Lescott: We will not let Manchester United clinch the title in our backyard
Ahead of facing old club Wolves tomorrow, City man tells Ian Herbert they'll keep rivals waiting
It was a derby day victory of such resonance that Manchester City's players were icing cakes with a 6-1 scoreline for their club's Christmas video two months later. Joleon Lescott views such a victories a little differently now however – through the prism of Manchester United's seemingly inexorable trudge towards a 20th title, in these past six weeks.
"If you look at our wins they have been emphatic, pretty wins," the 29-year-old says, heading into a weekend when relegating his former club Wolverhampton Wanderers tomorrow is a prerequisite of keeping City's title hopes alive.
"We have had one or two when we have scraped but, on the whole, we have been impressive. This is a stage of the season when you don't have to be impressive. You just have to win, and we are still learning that. [United] have that mentality and have had for years."
Wolves' likely descent to the league which Lescott was instrumental in ensuring they left behind in their 2003 promotion-winning year worries him more than many will know. The defender will tell you that interim manager Terry Connor, still "TC" to him, remains the best coach he has worked with. And yet there is no disguising what looms, dark and spectral, on his mind now. The encounter with United at the Etihad a week on Monday seemed like a potential City coronation date after they had run amok at Old Trafford on 23 October. A re-election of United as English football guv'nors, looked about as improbable as John Major taking the Conservatives on and on for a fourth term in office, 20 years ago this month.
Behind the scenes, City have not given up on the chase in quite the way Roberto Mancini has said with his strategic public talk of it being "too late" now – a mantra offered again yesterday. "The manager plays a different game in the press," Lescott discloses. Yet the spectre of United clinching the title on the very soil of their pretenders is a real one for the City players – despite all the bonhomie they display before this interview at the Manchester Art Gallery for the launch of the new fashion range which Lescott, his brother Aaron and Millwall's Jordan Stewart have put together.
"If they win it at our place I think that would equal the pain they felt in October," Lescott admits. "We're aware that they could win it at our ground. No matter what happens this weekend we are going to be looking to win that game. Whether it's for the title race or just for the fans alone. If they can clinch the title at our ground, we'll be doing everything in our power to stop that from happening. We're not going to let it happen."
Although United, facing Everton at Old Trafford a few hours before City begin work, were 7-1 on with most bookies for the title last night, Lescott knows about defying expectations. A three-year career at the club seemed improbable when Kolo Touré and Vincent Kompany rapidly emerged as Mancini's initial chosen two in central defence and the furore surrounding what might politely be called City's hostile bid, which saw him leave Everton for £22m in 2009, did not help. "I don't get to choose the fee people pay," he says of that difficult episode.
Life has a true perspective when you have been through what Lescott has. A ruptured cruciate ligament destroyed his one and only season in the Premier League with Wolves. A road traffic accident almost claimed his life at the age of five. The new fashion venture reveals a player who knows the world does not stop and start with football.
When the season is through, there will be a chance to reflect and some City players will say their piece about Mario Balotelli. Joe Hart calling him "stupid" is a case of words getting mangled, although the Italian is divisive. "Yeah maybe," Lescott says, to the notion that his on-field escapades have happened too often. "He needs to look at his performances and if he sees he's disappointed the lads, it's great that he's realised that."
The 8pm kick-off against United, nine days from now, will tell us more about whether City will reflect on what might have been and you imagine Lescott is already picturing Ashley Young's theatrics in his sleep. "Attackers have the advantage [with officials] and do I think it's right? Yeah," he says. "Because it's an exciting game and people want to see goals. I do have to be more careful but that's because of the level of teams I'm playing against now."
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