There are times in every sportsman's career when you need to win and for Mario Balotelli that moment arrived yesterday. He had responded to being dropped by Italy for what are loosely termed "behavioural issues" by taking himself off to Liverpool and emerging in the small hours of Friday morning from a strip club straight into a photographer's flashgun. It was around a quarter to three.
Balotelli drinks nothing stronger than espresso and the visit to the imaginatively-titled X in the City club might be regarded as part of his education in the same way as his descent upon a women's prison in Brescia or his Christmas journey around the streets of Manchester handing out money to anyone who looked homeless.
Nevertheless, his manager, Roberto Mancini, admitted to being shocked when told of the incident, although he would perhaps not have been as upset as Balotelli's girlfriend, Rafaella Fico, to whom he had dedicated his goal in last Saturday's 3-0 win over Blackburn.
If anything, last week's result was even more straightforward than this, which was Manchester City's 19th straight victory at the Etihad Stadium.
"I only heard about this when I came to the stadium and I will have to speak with him tomorrow," Mancini said. "I am really disappointed because this is not correct. He is a professionalfootballer and he cannot stay out until two in the morning. If this story is true, we will fine him the maximum we can." This will be two weeks' wages.
At least Balotelli scored, though his manager joked that if he had had more sleep, he might have had four. And at least Manchester City won to stretch their lead, however briefly, to five points, although for what it is worth Mancini thought Manchester United would beat Tottenham this afternoon. "I have said before we have to win 10 games to win the championship," he added.
Mancini's fury had his team dropped points could be imagined. Cesare Prandelli had dropped Balotelli from the Italy squad that faced the United States in Genoa on Wednesday and seen his principles backfire in the shape of a 1-0 defeat. In that sense Balotelli was fortunate – City won.
Timing is everything in these situations. David Gower is fond of recalling how on an England tour of the West Indies he and Ian Botham were photographed drinking champagne on a yacht as it cruised the Caribbean while the rest of his players enjoyed a warm-up game. When they returned to shore it was to a phalanx of reporters who wanted to know where England's captain had been while their side had been bowled out for 94 by the Windward Islands. Had they won, there would have been no story.
There was never much of a danger that Manchester City would lose. Bolton performed with slightly more grit than Blackburn Rovers had mustered the week before but Joe Hart had only one serious shot to save, tipping Ryo Miyachi's shot wide.
It had the feel of a game between sides who knew this would not be a decisive contest. Bolton were 20-1 to win a two-horse race and they did not look as if they had bet on themselves. The games that will decide their future come later in the month; against Queens Park Rangers, Blackburn and Wolverhampton Wanderers. If they are still second bottom when April arrives, the alarm bells should be shrieking around the Reebok Stadium.
Balotelli began as if he knew he had to make an impression. By the time the game was half an hour old, he had aimed five shots at Bolton's goal and, just before the interval, had seen a sixth blocked by Adam Bogdan's boots. In the opening exchanges, he took Yaya Touré's pass and slammed a shot against Bogdan's post. Samir Nasri, following up, drove the rebound straight at the Bolton goalkeeper.
The opening goal had long been coming but when it finally arrived, it was with an enormous slice of fortune as Gaël Clichy's shot deflected wildly off Gretar Steinsson's head to the extent that Bogdan did not attempt to save it.
And that really was that. Were Bolton to claim the 20-1 odds against them, they would surely have had to score first and when Balotelli landed the second the match was over. It was brilliantly created by Adam Johnson, who wriggled past Sam Ricketts and Zat Knight and then, as he fell between the goalkeeper and David Wheater, backheeled to Balotelli a few yards from goal. Even after a night on the streets of Liverpool, he could not have missed.
Manchester City (4-2-3-1): Hart; Zabaleta (K.Toure 19), Kompany, Lescott, Clichy; Pizarro (Dzeko 62), Barry, Johnson, Y.Toure, Nasri (Dzeko 84); Balotelli.
Bolton (4-1-4-1): Bogdan; Steinsson, Wheater, Knight, Ricketts; Ream; M.Davies, Pratley (Muamba 87), Reo-Coker, Miyaichi; Ngog.
Referee Mark Clattenburg.
Man of the match Y Touré (Manchester City).
Match rating 5/10.