You can take Manchester City out of their spiritual home, but alter them? No chance. Yesterday they were, in turn, poor, middling and then resplendent as they turned a potential embarrassment into a romp against their neighbours Bolton in a manner that probably only they can.
Frustrating, sublime, even comic at times yesterday, it was as if the move from Moss Side had never happened. It would take a massive amount of poetic licence to imagine the imposing City of Man-chester Stadium as the ageing Maine Road, but the theme of doing things the hard way has survived the three-mile journey. True to type, they scored six yet still lost Shaun Wright-Phillips, who was deservedly sent off for a late lunge.
Having 10 men is no real disadvantage when you have Nicolas Anelka in your side, however, and the Frenchman was in sublime form. Moody but magnificent, he scored twice and made two others to obliterate a first-half performance that even City's best friends would describe as poor. "I don't know how it finished 6-2," Kevin Keegan, the City manager, said. "At half-time I'd have accepted a scrappy 2-1 win, which just shows how crazy football is."
You imagine Keegan went crazy himself at some of City's defending in the first 45 minutes, when Bolton could have scored through Stelios, Ivan Campo and Bruno N'Gotty but had to be content with only Kevin Nolan's goal. N'Gotty chipped forward in the 26th minute, the home rearguard evaporated and David Sommeil's attempt to remedy matters only played Nolan onside.
City were sure someone had been offside at some point in that goal, but they had a similar favour a minute later when Joey Barton lobbed down the right and Wright-Phillips used his pace to outflank Ricardo Gardner. Sometimes the England Under-21 player can be brainless; this time he showed immaculate judgement, lobbing Jussi Jaaskelainen from a narrow angle.
City's rearguard had not distinguished themselves in the first half, but Sylvain Distin remedied that after 48 minutes with a goal that was as good as it was simple. The French centre-back intercepted a Bolton probe and then delivered a pass that Anelka converted from the mundane to the magnificent with a glorious turn. The defenders had to go to Anelka, and as they did so he returned the pass for Distin and he beat Jaaskelainen like a seasoned striker.
The Bolton wall had been broken and City poured through the gap, so that they were 4-1 ahead 10 minutes later. First, Claudio Reyna played an exquisite pass inside the hapless Gardner and Wright-Phillips drilled a low shot under Jasskelainen's body; then, the Bolton goalkeeper committed an even worse howler to allow Anelka's less than emphatic shot to squirm through him at the near post.
The game ought to have been over, but City would be impostors if they made things simple, and as the hour passed their lead was suddenly reduced to two and their strength to 10. Mario Jardel flicked a pass with the back of his heel to Campo, who beat David Seaman with a swerving shot from the edge of the area, and Wright-Phillips further encouraged Bolton when he lunged late at Simon Charlton and received an instant red card to go with his yellow of the first half. City could have been in trouble, but Anelka came to the rescue, scoring a delightful goal after Danny Tiatto had put him through after 71 minutes and then setting up Reyna with seven minutes left.
The result did not do Bolton justice, but they had paid, according to their manager, Sam Allardyce, for chasing a game while neglecting to bolt the door at the back. "I didn't know I had two teams, good and bad," he said. "It was diabolical to see them play with such lack of organisation and discipline."
Good and bad? He could have been talking about City.
Manchester City 6
Wright-Phillips 27, 56, Distin 48, Anelka 58, 72, Reyna 84
Bolton Wanderers 2
Nolan 25, Campo 60
Half-time: 1-1 Attendance: 47,101Reuse content