It was only thirteen years ago that City were playing Wigan in the third tier of English football. How times have changed. City have fared slightly better than Wigan as fortunes go and tonight saw top play bottom in a game the media have said City needed to win to stop the rot (even though City were still top). A win would see City go three points clear of United and five clear of Spurs, the only two teams looking likely to mount a serious threat to The Blues title aspirations. City had won their previous four games against without conceding a goal, being only four goals shy of their season total already and with the team wanting to prove the press and the lovely Mr Hansen wrong, we expected fireworks.
Mancini was without Richards, Yaya, Kompany and Balotelli and the team line-up announced pre-kick off was as follows: Hart, Zabaleta, Savic, Lescott, Clichy, Milner, Barry, Nasri, Silva, Aguero and Dzeko. The bench consisted of: Pantillimon, Johnson, Kolarov, Hargreaves, Onuoha, De Jong and Rekik. So despite being without a number of key players, Mancini was able to call upon a very strong team that would hopefully be able to bring an end to the mini stutter the team was experiencing
City kicked off the match playing left to right and quickly launched a long ball to Dzeko who easily controlled the ball and played it across the face of Wigan`s goal. City kept Wigan pegged back in the opening exchanges until Moses broke and was adjudged to have been fouled by Nasri.
From the free kick, Wigan found Crusat on their left who delivered a great ball into City`s box. Clichy`s clearance was poor and put his team mates under pressure. Wigan called for a foul in the box but replays showed just a tangle of legs as players collapsed near the penalty spot, with Barry being involved.
After their first scare and Wigan`s first corner, City again pressed and worked the ball up field. Silva and Zabaleta combined well to find Dzeko whose header went wide of the target on four minutes. Wigan quickly worked the ball up field from the goal kick but were again forced back by City.
Seven minutes into the game and Nasri earnt City a corner on their left. The ball found Dzeko whose early header was cleared out for another corner. The second set play was passed short to Nasri who found Silva. The little Spaniard was in acres of space but his chipped shot was just too hard and cleared the cross bar.
Wigan had another attempt on ten minutes when an easy take by Lescott was fluffed and the loose ball was collected by Moses whose shot was poor and never threatened Hart.
The next ten minutes saw City press and Wigan sporadically counter attack, but for City there was no final ball in and no end product. Don`t get me wrong, the effort was there but City had not really tested Al Haabsi in the Wigan goal. .
On the stroke of twenty one minutes, Dzeko was felled by the Wigan left back, level with the eighteen yard line and a yard to the left. Silva and Nasri stood over the ball. Up stepped the little Spaniard to swing in a peach of a cross which was met by the head of Dzeko and what a head it was, power and direction saw the ball fly past the outstretched keeper and into the far corner. One nil to City and for the last ten minutes it had been coming.
Having scored first, City continued to dominate possession and play their flowing passing style of football and only seemed to concede when the ref blew up for a free kick.
Wigan`s first shot on target came in the twenty eigth minute and was easily stopped by Hart. Seconds later and City were unlucky not to be awarded a penalty after Dzeko was clearly pushed in the box by Alcaraz. The ref waved play on when it would have been more consistent to have awarded the spot kick.
As the half hour came and went City were enjoying a lot of possession and causing Wigan all sorts of problems as they played the ball around the park and pressed quickly when not in possession. Such was City`s domination, that boos were beginning to ring out around the DW Stadium as City`s full backs marauded up and down the touch lines and the midfielders played cat and mouse with their counterparts.
With five minutes of the half left, Wigan won a free kick after Lescott was adjudged to have fouled Moses. City dealt with the ball into the box as once again boos rang out around the Stadium. But Wigan were enjoying their best spell of the game having held possession for at least ninety seconds and they won a free kick two yards outside the penalty area on their left. City defended the free kick well and were quickly streaming up pitch searching for a second goal before the half time break.
City nearly made it two nil with a minute of the half left as Barry played a wonderful ball through to Silva who broke past the half way line with Aguero. The players ran towards Wigan`s box and Silva played a great through ball to Aguero whose shot was on target but saved by Al Haabsi`s legs.
As the half drew to a close, City sensibly and professionally kept possession of the ball, in no rush to play it forward and often going sideways and backwards to maintain their first half lead. We had seen some magic from Aguero and some sparkle from Silva and the half was capped by a great header by Dzeko, but importantly City were only one nil up so Wigan were still in this.
Neither manager made any changes at half time as Wigan kicked off the second half and were straight on the attack with Crusat who was well tackled by Savic. Next it was Moses on the attack as Wigan had their second penalty appeal when Moses`s cross caught Zabaleta on the upper arm. The ref rightly judged ball to hand and waved play on. City were soon back in possession, but Wigan to their credit were pressurising City from the off and forcing early errors from Mancini`s charges.
First corner of the game went to Wigan on their right after Stam`s cross was cleared by Clichy. Play was stopped momentarily as the linesman`s flag was replaced and then Gomez was cleared to take the corner. The corner was played short and then swung in by Stam. City cleared easily and moved the ball patiently up field.
The opening eight minutes had been Wigan`s best spell in the game as they went for the all important goal. They were playing a 4-2-4 formation and this was almost their downfall when Savic caught Moses in possession and surged forward. First Silva, then Aguero and finally Dzeko all spurned chances in an amazing two minutes spell that saw Al-Haabsi make two world class saves and smother the ball twice to save his team from going two down.
