The Ped Report Wigan Athletic 0-1 City
Roberto Mancini fielded his best available eleven at the DW tonight, with Silva restored to midfield and de Jong heading for the bench, for what looked to be a potentially tricky fixture against a team that found itself at the foot of the table after the weekend`s results. Zabaleta, standing in for Richards got the armband. Savic once again lined up alongside Lescott.
Wigan are a game footballing side at home and taking into account the manner in which Swansea disposed of Arsenal on Sunday must have taken some heart from that. Indeed they have held both Chelsea and Liverpool at the DW so visiting sides do have to work here.
City got into attack mode from the off but almost found themselves embarrassed at the end of Wigan`s first attack when Barry bundled over a Wigan forward and could easily have seen the referee point to the spot. For once generosity favoured the division`s top club to the amazement of Martinez men.
City suffered more confusion in their makeshift defence, where at one point Rodallega got between Hart and a clearance and was penalised by the referee, Martin Atkinson.
City started to get into their stride but promising attacks came to abrupt ends with Aguero going too early and running offside. Wigan too were game playing some good football with Moses and Crusat looking a threat.
Midway through the first half a free kick from the maestro Silva found Dzeko towering above the Wigan defence to head home a much needed goal for self and team. It was unnecessary foul by Alcaraz and it cost his team dearly. Maybe they`ll send him to Alcatraz. It was Dzeko`s first goal in twelve matches.
Nasri started to look as though he meant business with a couple of robust challenges that were penalised in favour of Wigan, who were next to show testing Hart from distance.
Milner`s role tonight was the impossible task of emulating the absent Yaya Toure. Although an accomplished player in his own right he had as much chance as a jobbing session guitarist becoming a Richard Thompson tribute.
He did work tirelessly though, keeping the ball moving and bringing Nasri into the game. Silva was constantly showing and was moving the ball quickly, finding his men with ease as City kept up the pressure in the Wigan half. Wigan in turn, were forced to work hard without the ball for long periods.
Silva and Aguero carved out an interesting counter attack ahead of half time bringing a good save from Al Habsi. City professionally saw the game through to half time.
Wigan have done reasonably well salvaging points from losing positions this season, especially against Chelsea, so they know how to graft in the second half, so City had to be on their mettle from the restart. As we know this is prime scoring time for City with many games either won or cemented in this ten-minute period.
Wigan were not going to stand on ceremony though and looked very lively from the restart. One or two frights came City`s way especially from an error by Barry but he recovered in exemplary fashion. But nobody had told Wigan that this was "City time" as they pressed from left, right and centre before the linesman`s damaged flag held up play. Rodallega was starting to get back to his best, roaming into spaces and making telling passes, but City forced them to shoot from afar and from positions that rarely trouble Joe Hart. Lescott was taking command at the back and Savic looked much more comfortable than in his last outing.
Two great saves by Al Habsi from Dzeko and Silva kept Wigan in the match as City got back on track and then as Aguero carved a chance out of nothing Dzeko trying to steal it tapped it into the keepers grateful arms. Aguero and Mancini were mystified.
The game had opened out incredibly with Wigan giving it a go and the attacks going end-to-end in basketball fashion. Quite how Figueroa got away with a nasty challenge on Nasri astonished the entire stadium. The resultant free kick was a waste.
Wigan replaced Crusat and McArthur for the fresh legs of Watson and di Santo in a bid to turn things in their favour and perhaps restructuring to 4-3-3.. It nearly paid dividends at once with a poor pass from Milner setting up di Santo who brought a good save from Hart. Wigan were stepping up to the plate and Milner was looking a little ragged as City retreated perhaps too deep.
City needed the ball and needed to re-establish an attacking platform, but paid Wigan the compliment of bringing on defensive cover in the shape of de Jong, who in recent matches has worried me. Nasri made the sacrifice, once again not sustaining any momentum to his performance.
Wigan kept up the tempo with some neat football and were pressing City trying to stretch them wide and deep. The Blues were too much in retreat and their forward football was untidy. Nails were being bitten in the visitor`s seats. Wrong decisions were being made by City as Wigan kept it going.
Zabaleta had to take a yellow following an awful pass by de Jong which threatened to expose the City defence. In the next City attack McCarthy also found his way into Atkinson`s notebook. Then de Jong`s second contribution got him a yellow.
City then sacrificed Silva for Onuoha so that City could go with three centre backs and push the full backs further up as they did recently against Stretford. Nedum in my opinion has been given a hard time at City which is not good for such a dedicated young footballer who at one time would have died for the shirt and has not really ever let City down.
Aguero missed another acceptable but tricky chance from the edge of the box as Dzeko was starting to look jaded. Lescott gave away an unnecessary free kick as he has done on several occasions this season loading pressure on City`s six yard box, Dzeko cleared.
Mancini may as well have been with the fans as he looked on nervously as his charges tried hard to forage for the ball under relentless Wigan pressure. Even de Jong relieved this by simply hacking the ball upfield to nobody.
Figueroa introduced the night`s talking point with a deliberate hand ball on half way with Aguero set to be set free and Mancini was once again waving his imaginary cards at the fourth official.
As the match passed into added time Aguero made way for Johnson in a bid to wind down the 4 minutes added on by Mr Atkinson. City were breathing hard and holding on for dear life as Wigan threw everything at City. Some of the defending was not pretty and the style might not have been what we have come to expect. At each hurried clearance the ball came straight back at the central defenders and I don`t think any City team this season has been so relieved to hear a final whistle just ahead of which Hart made the most important save of the night.
Wigan probably deserved more than they got tonight. I have said before on the Ped Report that Martinez does not sacrifice his football beliefs against anybody and his tactical knowledge is as good as any in the Premier League. He just doesn`t have the playing personnel. His boys work hard for him and are a long way from the tactical misfits employed by Steve Bruce in his days there. For me it will be a total injustice if this team does not get out of relegation trouble and that other teams playing poorer quality football survive.
For City`s part this is precisely what it means to "win ugly". They toiled for much of the second half as Martinez saw the opportunities and deployed his plan B and plan C. Clichy was not at his best, but there were some creditable performances around the field. Barry was more like his usual self and Milner kept up the energy and tackle flow. Dzeko looks a bit more like it with his goal adding confidence. He took a bit of a whacking from the Wigan centres. Aguero is the yardstick. He runs and challenges for everything, never gives up and tries so hard to carve out chances.
Wigan`s midfield was combatively impressive tonight. They too moved the ball quickly and accurately and with a little more movement around the opposition box could have hurt City. In the end they didn`t damage Lescott and Savic and if they did the world`s best net minder was waiting for them.
Three points clear and for once playing first on Sunday when we could be six clear by the time the Stretfords take the field at the Emirates. We will need to sharpen up considerably against Spuds. Their forwards will not give slack defending a second chance.
For tonight at least Manchester`s team at the top of the league didn`t go the same way as the last team from near here, when they were top and they played the bottom team from Lancashire. A scruffy 1-0 suited City tonight.