Manchester City 1 Stoke City 0 match report: Yaya Touré pounces late to keep City in title hunt

Ivorian midfielder keeps City hot on the tail of leaders Chelsea thanks to late winner

Etihad Stadium

It was not pretty, but it did not matter. For Manchester City this was all about keeping in touch with Chelsea and Arsenal at the top of the Premier League.

For 70 minutes it was doubtful whether they would manage to do that. There was no sign of the fluid footballing machine that had been flattening visitors to the Etihad throughout the autumn. There was no spark, little fluency and a growing sense of frustration.

But then up stepped Yaya Touré. It was Touré who scored City’s FA Cup final winner against Stoke in 2011 to end his team’s long trophy drought, and his intervention here was decisive.

Manuel Pellegrini, the home manager, had just sent on Javi Garcia and allowed Touré licence to roam forward, and the big man did just that. David Silva played in Aleksandr Kolarov on the left, and when he crossed low to the six-yard box Touré was there to turn the ball past Asmir Begovic, the Stoke goalkeeper getting a hand to the ball but failing to stop its course.

Against Barcelona on Tuesday there had been little sign of the Ivorian’s attacking threat as he stuck to Pellegrini’s pragmatic gameplan. Thankfully for third-placed City, though, yesterday he was in the right place to get his 13th League goal this season and move his team back within three points of the leaders, Chelsea, winners themselves earlier in the day, with a game in hand.

According to Pellegrini, the satisfaction of winning ugly was “the same” as winning lovely. He said: “We have three points more and we are absolutely sure the second round [of the season] is not the same as the first – teams come here to defend. It is difficult to score, so we cannot pretend that we will win by three or four goals every match.

“It is important to know how to win in both ways – scoring goals, and if you cannot score goals then with a clean sheet and the patience to score at least one.”

Pellegrini’s tirade against the Swedish referee Jonas Eriksson after the Champions’ League loss to Barcelona suggested the pressure was beginning to tell on him, and on the field City are clearly not at their best either. Although Pellegrini reverted to a 4-4-2 formation after his unsuccessful tinkering in midweek, partnering Alvaro Negredo with Edin Dzeko, yesterday’s display merely underlined how much they are missing Sergio Aguero.

In his absence, City had not scored in the home defeat by Chelsea and the draw at Norwich, and his return to full training on Tuesday will provide a timely boost ahead of next Sunday’s Capital One Cup final against Sunderland. “We will see during the week if he is ready,” said Pellegrini.

As for his Stoke counterpart, Mark Hughes, it was a frustrating outcome on his return to the club where he had an 18-month spell as manager in 2008-09. He felt his team switched off for Touré’s goal, undermining what had earlier been a solid defensive display.

“In the first half we were organised and resolute, kept a very good side at arm’s length and had a goal threat ourselves,” he said.

Although Fernandinho stung Begovic’s fingertips with an early drive, City’s approach play was laboured and Stoke – a team with the division’s joint-worst away record – looked comfortable. They might have got a goal when Marko Arnautovic laid the ball back to Charlie Adam, who let fly from the corner of the penalty box with a shot that Joe Hart turned behind at full stretch.

As half-time approached City showed a marginal improvement, with Touré and Dzeko both flashing shots wide, and on the restart, Dzeko went close again.

It was not Dzeko’s day, though, a point underlined later in the game when Jesus Navas’s cross took out Begovic but, with the goal gaping, Dzeko got the ball caught between his feet.

“Every player can have a bad day,” said Pellegrini. It was a bad day too for Stevan Jovetic, who lasted just 13 minutes as a replacement for Negredo before succumbing to a hamstring problem.

There had been groans all around when Begovic spilled a fierce shot by Jovetic – making his final contribution – and not a single blue shirt followed up to take advantage. It was that kind of afternoon until Touré brought some belated cheer.

Line-ups:

Manchester City (4-4-2): Hart; Zabaleta, Kompany, Demichelis, Kolarov; Nasri, Fernandinho, (Navas, 63), Touré, Silva; Dzeko, Negredo (Jovetic, 56; Garcia, 69).

Stoke City (4-2-3-1): Begovic; Cameron, Shawcross, Wilson, Pieters; Whelan (Etherington, 82), Adam; Odemwingie, Walters (Ireland, 78), Arnautovic (Palacios, 69); Crouch.

Referee: Chris Foy.

Man of the match: Touré (Manchester City)

Match rating: 6/10

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