On the stroke of fifty seven minutes we saw an ugly challenge by Figueroa who went over the ball with both feet off the ground and caught Nasri on the top of his boot. A free kick was awarded, but likely due to the foul being against a City player and not being carried out by one, no further punishment was issued.
First yellow of the game was issued to Wigan`s McArthur for his attempted rugby tackle on Dzeko as City`s striker carried the ball towards Wigan`s goal. City earnt a throw in from the free kick and from the throw Clichy played a wonderful ball into the Wigan box which flew invitingly across the face of goal and was amazingly missed by everyone until Figueroa cleared for a corner.
With twenty three minutes left Martinez replaced McArthur and Crusat with Di Santo and Robson. Wigan had faded in the last ten minutes and they needed some added energy and pace.
Robson was immediately involved playing a free kick in toward Di Santo, but the delivery was poor and cleared easily.
Seconds later and Wigan nearly had their equaliser after the ball was cheaply given away by City in midfield. Only a magnificent save by Hart saved City`s blushes.
Following the substitutions, Wigan started to play with an added urgency and energy and they were forcing City deeper and deeper, but each time they looked like creating something, their final ball in was poor.
Mancini to his credit reacted quickly to the change in the ebb and flow of the game, withdrawing Nasri and sending De Jong in to add some bite to midfield.
City were looking less dazzling and much more work man like tonight as they defended resolutely and didn`t commit too many bodies up pitch when they were attacking. With twelve minutes left, Milner earnt City a corner, De Jong gave the ball away with his first touch and Zabaleta was forced to take a yellow card, stopping the breaking Wigan player in his tracks. There then followed two more yellows, first to McArther for Wigan and then De Jong for City.
With ten minutes to go, Mancini made another change withdrawing Silva and replacing him with Onuoha who last played for City over two years earlier. Wigan then replaced Gomez with McManaman. .
Almost immediately following the changes, City had another quick break up pitch. Aguero found Dzeko whose shot was brilliantly saved again by the Wigan stopped who had kept his side in the match in the second half.
Wigan were in truth seeing more of the ball as the half wore on, but their game was littered with mistakes and the new formation, playing with three centre backs seemed to throw them.
City`s best chance of the game came in the eighty third minute after excellent work by Dzeko. The tall striker found Milner on the right and after two touches, Milner played Aguero through on goal. With only the keeper to beat, City`s leading scored shot across the face of goal, beating the keeper but also beating the far post.
Wigan earnt a corner on their right with three minutes of normal time left. City cleared the ball easily and City were once again subjected to crap refereeing. As the ball was cleared, City were left one on one with Aguero against Figueroa. The Wigan defender was clearly beaten to the ball by Aguero and he used his hand to stop play. With Aguero through on goal and no covering defender, even though this happened near the half way line, the rule of law states a red card must be issued. Not if you are playing against Manchester City. Milner was booked in the ensuing melee as City players surrounded the ref.
As the clock ticked past ninety minutes and four minutes of injury time were added, Mancini made his final substitution replacing Aguero with Johnson. City were holding on as Wigan launched long ball after long ball at the wall of red and black stripes. Four minutes came and went and as the final whistle blew, City took a very valuable three points, grinding out an important victory.
Joe Hart – 8
Played his 150th game today. Made two very good saves but other than that was not tested. His kicking seems to have improved.
Pablo Zabaleta – 7.5
Did a good job getting forward and kept Wigan’s left midfielder and full back busy all night.
Stefan Savic – 7
Beaten once or twice early on, but settled into the game and looked more composed than last week.
Joleon Lescott – 8
Gave the ball away a couple of times but wasn’t beaten once in the air and led the defence brilliantly.
Gael Clichy – 7
Had a good game although amazingly was beaten for pace by Moses toward the end of the second half.
Gareth Barry – 8
Got stuck in today and was as ever Mr Reliable. His passing rarely found anyone other than his team mates.
James Milner – 7.5
he brings and industry and vigour to the team that not many other players do and well deserves his place ahead of De Jong.
David Silva – 7.5
Not his best game for City but he still pops up everywhere and sees passes no one else does. Delivered the perfect ball for Dzeko’s goal.
Samir Nasri – 7
A better game today and took a serious tackle that should have been a red card from Figueroa
Edin Dzeko – 8
A great game today. Scored the winning goal and his all round play was excellent.
Sergio Aguero – 7.5
Did everything but score tonight.
De Jong – 6
Got booked and gave the ball away. Not the player he was last year.
Onuoha – 7
Slotted into defence like he never left. His first game in two years.
Too late to mark.
Roberto Mancini – 7.5
It was all about the result tonight. Not a pretty game, but the three points went to City. Needs to look at why City aren’t scoring, as they are creating enough chances.
Once again City faced a couple of pretty poor decisions. An over the top challenge on Nasri by Figueroa that could have broken Nasri’s foot and a deliberate professional hand ball by the last man (again Figueroa) which was only given a yellow. I am not saying there is an anti-City plot but I have never seen so many bad decisions go against City week in week out since I have been supporting the Club. SORT IT OUT!