For all the high-priced African, Balkan and Latin footballing talent in Saturday's Manchester City team, it was a relatively low-budget Englishman who supplied the highlight of the 3-1 win that kept them five points clear at the top of the Premier League. With Wolverhampton Wanderers pressing for an equaliser against City's 10 men, Adam Johnson, signed from Middlesbrough in February 2010 for £7m – change down the back of a sofa by City standards – produced an almost nonchalant curling shot into the bottom corner from 30 yards.
Arguably as significant was the sight of the England winger winning a challenge in his own penalty area soon afterwards. He is reported to have been upset by criticism of his all-round game from Roberto Mancini, the City manager, after last Wednesday's Carling Cup tie between these teams, but Mancini was delighted to see Johnson make his point here and vindicate his own "tough love" approach.
"I'm happy that he is upset," Mancini said. "I'm happy because he can improve. I love Adam. It's like with children, if you love your children then sometimes you should be hard with them. If he was not a good player, then I wouldn't waste my time to do this. Because he has everything, I don't want him stopping at this level. I want him to go up a level, then a level more. He could become one of the top wingers."
Mancini revealed that his opinion is shared by Fabio Capello, the England head coach. "We know he is an incredible player but a player like him should play very well every game, like David Silva. One versus one he is incredible, every time he takes the ball near the box wide then we can score a goal or have a chance. Today when we went down to 10 men he went on the right and defended very well against [Matt] Jarvis. He did well today. But he can improve every month, every week, every day."
Johnson's strike nailed down three points after Wolves had got back into the game with a penalty conceded by Vincent Kompany, who was sent off and will now miss Saturday's visit to QPR. First comes a Champions League challenge away to Villarreal. Like Carlos Tevez, Edin Dzeko had problems with Mancini during his side's defeat away to Bayern Munich, but apologised for showing dissent when substituted and has thrived since, his opener on Saturday making him the Premier League's top scorer with 12 goals in all competitions.
"I think I understand the other players better," he said. "Last season I was new and everything was hard. [Villarreal] is the most important game in the group because we're two points behind Napoli and they've got a tough game in Munich. I don't think they're going to win, so if we win we'll be second."
Wolves face Wigan Athletic next, opponents they should approach with confidence after this display. Lesser sides might have collapsed after conceding twice early in the second half to a City team who have set a new top-flight scoring record of 36 goals in their opening 10 matches, but Mick McCarthy's men showed the resolve that had snatched a point at home to Swansea City a week ago.
"I always take encouragement from our performances, and we played well today, but I'm still disappointed we've come away with nothing," McCarthy said. "People keep saying we can carry on playing well but we've got to get some points as well."