At least Roberto Mancini can intervene when his players are having a dust-up on the training ground. All he could do here yesterday was squat on his haunches on the edge of the technical area, as his team conspired to turn into an ordeal a win which had looked a formality.
Poor finishing and indiscipline – Aleksandr Kolarov was rightly dismissed for two bad challenges inside four minutes near the end – were not the City manager's only problem. His decision to substitute Carlos Tevez in the dying seconds drew a mouthful from the captain, who refused to accept his manager's embrace. Mancini just pushed him away to the dug-out.
"I'm happy for this. I would like that all the players are like Carlo because in that moment every player wants to stay on the pitch," Mancini said. "I want a player like Mario [Balotelli] on the pitch [at the end] because he is taller than Carlo."
Taken with the toe-to-toe row the two had at half-time during October's Newcastle game, however, there is little sense of mutual bonhomie, to put it mildly. The Argentinian's indiscipline earned him a fifth booking, which means he will miss the trip to West Ham on Saturday. Mancini said Balotelli, whose relatively quiet game included a reluctance to rise to Zat Knight's needle, would step up. "Every time Carlo doesn't play we must continue to score," Mancini said.
The manager also had to watch Joe Hart entirely lose the flight of Sam Ricketts' lofted free-kick, the goalkeeper needing Vincent Kompany to clear up behind him. But, all in all, the late mayhem should not obscure a City performance which was in a different realm from the last League game here – a desultory goalless draw against Birmingham which left the fans, rather than the captain, abusing Mancini.
Yaya Touré, suggesting again that City will profit from deploying him in a more advanced role than the one that was familiar to him at Barcelona, and David Silva, who hit the bar, helped City flood and flummox the Bolton defence.
City had gone 285 minutes without a League goal here but it took Tevez only four yesterday to put that right, finishing a fast, counter-attacking move that owed everything to Touré, who took Silva's pass, bounced through Knight's challenge and passed the ball through Gary Cahill's legs. Tevez collected with his left foot and ran it in with his right for his season's 10th goal.
That was it for the day, though, and City's poor finishing soon exasperated their manager. "We had 15 chances to score. We must improve this situation," he said.
Tevez was the prime culprit. When Silva danced around Paul Robinson and laid back to find him unmarked, the captain levelled a shot at a comfortable height. He scuffed wide an even better chance after Gareth Barry crossed. Pablo Zabaleta tried a chip when he should have hit through the ball when set free and it was disastrous. On the half-hour frustration combined with a sense of injustice over Silva being ruled offside when put through.
Balotelli was less forceful on the pitch than on the training ground. A powerful strike against the crossbar just before the hour and a wonderful back-heel which released Zabaleta were his prime contributions, though Jérôme Boateng, with whom he had fought at Carrington, did not even make the squad despite being fit. "We had three defenders. It is normal," Mancini said.
Bolton threatened in spells, with Martin Petrov's deflected first-half free-kick and Kevin Davies' powerful 20-yard volley showing that the 4-4-2 Owen Coyle persisted with was not the sum total of their ambition.
But they were the weaker team. "They've spent £300 million so you don't want to be chasing the game as early as we were," Coyle said. "We tried to pick the perfect pass when we just needed to get the ball in there."
Referee: Andre Marriner
Man of the match: Y Touré
Match rating: 7/10Reuse content