Manchester City’s thoroughly deserved 2-1 win at The Hawthorns was undoubtedly the late late Edin Dzeko show as 10-man City persevered in adversity.
But it was a victory built on a resilience, self belief and strength of purpose stemming from that memorable, last minute, title-clinching win over QPR last May.
Has there ever been a team more aware of the rewards to be had by keeping going until the final whistle, than Roberto Mancini’s men – I think not.
This was as dramatic a win as you’ll see all season as City kept their composure, stayed patient and ultimately triumphed after being a man down for 75 minutes of play.
At first glance James Milner’s 20thminute red card for sending Shane Long tumbling seemed harsh. However, replays showed that the industrious Milner was City’s last man when he downed the Albion forward.
It was unjust in that Milner paid the price for his captain’s indiscretions, after Vincent Kompany was dispossessed at the half way line leaving the England man exposed in a foot race he was never going to win.
With Mario Balotelli already booked for a relatively innocuous challenge, City seemed destined to be closer to 5-a-side team by the time ref Mark Clattenburg had completed his afternoon’s work.
The controversial official from Tyne & Wear does a good impression of a cabaret magician such is his propensity for a showing of cards. Rightly or wrongly he is loathed by Manchester City fans for his handling of City matches over the years.
In fairness, the home side was seeing enough yellow to paint a submarine as Clattenburg continued his first half orgy of bookings. Balotelli could conceivably have been sent off after Long’s theatrical reaction to a mistimed challenge, but thankfully not on this occasion.
A man down, City manned up and dominated the first half with that man, Mario, coming closest to scoring following a mazy dribble past four Albion defenders and forcing a save from keeper Ben Foster.
City had come for the win and, such is the ability and confidence that comes from being champions, they continued their quest even with 10 men.
Mancini marshalled his men at half time and resumed their task with composure and purpose.
Carlos Tevez forced a superb flying save as Foster clawed away the ever busy Argentine’s shot from the edge of the 18 yard box. It was from a Tevez free kick that Mario and Yaya contrived to miss two great opportunities before City suffered more misfortune.
The Baggie’s forward Marc-Antoine Fortune handled in the Albion penalty box but calamitous Clattenburg saw fit to award a free kick, despite the protestations from City.
Within minutes City were one down, against the run of play. It was looking like ‘one of those days’ for the champions. Substitute Odemwingie’s shot was doing nothing until Long sprang City’s offside trap, nipped in behind Joleon Lescott and guided the ball past a helpless Joe Hart.
Suddenly it was boing boing Baggies as the home support finally came to life having been comprehensively outsung by City’s 2,600 massed ‘choir’.
With Sergio Aguero already on for Balotelli, Mancini showed his tactical prowess and ambition and sent Dzeko on for the chronically understated Gareth Barry. Within a minute the man who hates the label ‘supersub’ had worked his magic once again.
Gael Clichy was felled by Zoltan Gera out wide on the City left flank. Tevez whipped in a pacy free kick and Dzeko rose to flick his header over Foster with the keeper flailing at thin air. 1-1 and game most definitely on!
Albion boss Steve Clarke introduced Belgian striking prodigy Lukaku into the fray and he could so easily have taken the plaudits from Dzeko had he been more clinical with two goal attempts.
First he put a point blank header into Hart’s midriff rather than the net. Hart then foiled him a second time with a sensational save from an equally spectacular overhead kick.
The ensuing corner sowed the seeds of City’s success as Mancini’s three substitutes linked up for a glorious winner. Aleksander Kolarov launched a lightning counter attack to Aguero across the halfway line.
Sergio surged down the right side and placed a precision pass perfectly into the barnstorming Bosnian’s stride pattern.
Dzeko dispatched a beautifully placed low drive past Foster producing a lovely bulge in the back of the Baggie’s net. Cue euphoria on the pitch, on the City bench and in the stand among the wonderfully vocal and, strangely ever optimistic, travelling support.
Dzeko bared his lean muscular frame, Clattenburg bared a yellow card for the shirt-shedding and Manchester City, the champions of England, bared their teeth to one and all.
Scintillating City had dug in and dug out a win that could become a defining moment in a season of massive promise and probabilities. If any critic, pundit or jaundiced anti-City journalist thinks Manchester City lack team spirit, they can think again.