Consistency and Manchester City are strange bedfellows but pit them against the neighbours at Maine Road and a glint of efficiency comes into their eyes. Having crushed United in the ground's valedictory derby three weeks ago, they beat Bolton yesterday to ease their relegation concerns and deepen their visitors'. If only Stockport, Bury and Oldham could make it to the Premiership.
The persistent rain and slippery pitch made edifying football a scarce commodity, but City still looked comfortably superior to Bolton and in Eyal Berkovic they had the one midfield player who skipped over the treacherous pitch like he was practising his party pieces on a sunlit bowling green.
The Israeli's corner led to City's first goal, scored by Steve Howey, and he got the second after Nicolas Anelka, who was also head and shoulders above his opponents, had created the space for him with a muscular turn and adroit pass. For City it was their first win in three matches; for Bolton it ended a run of three Premiership matches without a defeat.
"It was a big game for us," Kevin Keegan, the City manager, said. "It was a local derby, different to Manchester United, but presenting the same three points as United." There are few uneventful weeks at Maine Road but this match came after City had to publicly deny that Keegan had resigned. All run-of-the-mill stuff for a club who could find a crisis in paradise, and it was in keeping with their perverse nature that they showed both sides of their character in the first 20 minutes.
They began like players who had just been introduced, barely able to make an accurate pass, but when Bolton's early promise amounted to very little they slowly emerged from their mediocrity and began to resemble the force that had comprehensively outplayed the old enemy from Old Trafford.
At the hub of their enterprise was Berkovic, and it was he who prised open the Bolton defence with a delightful pass to Anelka. The French striker was beyond the visiting rearguard but tried to shoot from too narrow an angle and his left-foot effort corkscrewed wide.
Berkovic's vision had not been properly rewarded then but it was his corner that led to City taking the lead after 24 minutes. Marc-Vivien Foé flicked on and with the makeshift Bolton defence resembling onlookers at a car accident, Howey stopped to head low past Jussi Jaaskelainen from six yards.
The start of the second half was notable for Bolton's first shot at goal when Youri Djorkaeff attempted to lob Peter Schmeichel from 45 yards after Danny Tiatto had played a pass to no one in midfield. Like much of the visitors' work, however, the end product fell short of the promise and the City goalkeeper was able to pick up the ball at the first bounce.
The attempt had the effect of stoking City's urgency and they took a 2-0 lead in the 56th minute. Berkovic catches the eye with his dribbles and passing but his running to get himself into positions of danger is often overlooked. This time he passed to Anelka, and continued into the area to take the Frenchman's pass. His first touch seemed too strong but he got there just ahead of Jaaskelainen and his toe poke had enough force to go through the Bolton goalkeeper's challenge and into the net.
Bolton made a late rally and forced an outstanding double save from Schmeichel to deny Jermaine Johnson and Jay-Jay Okocha but the game had long since gone. "We laid down too easy in the second half," Sam Allardyce, the Bolton manager, said. "The big players didn't play today and we need them to perform to get anything out of the Premiership."
Manchester City 2 Bolton Wanderers 0
Howey 25, Berkovic 56
Half-time: 1-0 Attendance: 34,860