Manchester City’s very own ‘Team GB’ burned as bright as the Olympic flame as the Premier League champions summoned up a last minute hurrah to get over the line at the Etihad Stadium.
Bradley Wiggins, Mo Farah and Jessica Ennis are all sporting icons after their Olympian heroics, but the City faithful are hailing their own cherished ‘GB’ – the unassuming Gareth Barry – after his herculean efforts grabbed all three points.
In monsoon conditions, City were a country mile off their personal best, but Roberto Mancini’s men possess a gold medal mentality nowadays and just keep on going.
A strangely lethargic display belied all the pre-match forecasts of a festive goal fest against rock-bottom Reading, but no one – Brian McDermott apart – could honestly deny City were not deserving of the win.
Having conceded at the rate of more than two goals per game, the visitors didn’t just park the proverbial bus, they fitted four wheel clamps and a steering wheel lock…and it worked for 91 minutes.
Pedestrian build ups and too much ‘tippy-tappy’ football on the edge of the Reading 18 yard box, had seen a 47,000 strong crowd grow increasingly grumpy.
Some Johnny Come Lately types even thought booing the team at the half time whistle was somehow constructive – you meet the strangest folk at football matches.
Loyal and ‘puddled’ fans alike had just about given up the ghost when City pushed forward in added time down the left flank. The tireless Zabaleta laid the ball to ‘Merlin’ Silva who waved his wand like left foot and delivered the most tempting of crosses into the heart of the resolute Reading rearguard.
Barry surged forward, hanging hawk-like in the air above the shirking Nicky Shorey ready to attack his prey – and attack he most certainly did – powering his header past the valiant Adam Federici in the Reading goal.
The Etihad erupted at the prospect of maximum points as Barry slid in celebration towards the corner flag – the hero of the hour.
Underrated and too often pilloried by the jaundiced journalists who seek to undermine City, Barry is being seen in a different light by the Sky Blue faithful.
He may have landed himself a bizarre ban for an ‘eloquent’ exchange with the contaminated, some may even suggest, corrupt clown Clattenburg, but in so doing, GB went up in the estimation of just about every City blue.
Recalled immediately, and he’s showing the likes of Edin Dzeko how to bulldoze your way through a defence and snatch the spoils.
It’s a cliché and a fact that a win is a win, but it was a somewhat underwhelming victory.
That said, Roberto Mancini has been shorn of a shedload of players in recent weeks. Richards, Rodwell, Maicon, Kolarov, Clichy, Nasri and Balotelli were all ruled out, Kompany was a tentative substitute and Milner a likewise benchwarmer, recovering from a pulled hamstring.
Dutch prodigy Karim Rekik was drafted in for a first senior start at left back, and gave an accomplished display that bodes well for the future.
The debutant incurred the ire of the likeable, but clearly on this occasion, mad as a hatter McDermott, who claimed, an innocuous 55th minute coming together between Rekik and Jay Tabb was a clear penalty.
Similarly, the Reading boss claimed Barry had held Shorey down for the winning goal – Brian, you really really should have gone to Specsavers.
City’s domination, reflected by 62% possession and 17 shots of which 10 were on target, contrasted with Reading’s solitary testing of Joe Hart.
It was a game of little excitement. Nastasic had an 11thminute header saved on the line, Tevez a 16th minute shot smothered by Federici and the goalkeeper did well to stop Barry’s bullet like header in the 35th minute.
The avalanche of goals never materialised, but City’s fortitude and Mancini-inspired mentality meant, they garnered maximum points and closed the gap on Manchester United.
Two testing away games will see out City’s 2012 campaign and influence the likelihood of 2013 success. Boxing Day at Sunderland – scene of the scandalous New Year’s Day defeat with 94th minute offside winner – and then Norwich, venue of last season’s other 6-1 away win.
It won’t be easy but City are more than capable of making it four wins on the bounce, since the derby day reversal.
The irony is that in wanting to overhaul their bitterest foe they must emulate them and draw on adversity to inspire success.
Maybe, this City team are gearing up to come on stronger in the second half of the season? If that’s the case they’ll be going for gold and, more importantly, getting it.