Al Habsi gifts City win on a Silva platter
Manchester City 1 Wigan Athletic 0: Spaniard's soft strike enough but Mancini loses his cool as hosts survive by skin of their teeth
Sunday 06 March 2011
Facing a post-match microphone, Gareth Barry talked of "doing it for Kolo Touré". If this is how Manchester City's players support their one-time captain while he is investigated for taking a banned substance, they would be well advised to copy the stance of neutrality taken by their club.
Touré was in Eastlands' expensive seats yesterday evening and, if he could have concentrated for very long on what he saw, he was unlikely to have been impressed by anything except the three points.
This was City's fifth successive home fixture, which have been won by a collective scoreline of 13-1, and it was easily the least impressive, shot through with a deep weariness which is unlikely to be eased by Wednesday's long flight to Kiev.
"I have a team that for 28 games were first or second in the League but it is not easy for them to have the strength for every game," Roberto Mancini said. "We are very tired."
The fate of Mancini and the man who spent much of the evening standing alongside him will be decided by a line. In the Manchester City manager's case it will be the one that divides the four Champions' League qualifiers from the rest of the Premier League. For Roberto Martinez it will be the guillotine that pares off the bottom three clubs.
Manchester City are likely to finish the right side and Wigan the wrong side, although for much of this evening you would be hard pushed to tell why. Perhaps the night's defining image was that of Mancini, betraying the air of laid-back cool with which he has surrounded himself, hurling his gloves to the floor. Sven-Goran Eriksson, his manager at Sampdoria and Lazio, said that as a player Mancini had a rage for perfection that Gary Neville would have recognised. Here was proof.
There were other gloves that took a leading role in events; the ones worn by Ali Al Habsi. In the first half both Carlos Tevez and David Silva slalomed into the Wigan area and unleashed shots that skimmed the frame of the Wigan goal. However, when Silva shot for a second time it was a gentle effort that Al Habsi stooped to pick up only to see it squirm through his fingers and crawl over the line.
Even before kick-off it had been a disastrous afternoon for Wigan with both Wests, Bromwich and Ham, winning. Beginning the match four points from safety – effectively five with goal difference – Wigan had little option to attack and they did with rather more style than their League position might have suggested.
Midway through the first half Victor Moses danced into the area, drew three defenders and pulled the ball back perfectly for James McCarthy, whose face contorted as he screwed the shot wide. In the closing seconds when Conor Sammon drove into the Manchester City box and sent his shot inches wide of Joe Hart's goal, his team-mates, almost in unison, threw their hands to their heads.
There were other opportunities, most notably Antolin Alcaraz's drive against the frame of the goal and a fine two-handed save from Hart that denied McCarthy. And yet, when Al Habsi was on his knees, drowned in derision, Martinez stood, arms folded, betraying no emotion.
"Football is a game of errors," he said by way of explanation. But this might be more expensive than most, especially as he thought that City should already have been reduced to 10 men for Micah Richards' wild early tackle on Tom Cleverley. "It was," he said, "a straight red card."
Martinez added: "I have seen a lot of Manchester City's home games but I have not seen many teams play with the arrogance we did. We are past the time when we look at the table and feel concerned but 10 points between now and 22 May will be enough. We need one good performance, one piece of luck. If we play like this, the points will come. We had more of everything than Manchester City and we did not get anything except huge self-belief."
Referee: Stuart Attwell
Man of the match: Silva
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