MAN CITY 1 WBA 0 – Wembley warmer nets Champions League spot

Edin Dzeko stepped up with a farewell flourish as City bagged all three points against the Baggies, while focusing on this weekend’s FA Cup Final.

City boss Roberto Mancini tested the depth of his star spangled squad, making eight changes from the sleepy affair in South Wales which produced not much of anything, in a tame 0-0 draw with Swansea.

An irregular Tuesday night slot to catch up on a fixture that fell foul to City’s FA Cup success, belied the importance of the game to Mancini’s men.

A win would guarantee Champions League qualification – once the holy grail for a Manchester City side pre-Sheikh Mansour – but now viewed as the minimum reward from regular season football.

Anything less than what is becoming a routine City win in this fixture, would’ve left the door open on the Premier League runners- up spot to a resurgent Chelsea.

As it was, a complete change of the back line – Richards, Kolarov, Lescott and Kolo – in for Zabaleta, Clichy, Kompany and Nastasic, did nothing to loosen Joe Hart’s grip on the coveted Golden Gloves Award. This was City’s 17th PL clean sheet, so England’s No 1 takes the accolade for a third successive year, in tandem with City maintaining the meanest defence.

Yaya, Barry and Silva were all withheld in readiness for Wigan, heralding a welcome return for the oh so promising Jack Rodwell, and the player upon whom most City fans cannot agree – Javi Garcia.

Now a regular member of the Spanish international set-up, Garcia had a burgeoning reputation with Benfica, and had been watched by City for a good 12 months before his deadline day switch last August.

Whether this season goes down as a year of adapting to the English game or whether Javi will be on his way to La Liga in a summer move remains to be seen.

Goalscorer, Dzeko and Carlos Tevez completed the octet of changes, leaving a bench of Aguero, Silva, Barry, Nastasic, Razak, Maicon and Pantilimon.

West Brom – virtually assured of their highest placed PL finish of 8th –started at a pace with Romelu Lukaku looking sharp, direct and purposeful as he ran at the unfamiliar looking City defence, shooting a fraction wide.

Despite the wholesale change of personnel, City were slow to add tempo to their passing game, with Aleksander Kolarov adding drama to the proceedings with a kick to Gabriel Tamas’ head.

Kolarov saw red – thankfully just the claret stuff pouring from Tamas’s wound – as referee Phil Dowd applied a yellow card to address the Serbian’s over-zealous challenge.

As City played their way into the game it was Kolarov’s simple inside pass that allowed Tevez to unleash a storming 18 yard drive that blasted against Boaz Myhill’s bar with the Albion keeper beaten.

Tevez turned provider in the 35th minute, latching onto a delightfully ‘dinked’ pass from Rodwell and running the length of Albion’s half. His perfect pullback from the byline to  Dzeko, was taken on the volley by the out-of-sorts Bosnian and caressed into the corner of the Albion net.

The on-fire Argentine then played a square ball to James Milner whose low, powerful drive beat Myhill all ends up from 30 yards, only to glance off the outside of the post.

Tevez played a neat pass to the rampaging Rodwell inside the Albion 18-yard area as half time approached, only for the eager young Englishman to sky his effort into the crowd.

The second half resembled the first, with Albion setting the pace. An early Garcia foul on Markus Rosenburg saw the striker crash the ball against Hart’s bar with the resultant free kick.

Hart’s lightning reactions saved a certain WBA equaliser, when Billy Jones latched onto the ricochet off the upright with a goal-bound header. Acrobatic Hart’s palm beat the ball away to safety for the hosts.

It was a strange affair – City could’ve scored five or six goals, but the woodwork and a profligacy that has dogged them all season long, restricted them to the solitary strike.

Albion, perversely could have been dead and buried and yet were always in the hunt for an equaliser, right up until the closing seconds. Substitute, Shane Long shot wide having nipped in front of Lescott, firing into the side netting and deceiving the somewhat Spartan travelling support, who thought the ball had gone in.

By the final whistle it was job done. Mancini had gambled on his team selection and emerged with the spoils, all but extinguishing Chelsea’s hopes of catching them in second place.

Dzeko remain’s City’s top scorer in the PL with 13, while the main weapon in Mancini’s armoury – Aguero –  was kept fresh in readiness for the Cup Final.

Rodwell, while making a very impactive return, was incorrectly awarded the Man-of-the-Match laurels – they should have gone to Tevez who was superb throughout.

Time is running out for a heartfelt campaign of ‘Sign Him Up, Sign Him Up, Sign Him Up’ chanting, but on this irrepressible showing, Tevez would be welcome to remain at the Etihad beyond 2014.

A deserved win and competent display acted as the hors d’oeuvre before the mains being served on Saturday ‘tea-time’ when the pie eaters become the ‘eated’.

 

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