Writer: Tranmere Loyal
Date:Monday October 22 2012
When your next port of call is the country's highest-above-sea-level football ground, it is not exactly Mexico City, but it might be an uphill struggle. Factor in that your hosts haven't dropped a point at home all season and the gradient steepens. It becomes an uphill fight.
Top it off with Mark Clattenburg named as referee and, if you are Manchester City, you know your way back to towards the summit will need to be achieved short-handed, and when the inevitable happens, the uphill battle takes on Everest proportions.
And so it proved at the Hawthorns against West Bromwich Albion. The Baggies are never shy at offering up an attractive style at their tight-knit stadium, where almost every opposing team struggles to get any kind of result. They quietly go about building a reasonable side which might never ignite the Premier League but which will always give the component parts an uncomfortable afternoon.
The Elite came to town today and it was no exception. Determined to try to keep the clean run of one moving along, Mancini was reluctant to over-shuffle the pack but against the background of International Week and the do-or-die Champions League experience against Ajax of Amsterdam to come, one or two found themselves on the bench again, Aguero amongst them, with the newsworthy Balotelli once again given his chance to shine against modest opposition not known for wind-up football, especially in their own camp.
With Silva and Garcia on the sick sheet, Mancini went with his "English" based line up containing, Hart, Richards, Lescott, Barry and Milner. Zabaleta joined Sinclair on the bench with Kolarov, Aguero and Dzeko the day's Plan B. Nasri was tasked with being "Silva for a day".
The Baggies got the game under way as you would expect from a home side confident in their environment, but City looked comfortable and soon took command. But as always with City, there is a sub-plot.
After a couple of early chances falling to Balotelli and Richards, the former found his way into Clattenburg's notebook for a trade mark unnecessary retaliatory challenge on Yacob and was lucky to escape further censure when he mapped out a late challenge on Long just ahead of the break and then kept the argument with Clattenburg going until the teams had left the field, Richards and Hart providing the mediatory skills.
In amongst all this, of course, the sub plot thickened.
Kompany, bringing the ball out of defence and crossing the half way line didn't spot the options as quickly as he should and was robbed. The Baggies moved the ball swiftly to Long, just onside, just ahead of the backline and the hitherto excellent Milner had little option but to attempt the dreaded lateral sliding tackle that inevitably ended with him on his way to the dressing room. Lescott could be said to have been in reasonably close attendance, but much as it grieves me to admit it, Clattenburg probably got this call correct.
So as predicted, City were down to ten men with around seventy minutes still to play.
This team of overpaid mercenaries however has one feature that not everybody gives them credit for - grit and determination. They have an ability to stick together. They have an ability to prise an extra ounce out of themselves when they need to.
The dilemma facing Mancini at the break was whether to persevere with Balotelli. He had looked dangerous but was also walking the disciplinary tightrope and had it not been for some leniency shown by the officials just before and at half time, City could and probably should have been facing the second half with nine men.
The decision to keep him on looked to have been vindicated just ahead of half time when Mario outstripped three markers on the left-hand edge of the box, cut inside directing a curling shot around Foster, only for it to hit the keeper's knee and rebound to safety. Definitely a transition from the ridiculous to the sublime.
The second half got under way with City lucky to still have ten men on the field based upon the Balotelli half-time outburst. Tevez got the afterburners going bringing a good save from Foster and then getting upended on the edge-of-the-box. From the resultant free kick, first Richards and then Yaya should have put City in front but the finally header from Yaya visited the terraces.
With an hour gone, Albion sent on Odemwinge and immediately he started to have an impact. Using his pace in the left hand channels he cut inside and although his goalbound shot didn't have the legs, Long gambled by creeping in behind Lescott and coolly diverting it beyond Hart.
In days gone by the "Game Over" light would have ignited, but this City team is better than that and all it did was light the fuse for a true endgame battle.
First, off came Balotelli for Aguero and finally on came Dzeko for Barry. City moved forward quickly and at times fluidly, but were always mindful of the threat of Odemwinge and then Lukaku.
Clichy found space wide left before being unceremoniously floored. Tevez, amazingly without a goal in six, turned provider as he sent the kick into the mix and Dzeko running away from goal back headed into the net to make it 1-1.
In days gone by City might have settled for that having recovered from a goal down with only ten men, but not this team.
That said, in the next few minutes Lukaku could have had a hat trick. He was inches away from restoring the Baggies lead twice and in stoppage time brought a superb save out of Hart after an equally superb overhead kick.
From the resultant corner, Dzeko cleared from the edge of his own box, playing a long pass seventy yards down the right and finding Aguero.
He then set off like a Serengeti Ostrich and by the time that Aguero had drawn the cover over to his side and slid the ball into the space beyond, it went straight into the stride of Dzeko who hammered it beyond Foster and into the Sunday papers.
Ladies and Gentlemen - that's why we're Champions. This was a true performance of a team who might be a few points behind Chelsea right now, but who are not going to hand in the trophy to The Premier League without a fight. And fight they did against a side that played some superb football, had the game won and then threw it away themselves looking for victory.
There is a route one, one-two alternative to Mancini's men, a pace and directness that we don't see often, but did it count on Saturday?
No wonder Mancini lost his voice!
all times East Manchester
We 24 Oct 19h45 Ajax, Amsterdam Arena, CL
Sa 27 Oct 17h30 Swansea City, The Etihad, PL
Sa 03Nov 17h30 West Ham, Upton Park, PL
Tu 06 Nov 19h45 Ajax, The Etihad, CL
Su 11 Nov 13h30 Spurs, The Etihad, PL
Sa 17 Nov 15h00 Aston Villa, The Etihad, PL
We 21 Nov 19h45 Real Madrid, The Etihad, CL
Su 25 Nov 16h00 Chelsea, Stamford Bridge, PL
We 28 Nov 20h00 Wigan, DW Stadium, PL
Date:Monday October 22 2012
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