Zabaleta pays his way as Kaka deal drags on

Manchester City 1 Wigan Athletic 0
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Manchester City may have gone from gags to riches but some things never change. Kaka should be warned that the club he appears to be joining for £100m are hardly ever likely to do things simply.

If the Brazilian needs a quick lesson in what he can expect in Manchester then a DVD of this match will do. City could have won easily yet managed to contrive a nervy ending after Richard Dunne was sent off for a needless kick at Amr Zaki. "Plus ca change", you might say, as an alternative to "never mind the change", that is the norm now at Eastlands.

On a weekend when the club was attempting to break the world transfer record, it was ironic that it was a man who cost relative peanuts who secured only their second win in seven Premier League matches. It was a £6m Argentine who got the goal that edged the club further from the relegation zone, Pablo Zabaleta. He, it is safe to say, is earning nowhere near £500,000 a week.

"There have been distractions which were inevitable given the interest surrounding the club but we kept our focus," Mark Hughes the Manchester City manager said. "We got the job done today." Wigan Athletic's manager Steve Bruce, rueing a lost opportunity, added: "We missed a glorious chance."

It was an important victory for City and one that might mark an ending. The team that appeared yesterday might never be seen again as Kaka seems set for the club and Bruce confirmed an offer of about £13m has been made for his Honduras midfielder, Wilson Palacios. Indeed, Wayne Bridge, making his debut after his £10m transfer from Chelsea, was one of very few who knew that his future lay with the club.

Another is Robinho, who could have had City 2-0 ahead within 22 minutes. His first chance came when Elano, one of the players who could make way for Kaka, played an exquisite pass that split the Wigan centre-backs and allowed his fellow Brazilian an unhindered run at goal. Unhindered that is apart from Robinho's rare lack of touch and he mis-hit his shot wide. There was nothing awkward about Robinho in his second opportunity, however. Elano again played the kind of pass most midfielders can only fantasise about and the £32.5m man chipped over the charging Chris Kirkland only to be thwarted by Titus Bramble's clearance off the line.

These chances were the home high-water mark until after the interval and it was marginally against the run of play when City took the lead after 53 minutes. The goal owed a lot to the perseverance of Daniel Sturridge who refused to give up on what seemed a lost cause as he was ushered towards the flank by two Wigan defenders. His cross, cleared by Paul Scharner's header, arced to Zabaleta who volleyed in with his right foot from the edge of the area.

Of course City never take the easy option and no sooner had they taken the lead than they were reduced to 10 men. Dunne and Zaki challenged for a header and when they landed on the floor the City captain kicked the Wigan striker in his side. Dunne complained that he had been fouled in the original tussle, but he gave referee Lee Mason little choice but to show a red card.

The dismissal meant that City had to spend 40 minutes defending their goal and nerves were ragged by the end. In the 84th minute, Lee Cattermole's header hit the bar and, as Joe Hart attempted to recover, Zaki needed only to be accurate from three yards. Instead – "He will be appearing on gaffes videos at Christmas," Bruce said – he headed over.

Kaka should take note that it is football at Manchester City but not as he knows it.



The Last Word page 24

Attendance: 41,262

Referee: L Mason

Man of the match: Elano

Match rating: 6/10

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