draw not enough, Mancini went for the win introducing Dzeko for Tevez.
One minute later and everything changed as City won the ball on their left and worked it up the flank. Dzeko moved to his right, pulling the centre half with him and Yaya ran into that space, just as the ball arrived at his feet. In one fluid movement he unleashed a powerful shot that blasted it`s way past Krul and into the Newcastle net. 1-0 to the Blues and the title was within sniffing distance.
Pardew then changed things replacing Perch and Ben Arfa with Ferguson and Ameobi. The changes had little effect on the game as suddenly Aguero found himself one on one with Krul. The tricky Argentinian looked odds on to score but somehow he contrived to put his shot wide of the post.
With everything to lose, the Newcastle team upped a gear and in the 76th minute won a corner. City defended well but were soon under the cosh as Hart was a mere spectator as Ba rose majestically to head the ball goalward, only to see his attempt go wide of the post.
Next yellow of the game and the first of the second half is awarded to Zabaleta after his slid in late on substitute Ferguson, but Newcastle failed to make the free kick count. The second yellow of the half followed soon after when Ferguson, clearly riled, went in late on Silva. The diminutive Spaniard floated in the free kick himself. Yaya, like a bullet train, threw himself at the ball meeting it with his head, but the ball flew agonisingly wide.
With 6 minutes left on the clock, Yaya suddenly found himself bearing down on the Newcastle goal with only the keeper to beat. At the vital moment, as he went to change direction, with Krul already commited, the towering Ivorian lost his footing and the chance was gone. The warning signs were there for Newcastle as City went for the jugular.
City`s final substitution followed in the 85th as Richards replaced Silva. This was followed by an awesome finish to the game as Toure, the man of the moment was given time and space in the Newcastle box. He didn`t need an invitation, and majestically swept the ball home for City`s second, surely sealing the result and putting the Blues in touching distance of the title.
Three minutes of injury time were shown, and other than one Ba header, the end of the game was dominated by City. They wanted it more and you could almost feel the players` relief as they had one hand on the title. A win at home next week against QPR and City would make a generation of Blues simply exstatic. Forza Mancini and well done to the team. Special mentions to Barry and Yaya who were simply amazing today.
Joe Hart -8.5
Had little to do in the game but made two world class saves when called upon. He is no doubt the ‘World’s Stand-Out Keeper’.
Pablo Zabaleta – 8
Looked excellent defensively today and got forward with good regularity. Put in some great tackles but his final ball into the box was often poor.
Vincent Kompany – 8
Looked commanding, hard and a great leader. City are truly blessed to have this guy on their books.
Joleon Lescott – 8
Another great performance and taking his season as a whole, Joleon should be guaranteed a starting spot at Euro 2012. Without doubt playing the best football of his career.
Gael Clichy – 8
Looked brilliant defensively and got forward. His crosses were excellent and his positional sense outstanding.
Yaya Toure – 9
Dominant when on defensive duties and like an unstoppable train when allowed to go forward. A vital cog in the City machine.
Gareth Barry – 9
Another outstanding performance for City’s unsung hero. Looking like an English Makalele.
David Silva – 8
Played some great balls and defended like a terrier when needed. Had a hand in a lot of the good build up play.
Samir Nasri – 8
Playing in a purple patch at the moment and finally seems to be showing the form that prompted City to buy him.
Carlos Tevez – 7.5
Chased and harried but didn’t get in enough good positions to cause Newcastle many problems.
Sergio Aguero – 8
Came into the game in the second half when Yaya moved further forward. Looks strong on the ball and has an eye for goal. Still looking profligate in front of goal and he can only get better which is quite scary.
De Jong – 8
Came on to allow Yaya to move forward and this tactical master-stroke worked a peach as City looked totally dominant from that moment on.
Dzeko – 7.5
Dire first touch and too immobile, but he created the space that gave Yaya his first goal.
Threw himself in front of goal bound rocket of a shot within seconds of coming on and as always gave 100%.
Roberto Mancini – 9.5
A tactical genius and a seeming master of the mind game. Has taken City to the brink of what would be their greatest achievement in this writer’s lifetime.