They were “Doing the Poznan” at Manchester City last night, dancing with their backs to goal, watching their team streaming forward. Carlos Tevez started and scored. David Silva, a ghost of the player who had propelled City through the first few months of the season, hit a perfect chip on the run for the fourth. By the end, there was hope that the Manchester derby might not be a coronation of the old enemy. The score from Wigan was met by a rolling roar. They are not dead yet.
Roberto Mancini may have seen no reason to change his mind that the chance of the championship had been surrendered at Arsenal but hope still flickered and burned in the eastern quarters of Manchester. The sound when the final score arrived from the DW Stadium was more than just hope, although much will depend on Sunderland, Aston Villa and Everton – teams with dire records against Manchester United – somehow playing above themselves. Much will depend on their own form. If City stumble again, there is no way back. Every move now will have to be perfect.
Sport, like history, enjoys a question that begins "What if?" What if Tevez's response to Mancini, when asked to warm up in Munich, had been 'Yes boss", rather than something altogether earthier. Would the title be a probability rather than a tantalising fantasy?
In his first start since that September night in Germany, he scored. Admittedly, he only lasted an hour and the Eastlands crowd, recognising he was out of condition, serenaded him with choruses of: "Carlos Tevez, he eats when he wants." When he came off it was to a standing ovation. His manager was rather more restrained.
Roy Hodgson recognised that when Manchester City are in this driven mood there are few sides that can answer them. "We came here with dreams and hopes of being able to hurt Manchester City," said the West Bromwich manager. "But we didn't have the wherewithal to hurt them."
It was an evening that suggested that if Manchester City were to fail they would do so with the style that never entirely deserted them, not even when third-division football came calling at Maine Road. Mancini still has the support of the crowd and he responded to their chants by applauding them. How the players feel about him must await their return to Argentina, Spain and France and the various interviews they conduct there. The fact that Sergio Aguero's father-in-law, Diego Maradona, expects to see him at Real Madrid next season does not bode well.
When Manchester City paid Atletico Madrid £38m for Aguero, the great question was how he would combine with his fellow Argentine. Nobody could have imagined that until last night he and Tevez would have started one game together, a 3-0 victory over Wigan here in September, which saw Aguero score a hat-trick.
This looked as if it would be almost as straightforward, certainly Aguero revelled in the night. Half a dozen minutes into the match, he took hold of the ball, drove forward and struck his shot into the corner of Ben Foster's net. His second, shortly after the restart, was even simpler, a pass from Samir Nasri that he slid past the Albion keeper.
As a one-time employee of Manchester United, Foster was subject to taunts that he was now "England's number five". His opposite number, Joe Hart, had precisely one save to make in the first half and fewer in the second. David Silva shook off the exhaustion that had clung to him for weeks to chip him on the run.
From the start, Tevez began to discover the flicks and turns that had been such a feature of last season. Midway through the first half he found Micah Richards in the area, the defender rounded Foster but saw his shot blocked on the line by Craig Dawson. His goal was pure simplicity – a pass from Nasri, pulled back by Aguero and converted by the prodigal.
The celebrations from his team-mates were respectful rather than overwhelming. The supporters were rather more effusive. He, like Mario Balotelli may not be very long for Manchester City but it was nice to have him back and to imagine what if.
Man of the match Aguero.
Match rating 7/10.
Referee K Friend (Leicestershire).
Attendance 46,746.Reuse content