Balotelli's stamp puts Mancini in the spotlight

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Manchester City 3 Tottenham Hotspur 2

The Etihad Stadium

It was the kind of challenge which would have left Roberto Mancini issuing a pack of imaginary red cards, had his own side been on the receiving end, and if the absence of summary justice for Mario Balotelli was not bad enough, then the sight of him arrogantly dinking in the decisive penalty and winking at James Milner at the end of another extraordinary Premier League afternoon made it a whole lot worse.

It would have helped if Mancini had arrived to offer an explanation of how Balotelli had come to backheel Scott Parker in the head, as Harry Redknapp later put it, though we learned that his voice had failed him and were instead treated to his assistant David Platt's brand of "see no evil, hear no evil": "I've not seen the videotape. I didn't see anything and I didn't think there was any reaction from the players."

This is no more than we have come to expect from the game, though for City it was an occasion which required someone to find a voice. There has been an understandable indignation in the club's boardroom, this past week, about the way Mancini has been maligned for issuing imaginary cards – as if that really is a more lamentable offence than managers haranguing officials or seeking to manipulate them.

City also feel that Redknapp's claims a mere journalist could manage a club with City's wealth have been swallowed whole – another source of frustration. But the club so minded to do things the right way surrendered some moral high ground to Redknapp yesterday. If this result proves pivotal to the title then Tottenham will always be able to point to a Machiavellian streak in Manchester.

Who on earth knows when Mancini will begin pointing at Balotelli? The last time the striker arrived as a second-half substitute and behaved this poorly was at Anfield, in November, when he was dismissed and Kenny Dalglish said he should start looking in the mirror. Redknapp was incredulous last night when it was put to him that the 21-year-old's image as a loveable eccentric was disguising a malicious streak. "A lovable eccentric? What do you think..?" The question had already been answered on the pitch, in the way that Balotelli deviously thrust down a left boot – the kind of conduct you might see in a rugby scrum.

Perhaps it was Balotelli's reputation for flouncing out of interviews which explained the absence of any inquisition on the challenge in his brief post-match television chat. Someone needs to start ask him awkward questions and Redknapp indicated that he knows who. "He's nothing to do with me and it's up to their manager," he said.

 



There was the slightest hint of theatricality about the Tottenham manager's stoicism – Redknapp's own voice breaking slightly as he delivered it – which one suspected was partially self-serving. His side had certainly lost in desperate fashion – Jermain Defoe advanced fractionally too late to steer Gareth Bale's fast, low cross into an empty net, seconds before Balotelli's presence on the pitch proved so significant – yet they had still lost and Redknapp knows he will not get a better time to play City. The absence of Yaya Touré and Vincent Kompany has clearly hurt the Premier League leaders deeply. Kompany would not have committed the same calamitous error as Stefan Savic, who sent a rudimentary punt from Younes Kaboul looping into Defoe's path for the goal which shifted the game back within Tottenham's ambit.

With those two missing, the balance of game was immeasurably delicate and controversy should certainly not disguise the product: another sublime episode in this season's incredible Premier League story. It was one in which City seized the ascendancy and surrendered it, as nine extraordinary second-half minutes offered up four goals, then almost lost altogether before Ledley King was correctly judged to have scissored Balotelli in the penalty area.

The cautious first-half joust, in which "no-one really wanted to go out and unhook themselves" as Platt put it, offered no hint of what was to follow – though it did suggest that David Silva, Samir Nasri and Sergio Aguero had the capacity to cut Tottenham open at will. Micah Richards, billetted in the Tottenham half for much of that period, was also a player they came to fear and Mancini's decision to grant him that liberty deconstructed the notion that City have somehow regressed to the diffidence of last season.

Both sides offered wonderful powers of creation at times and with Parker's ability to repel City not always equal to Aguero's talent, it was an opportunity to cast aside the pre-match cat-calling and survey two deeply gifted sides probing each other's depths. Spurs' strategy involved severely restricting City's space and when Silva was finally afforded enough of it to play in Nasri, 11 minutes after the interval, the Frenchman eased away from Kyle Walker to finish most emphatically. When Edin Dzeko extracted the slightest near-post connection on a Nasri corner, four minutes later, and Joleon Lescott pounced before Parker could blink the game's course seemed set.

But back came Spurs, equally imperious when Savic's error had helped shift the momentum. The Montenegrin's desperate second half was compounded by an uncomfortable post-match encounter with Mancini. "[Mancini's] voice was low but what he said was profound. He was not happy," Platt related. Then Aaron Lennon cut inside Richards and squared for Gareth Bale, who was given an inch by Gareth Barry and took a mile – his clipped, first-time 28-yard shot arcing beyond Joe Hart. Your money was on Tottenham, then.

Yet small details win big prizes and whether Emmanuel Adebayor, missing because of the terms of his loan deal from City, might have converted the chance Defoe was fractionally late in arriving for is something that Redknapp might grieve upon. City have questions to answer – concerning a player who is becoming a menace – but they will only really care that they have answered the bigger one, concerning their title credentials, and left the notion of Tottenham as champions looking rather dubious.

The mad nine minutes

1-0: NASRI
2-0: LESCOTT
2-1: DEFOE
2-2: BALE

Match details

Man City: HART 7/10; RICHARDS 7; SAVIC 5; LESCOTT 6; CLICHY 6; NASRI 7; MILNER 7; AGUERO 7; BARRY 6; SILVA 6; DZEKO 4

Spurs: FRIEDEL 6; ASSOUEKOTTO 6; KING 6; KABOUL 6; WALKER 6; BALE 8; MODRIC 6; PARKER 8; LENNON 6; VAN DER VAART 7; DEFOE 6

Scorers: Man City: Nasri 56, Lescott 60, Balotelli pen 90. Spurs: Defoe 61, Bale 65

Substitutes: Man City Balotelli 4 (Dzeko, 66). Tottenham Livermore 7 (Van der Vaart, 67), Pienaar (Lennon, 88).

Booked: Man City Clichy, Balotelli. Tottenham Parker. Man of the match Richards.

Match rating 8/10.

Possession: Man City 55% Tottenham 45%.

Attempts on target: Man City 7 Tottenham 7.

Referee M Dean (Wirral).

Attendance 47,422.

News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleActor, from House of Cards and Benidorm, was 68
News
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsSchool leaver's pic YouTube video features staging of a playground gun massacre
Travel
travel
Voices
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show
tvBig Bang Theory filming delayed by contract dispute over actors' pay
Sport
England celebrate a wicket for Moeen Ali
sportMoeen Ali stars with five wickets as Cook's men level India series
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Travel
travel
News
Robyn Lawley
people
News
people
News
i100  ... he was into holy war way before it was on trend
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmThe film is surprisingly witty, but could do with taking itself more seriously, says Geoffrey Macnab
News
people
Life and Style
food + drinkVegetarians enjoy food as much as anyone else, writes Susan Elkin
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star