Mancini makes bold claim on title race after City win

Manager says he can conquer league this season, while Ancelotti hails Chelsea's 'fantastic' recovery against Fulham
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The Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini last night dramatically revised his expectations for his team's season when he said that City were now serious contenders to win the Premier League after they beat Wolverhampton Wanderers 3-0, their second straight win under their new manager.

Having announced nine days ago at his first press conference that the aim for City was to finish in the top four, Mancini said that his team were better than he thought following two goals from Carlos Tevez and another from Javier Garrido. There was also an outstanding performance from Craig Bellamy, who reaffirmed his commitment to the club in the wake of Mark Hughes' sacking as manager.

As Chelsea came from behind to beat Fulham 2-1 to extend their lead at the top of the table to five points over Manchester United, City went level on points with Aston Villa, who play Liverpool tonight. Mancini's team are still in sixth position on goal difference, but they are only two points behind fourth-placed Tottenham, who beat West Ham 2-0.

Mancini said that it was still a possibility that City, 10 points behind the leaders Chelsea, could win the league. ''It's always realistic,'' Mancini said. ''We have 18 games left? It's possible if we play well and keep our concentration.'' Asked if the team was better than he first believed, Mancini said he thought it was. ''I think we have a good team and if we play with the ball on the pitch and do not pass it long, I think we can at least arrive in the top four.''

Bellamy gave an interview yesterday in which he denied suggestions that he would leave the club because of the dismissal of Hughes. Last night he said: ''Nothing surprises me in this game [Hughes' sacking] and that is what makes it great. On a personal level, I had great affection for Mark Hughes. But at the end of the day that's the nature of the game.

''If I want to carry on at Manchester City I need a high level of performance, because it is a club that is going places. With this group of players and management team it is going to happen. I want to be part of it as long as I can.''

Mancini said that he was not concerned by Bellamy's chequered past. ''Craig is a strong character,'' Mancini said. ''He's a good player. He's a good man. I think it is good that he will stay with us. I have played football for 20 years and I know the big players very well. There is no problem with him.''

The Chelsea manager, Carlo Ancelotti, praised his side's narrow victory over Fulham as one of the most important of the season, and claimed it marked the end of his side's inconsistent run of form.

Zoltan Gera's fourth-minute goal put Fulham ahead, but Didier Drogba equalised after 73 minutes before an own goal from the unlucky Chris Smalling handed Chelsea victory. Ancelotti said the victory could prove to be a key moment in the season, after a month in which they had dropped points against Manchester City, Everton, West Ham and Birmingham. Chelsea came into the game having taken just six points from a possible 15.

Ancelotti said: ''I think it's one of the most important victories of the season. The victory came after not a good moment for us. I'm very happy with the reaction of the team. The most important thing today is the reaction of this team. It was not easy to change this game, 1-0 down, but second-half great determination and great willing from the team. I think that, with this victory and this performance, finish the difficult moment.''

The match marked the first return of Jose Mourinho to the club he led to two Premier League titles in 2005 and 2006. The Internazionale manager watched from the stands in preparation for his club's Champions League match with Chelsea in February.