It is still a one-man show but one man is all Manchester City might need as they maintain their pursuit of that precious fourth place.
There was little in their performance last night to send a shudder of apprehension down to Liverpool, whom they leapfrog into fifth in the Premier League, and Roberto Martinez justifiably pointed to the questionable dismissal of centre-back Gary Caldwell as the turning point. He also issued – and later retracted – a claim late last night that the referee, Stuart Attwell, had been dishonest is his explanation of that decision. Still, City are still yet to lose when Tevez scores and the manner of his second City hat-trick – completed in 13 short minutes – suggests more scoring to come.
Tevez created a colourful diversion after scoring by whipping off a shin pad bearing the nickname he has for his eldest daughter Florencia – "Flopy" – and the anxiety City might felt about seeing their 25-goal striker later sitting on the bench with an ice pack around his left ankle was assuaged by the manager's assurances that he has no serious damage. But nothing else should detract from the anxiety Mancini must be feeling about a game which was little better than the 2-0 home defeat six days ago to Everton until its 55th minute turning point, when Caldwell launched into a strong, one-footed challenge on Tevez.
The Scot's following leg swung in after and felled Tevez who had leapt, dangerously and two-footed, from the turf and landed just in front of the former Celtic defender. Martinez was angered by Attwell telling him after the game that he had seen Caldwell challenge with two feet. "He said he saw it clearly, so that why I made sure I could see it clearly," Martinez said. "I think someone is lying don't you think? If we are looking at an incident and we can give a different opinion I can understand."
Wigan's capitulation followed 10 minutes later, with the reserve goalkeeper Vladimir Stojkovic – playing because Chris Kirkland was suffering with a virus – making a bizarre attempt to chest a clever ball Patrick Vieira chipped into the six-yard box. He missed, enabling Tevez to sneak in and poke the ball home. There was another tap in on 75 minutes after Adam Johnson's low cross was touched on by Vincent Kompany and by the end Tevez was striding through the Wigan defence to lash home at will.
Anything Fernando Torres does (two goals against Sunderland on Sunday) Tevez can evidently do better and it is quite possible that the battle fourth for may become the Torres v Tevez show. But beyond the Argentine, City still do not seem to know their best starting XI, they also lack invention and pace in midfield and are vulnerable at the back.
Gareth Barry, who has played every game under Mancini and missed only one all season, made way for Patrick Vieira in the holding midfield role here – Mancini's rather unconvincing explanation being that he was being spared the risk a fifth yellow card, and one game ban, before the league's moratorium wipes the slate clean. Mancini also preferred Shaun Wright-Phillips to Craig Bellamy, whom City are investigating over alleged comments about Mancini made in the tunnel after the Everton game. But after an early spell in which Emmanuel Adebayor forced a one-handed instinct stop from Stojkovic, Wigan became the more imposing side in midfield and Wright-Phillips was swapped for Bellamy at half time.
As Mancini admitted: "The first half was bad for us; in no tempo. We played with some difficulty. When we wanted to play the ball on the pitch, it was everywhere." Attwell, who has had better games denied City a good penalty call as Tevez was felled by Paul Scharner. But after the Argentine had broken the deadlock, there only ever looked one winner. Mancini has some far tougher challenges ahead – Arsenal and Manchester United on consecutive weekends a month from now and, intriguingly, Tottenham here in the penultimate match. The manager insisted in his programme notes that City must approach every game "like a Champions League final" but his side still give no impression that they look anywhere near that tournament.
Manchester City (4-4-2) Given; Zabaleta, Touré, Kompany, Garrido (Onuoha, 88); Wright-Phillips (Bellamy, 45), De Jong, Vieira, A Johnson; Tevez (Sylvinho, 88), Adebayor. Substitutes not used: Taylor (gk), Richards, Santa Cruz, Barry.
Wigan Athletic (4-5-1) Stojkovic; Melchiot, Caldwell, Bramble, Figueroa; McCarthy, Thomas (N'Zogbia, 53), Diame, Scharner, Rodallega (Scotland, 82); Moreno (Gohuri, 82). Substitutes not used: Politt (gk), Moses, Gomez, Sinclair.
Referee: S Attwell (Warwickshire).
Booked: Manchester City Zabaleta, Garrido, Tevez; Wigan Scharner, Bramble.
Sent off: Caldwell (55).
Man of the match: Tevez.
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