The Ped Report Wigan 0-2 City
A potentially awkward fixture presented itself at the DW Stadium tonight where a Wigan side, these days renowned for attempting to play the king's brand of football without the budget of a prince, stood in the way of City and progress towards that second title.
This has been a difficult place to visit since Roberto Martinez took over as his well-organised teams give everyone a game as Stretford's finest found out to their chagrin last season, when their defeat here had the white flag ready for unrolling along Sir Matt Busby Way.
Mancini selected a team with one eye on the Champions League next week and two eyes on the match that follows. Garcia was restored to holding midfield and the out of favour Balotelli was to spear head the attack leaving Aguero playing one behind. I can see both Garcia and Balotelli playing in Germany with a couple of more important players adoring the freezing cold bench.
The match started in predictable fashion with City dominating proceedings and with a lively Wigan not keen to live in their shadow. Forward motion was the word and architect-in-chief Silva was charged with the creative effort. Time and again however he had to hang on to the final killer pass as Balotelli flirted with the offside line and time and again promising attacks came to zero.
Wigan for their part kept going and caused their own threats and Kompany had to be on his toes to block a goalbound shot. Indeed VK looks to be getting somewhere near his dominant best with Nastasic seemingly settled in alongside him. Zabaleta and Maicon guarded the flanks giving the opportunity of switching to three at the back if need be.
Too often Balotelli chose the wrong channels and the danger always came to a full stop. City must be the only team in the world who don't seem to practice corners or free kicks as time and again the ceremonial chances came to naught. For their part Wigan too managed to force dead ball situations almost every time they went forward, but there is a robustness coming back to City's play now and Kompany and Hart are determined to keep their door shut.
Aguero had City's best chance of the half, anticipating a poor header on half way, he got free behind but lost all his advantages as the ball ran in favour of the defender. Back at the other end Gomez tried a tree-felling exercise and I was surprised to see his swallow dive not rewarded as it would had it been Balotelli. However, in the next move he felled Barry and duly got his admonishment.
As the half was about to close a full on run by Yaya on the left almost opened Wigan up but Al Habsi was untroubled.
The second half commenced with City again in the ascendancy and after five minutes the neat right hand side move between Silva and the overlapping Zabaleta produce a pinpoint cross for Balotelli to head wide of an empty net.
City were looking more than capable of keeping out of trouble, but needed a cutting edge up front. There still isn't a sharpness about City's attacking play, but they are still on the threshold of leading the title race any time the Stretfords decide to slip up. The half time scores suggested that it would not be tonight.
The next move also saw a far-out shot from Silva hit the heights rather than the back of the net as City tried everything to get forward and score. Yaya was still off radar with his final touch and sometimes his first touch as the Maroons made it easy for their opponents.
With Yaya at last getting more advanced he and Silva were at the fulcrum of everything City tried but the killer touch was still absent and Mancini was getting more and more agitated, as seems to be his want these days.
On the hour Wigan almost carved out a chance but the final header streamed just around the post.
So as the hour approached Mancini needed more verve and vigour than he saw being produced on this field so it was Garcia off and the effervescent Milner on. Straight away things looked a little more lively. Barry got himself yellow carded but just as we though the value of Milner's introduction was starting to wear thin, two astonishing things happened.
Barry hit one from the edge of the box which for once Al Habsi couldn't handle, it rebounded to the inevitable Balotelli who couldn't turn it in, but for once luck favoured him as it rebounded back to him off the keeper and the unlikeliest of figures opened the scoring.
Three minutes later the deserving and always patient Milner hit a thunderbolt, which simply flew in as he latched on to Barry's pass along the edge of the box. 2-0 might have flattered City, but hey, we'll take that eh?
We just had time for Maicon to miss making it 3-0 before an injury to Milner forced him to leave the field. It must have been the best and most productive cameo in City's recent history. Has anyone told Balotelli - that's the way to do it. Dzeko showed the way against West Brom and Milner produced just what was needed at just the right time.
This at least left a smile on the City faces. The team is still winning in difficult circumstances and with Chelsea losing ground again by drawing with Fulham we are almost writing them off in the title race. There is only one place the title looks to be heading, especially if Stretford stay in the Champions League. They might have won tonight to keep their red noses in front, but City won by more and once again the spectre of goal difference takes on a new shape.
City did the job. Only two goals against in eight now for the crumbling weary defence that is starting to look settled as Kompany finds a new soul-mate in Nastasic who is doing what Savic couldn't last term.
It was a hard result for Wigan, but they do just lack the quality that you need to beat City. I thought Barry was again supreme in doing the dirty work and Garcia will need to look at that if he is to play in the defensive midfield roles when Yaya goes on his Sahara soujourn.
Conversely, City still do give you the feeling that they can catch the result anywhere except in the Champions League.
all times East Manchester
Sa 01Dec 15h00 Everton, The Etihad, PL
Tu 04Dec 19h45 B Dortmund, Signal Iduna Park, CL
Su 09Dec 13h30 The rags, The Etihad, PL
Sa 15Dec 12h45 Newcastle, St James' Park, PL
Sa 22Dec 15h00 Reading, The Etihad, PL
We 26Dec 15h00 Sunderland, Stadium of Light, PL
Sa 29Dec 15h00 Norwich, Carrow Road, PL