Carlos Tevez, the rebel with a cause who threatened to derail Manchester City' Premier League title challenge, propelled them right back into the mix yesterday. Tevez and Sergio Aguero, his Argentinian compatriot, proved irresistible as City survived a second-half scare at Carrow Road yesterday to steamroller a gallant Norwich City.
City now lie only two points behind Manchester United, who have a game in hand and play Aston Villa at Old Trafford today. But from the apparent one-horse race of a week ago, when United led by eight points, the all-Mancunian duel at the top has received fresh impetus.
From zero to hero, Tevez is making the transition with ease. In only his second start since returning to City, after going Awol for six months, he scored a hat-trick – taking his tally to four goals in his past two games – and supplied one assist for Aguero. Had Tevez not gone walkabout, perhaps City could have been crowned champions already?
Paul Lambert, the Norwich manager, could only gaze in wonder as the Tevez-Aguero combination, with a goal apiece, gave City a 2-0 half-time lead. "They were absolute rockets, fabulous strikes," Lambert said. "For 70 minutes we were right in it but City were too good for us in the last 20."
It was when the clubs last met here, in February 2005, that Delia Smith, the Norwich director, launched her infamously tired-and-emotional rant. "Where are you? Let's be 'avin you! Come on!" she urged the home fans. It did not have the desired effect, with Norwich losing 3-2.
Lambert may well have given a similarly impassioned pre-match speech in the dressing-room, with his players tearing into City as if they faced relegation rather than mid-table respectability. Such was their early tenacity, fresh from the stunning 2-1 Easter win at Tottenham Hotspur, that City struggled to cope.
No greater was the home vigour illustrated than when Anthony Pilkington burst past Pablo Zabaleta and Samir Nasri only to shoot wide. Grant Holt was a tad unlucky, too, when he nodded over Joe Hart, the City and England goalkeeper, but was denied by Joleon Lescott's headed clearance on the goalline.
City were sluggish but David Silva did test John Ruddy with a fierce drive, which the Norwich goalkeeper did well to turn aside, and Tevez showed the darker side of his complex character by collecting a booking for an exaggerated plunge in the area under a challenge from Ryan Bennett.
However, he quickly displayed more acceptable traits – ceaseless energy, deep foraging, clever passing and lethal finishing. Two Tevez-inspired goals in nine minutes soothed City's initially fevered brows, the contest appearing almost over before half-time as Norwich's vivid promise faded.
After Elliott Ward had lost possession, Silva and Aguero combined to set up Tevez to deliver the most wicked of 20-yard efforts, the ball swerving and dipping past a bewildered Ruddy. The returning Messiah– though perhaps not for every City fan – had also scored in the 4-0 defeat of West Bromwich Albion at the Etihad Stadium on Wednesday.
Norwich's enterprise went in a flash, with City extending their lead when Aguero passed to Tevez – who returned it with a cute backheel – and then guided his attempt away from Ruddy. It was Aguero's 20th League goal of the season but the first outside of Manchester or London.
Another rallying cry from Lambert – or even Delia – was what Norwich needed and maybe they got it as they launched headlong into the second period. Reward came swiftly, with Adam Drury crossing from the left and Hart – please don't do this at Euro 2012, Joe – punching poorly to Andrew Surman, who thrashed it back in.
Anxious moments for Mancini but City regained their composure, three goals in seven minutes extinguishing the Norwich comeback. Ruddy failed to hold Yaya Touré's low shot, with Tevez nodding in on the follow-up, then Aguero cut inside Elliott Bennett to curl home another gem.
Tevez completed his hat trick, latching on to a woeful Ryan Bennett backpass before rounding Ruddy, and Adam Johnson thumped in City's sixth from close range in stoppage time after smart work by Aguero and Gaël Clichy. The potential Norwich fightback had become an ugly rout.
That Tevez had celebrated his treble by pretending to swing a golf club, a reference to what he spent of most of his time doing on the courses of Buenos Aires during his exile, earned applause from the away fans. "Carlos Tevez, He Wants To Go Home" they sang... and they might be right.
Norwich (4-4-2): Ruddy; R Martin, R Bennett, Ward, Drury; E Bennett, Johnson (Hoolahan, h-t), Howson, Pilkington (Surman, h-t); Holt, Wilbraham (Morison, 68).
Manchester City (4-2-2-2): Hart; Zabaleta, Kompany, Lescott,Clichy; De Jong, Barry; Silva (Johnson, 76), Nasri (Y Touré, 63); Aguero, Tevez (Richards, 81).
Referee Chris Foy.
Man of the match Tevez (Manchester City).
Match rating 8/10.