Date: 22nd March 2015 at 12:49pm
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Following a miserable week in the life of this Manchester City team, it was time to restore the belief that, if results could go their way and they could win all of the remaining matches, maybe just maybe the Barclays Premier League title need not necessarily be on its way to the Stretford hotbed of London.

Added pressure for this match was the possibility that, if City squandered the points and there was an unexpected result at Anfield this weekend, those ghastly creatures from a stadium just outside Manchester could actually overtake City in the league standings.

In 2012 it was this fixture that finally taught City to believe. With United at Wigan, City were playing another West Bromwich Albion side who as usual were no mugs. City were doing nothing at 0-0 when news filtered through that Wigan were leading against the world’s champions elect and suddenly the belief levels went through the Etihad ceilings and the Blues went on to return four quick goals.

This year, with only league position to play for, the spectre of a Tony Pulis eleven heading for the Etihad, when a win was essential, would not have been an encounter of choice. It would be a typical line-up with a heavily packed midfield camped close to a back four which was to include ex-City champion Joleon Lescott, as usual warmly welcomed on his return to his former footballing home. They would hope too to hit City on the break with the pace of Berahino hopefully getting a free run at the back four backed from midfield by Sessegnon who has often played well against City and has been known to score a late winner.

Add into the mix ex-Stretford Fletcher who scored United’s goal when City whacked them 1-6 and and Boaz Myhill, often a goalkeeping hero against City, the stage was set for another frustrating afternoon as has become the norm against such opposition this season.

For his part Manuel Pellegrini must have read previous Ped Reports and fielded what would be my back four of choice, which I would now like to see in tow for the rest of the season. The steel of Zabaleta was returned alongside Kompany with Mangala and Clichy partnered on the left of the defence. He selected Fernando and Lampard as the protection with Navas and Silva the flair. Bony was detailed to accompany Aguero up top.

Once again it was essentially a 4-4-2 line-up, which is not a favourite of the Pedmachine designed to face up to a 4-5-1 at the other end. This has not really been a successful formula for City in this campaign.

But the battle plans were up for re-design as early as the first attack of the match when Bony latched on to a poor looking back pass from Dawson and was muscled to the ground as the goalscoring opportunity opened up. To his credit and unlike his counterparts at Stretford, Stamford Bridge and the Emirates, Bony bounced up and was then tackled by McAuley.

Referee Neil Swarbrick had blown for the free-kick on the extremes of the penalty area and decided to send off the perpetrator. He actually sent off McAuley, the wrong man, but either way the Baggies were down to ten men and their plan to smother City was in tatters.

Plan B was an extention of plan A. Simply waste time and run down the clock at every opportunity and stifle the life out of the game. And so the Baggies wasted the first half hour until an incisive pass wormed its way to Bony, back to goal. It needed seriously good touches to bring it under control and in a flash, Bony had trapped it, turned and hammered it into the top corner to open his scoring account for City. The grades were delighted and this would probably open some sort of floodgates as Albion now needed to look for an equaliser.

It didn’t look much like the case, as West Brom seemed happy to settle for defeat. Almost immediately a venomous shot from Navas was palmed away by Myhill. Aguero was beavering away with neat position-switching with Bony but everything that the Mighty Atom tried today missed by an inch, was blocked by a toe or saved by Myhill. Lampard too should have got in on the act but of his two clear chances in the first half one was skied into level two and the other was saved at the near post when the far post was the better option.

Then just ahead of the break City doubled their lead ostensibly from a corner. We all know that City demonstrate little propensity to score from dead ball situations. Kompany for once got to the ball early. The deflected header was going wide but Fernando stuck out a toe and in it went.

At least this set off the release valves to the extent that it was decreed that there would be no drinks available at half time due to an issue with United Utilities who for some reason had interrupted the water supply to the stadium.

The second half yielded more of the same as the one-way traffic steamed in on the Baggies goal. But once again untidy finishing, last gasp defending and heroics from Myhill who was to make two more excellent saves looked like depriving City of a goals-for-bonus.

Silva pulled the strings patiently and at times effectively, but nothing went Aguero’s way and Bony’s box of tricks were put to use, but he too couldn’t add to his first City goal after finding Myhill equal to his best production.

After 65 minutes the ineffective Lampard was replaced by Jovetic who at least tried to liven up the lethargy. His weaving runs tried to open up things on the edge of the Baggies box, but all too often the outcome was simply to retain the ball and switch play around to Navas who had done a great job down the right in tandem with Zabaleta.

With 73 minutes on the clock Albion finally produced the kind of attack that their game plan would have included as Berahino got clear and headed against the bar which bounced clear. A goal then would have generated an interesting ending but it spurred City to get themselves to the other end.

This included more neat passing initiated by Silva with Navas and Aguero again being beaten by inches, but finally after 78 minutes, Jovetic fired in a shot which might just have been heading in a bottom corner when Silva made sure by diverting it past Myhill.

Bony was replaced by Dzeko and finally Silva took his ovation as Milner was introduced to add insurance and iron to the untested defence. City still went close with Dzeko shaving the outside of the post but it was simply about closing out the match, and after their trials and tribulations of the last week, keeping a clean sheet.

Mission was accomplished so the pressure reverts elsewhere. United have to go to Anfield where I would like to see a Liverpool win if only because it might help Sue sleep a bit more easily, but of course can elephant man one mastermind a result against mastermind two when Maureen’s men arrive at the KC in Hull?

For me now City should keep a steady back four in the mould of that put out today. Clichy adds more to the game than Kolarov and I want to see Kompany, maligned in these pages, have steady partners in the shape of Zabaleta and Mangala.

I have said that I would prefer Yaya and Milner in centre-midfield flanked by Silva and Navas if we are to play two up front. I would persevere with Aguero and Bony. Dzeko has gone back into his shell and Jovetic won’t be playing Premier League football next season, at least not with City. Bony is big, muscular and lively and always looks as though he has a goal in him. The same cannot be said for Dzeko this season and Jovetic spends too much time in sick bay.

If Yaya doesn’t fancy one more push then put in Fernandinho. I think he adds more than the disappointing Fernando.

If City can win all of the remaining matches who knows what the outcome of the season might be. City have been here before and teams in front of City have crumbled on the home straight before. Does the Etihad believe this season?

 
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