"Underneath, there's a bubbling inferno, ready to explode," Danny Mills had said before the game. Right observation. Wrong team.
A match which seemed to have potential symbolism for Manchester City wherever you looked – a newly opened tram line yesterday to the stadium where Roberto Mancini appeared to be heading off the rails – instead left Leeds' Neil Warnock as the manager wondering why bother waiting until the summer to call it a day.
Warnock offered applause to his club's supporters at the end – which was generous in the extreme, since their response of "Warnock, Warnock, time to go," was one they had used all afternoon. This was a fixture between clubs under Gulf ownership of vastly different kinds, with Dubai-based GFH Capital, who took over to wild Elland Road over-optimism in late December, already admitting they're short of cash.
That kind of subtle point can be lost when a manager – one who just three weeks ago delivered up the delirium of a fourth-round win over Tottenham – provides an easier target. Football is a game of madness, sometimes. It all added up to another dismal landmark in a desperate decade of Leeds United, with the stands certainly offering the most we witnessed by way of Yorkshire imagination. "How shit must you be; you've only scored three," they sang, when Carlos Tevez had made the scoreline emphatic.
The noise with which they sang that and the anthem of "We're not famous any more" – popular these days – offered the biggest clue to their dissatisfaction. This remains a club with a fanbase grossly disproportionate to the level where they find themselves and sardonic singing only goes so far to obscuring their despair.
Another transfer window has gone and yet another asset has gone east – with Luciano Becchio away to Norwich, just like Robert Snodgrass, Bradley Johnson and Jonny Howson before him. "We need a Snodgrass type of player," Warnock said, with no irony intended. "They [the fans] are so desperate to get back into the big time. When they see the opportunity fading, the manager has got to be the focal point." Finding that "opportunity" – as City have – is a desperately arbitrary business.
For once, the home club felt like an oasis of calm, with their players offered the chance to atone for the awfulness of last week's defeat at Southampton. "In Italy we say this game is like brodino, a soup starter," Mancini said. "We needed a win like this – playing the ball right, with precision on the attack and without a single goal against," added Sergio Aguero, after his divine contribution. Mancini also observed that if Aguero continued scoring like this then "the championship is not finished," though it would be unwise to read too much broader significance into such a mis-match.
A little of the lustre had drained from Mancini since the last time Warnock met him, tanned and immaculate, on the Grand Prix circuit in Dubai a few years ago, but it didn't take long to restore the colour. It quickly became evident that City were an unmanageable attacking force for Leeds, with Aguero quite evidently the player who would dominate. After the profound effect of his split from his wife, Giannina, this is one day when the presence in the stadium of his son, Benjamin, accompanied by Aguero's mother, Adriana, is worthy of report.
The decisive touch which sent them on their way came from another Argentine, whose presence Warnock has cursed once before. Tevez's role in West Ham's 2006-07 fight for survival when, while illegally owned by a third party, he helped condemn Warnock's Sheffield United to relegation, has always rankled. This time it was a fifth-minute angular flick with the outside of his boot, inside of Lee Peltier, which did the damage. It sent Yaya Touré powering through to complete a move he had started through four exchanged passes with David Silva, feinting past goalkeeper Jamie Ashdown with his first touch and dispatching it into the net with his second.
Silva had fired a foot over the bar and Tevez had rasped the sidenetting before Aguero, twisting back and forth into the lefthand side of the Leeds box, drew a desperate Tom Lees to pull him back and concede a marginal penalty, which Aguero converted right-footed.
Warnock was unhappy. "I don't think it's a foul anywhere on the pitch. He [Aguero] has gone down and given the referee a decision to make and he's fallen for the three-card trick," he said. The Leeds manager had a point.
Warnock's two half-time substitutions made no impression on the course of the afternoon, which was concluded well before the hour when Aguero burst in from the left touchline, exchanged passes with Silva and, though the heavy first touch on the ball he took back sent him out to the byline, managed to lever in a cross in time for Tevez to bundle home the third. It has been a relatively barren season for Tevez but yesterday he was brighter.
Silva's clipped cross from the left, with a flight which fooled Sam Byram and Lees made the fourth, which Aguero waited to clip in off Ashdown's lefthand post for his 13th goal of the season.
"Shoes off if you hate Man U," the Leeds fans sang at the end, brandishing their footwear above their heads, recalling the days, long before their steep fall, when they played that club enough to be their rivals.