Zabaleta's sending-off keeps City dreams grounded

Wigan Athletic 1 Manchester City 1

As befits the new high rollers of English football, Manchester City are supposed to turn up in towns like Wigan and beat sides like Wigan Athletic. But yesterday their plans for world domination were temporarily halted just 17 miles outside Manchester by a team of bolshie Lancastrians who lie down for no one.

Mark Hughes' team racked up their eighth away point of the season at this outpost of north-west football, which gives them a total only three short of the amount they earned for the whole of last season. They saw out the draw with only 10 men after Pablo Zabaleta's dismissal. They are one point off the Champions League places. And yet with City's lofty ambitions this might count as a disappointment.

This game made it two points from the last three games for City, not quite the run Hughes will have envisaged but there are good reasons for all those results: a last-minute defeat to Manchester United in controversial circumstances, a hard-fought draw at Villa Park before the international break and yesterday's draw playing with 10 men for 25 minutes. Even so, there can be no mistakes against Fulham at home on Sunday.

Martin Petrov scored City's equaliser early in the second half after Charles N'Zogbia had given Wigan the lead before the break. The sending-off changed everything about City's approach but Roberto Martinez's team were impressive. They have taken four points from two games against Chelsea and City, even if in both games they conceded early after half-time.

But this was not just about City and their expensively assembled talent, it was also about Alan Wiley, refereeing his first game since he was monstered by Sir Alex Ferguson in the aftermath of Manchester United's victory over Sunderland on 3 October. If Wiley was wondering whether he might be of interest then he needed look no further than the press box where his erstwhile refereeing colleague, Graham Poll, had been dispatched, with laptop, to write his newspaper column.

Only 28 minutes of the game had been played when the first chant of, "You're not fit to referee," drifted down from the stands to Wiley from the Wigan support. By the end of the match it was the City fans who, with Zabaleta dismissed for a second yellow card, were singing, "You're too fat to referee". They were both wrong: Wiley had a good game.

To his credit, Hughes could make a joke about Wiley's fitness – going out of his way to praise the referee's athleticism – and he disagreed over Zabaleta's sending-off only in the mildest terms. Hughes' main quibble was that Shaun Wright-Phillips should have had a penalty in the 80th minute after a tangle with Maynor Figueroa but that was highly debatable.

Despite the draw, Hughes was relentlessly upbeat. He talked about having a different class of player this year, "Every player at this level has the ability to shoot, pass and trap a ball," he said. "But they have to do it under pressure when things are going wrong or the momentum of a game changes. It comes from within. This year we have more characters who can do that."

Just watching Wigan can be exhausting. They are an all-action bunch, powerful – athletic in more than just their name. They made City work for every ball with Hugo Rodallega and the French midfielder Mohamed Diame particularly impressive. Rodallega doubled up as an extra midfielder when the moment required it but he also had some of Wigan's best chances as well as a part in his side's goal.

Back in the City team was Micah Richards, playing his first game since the defeat to United at Old Trafford last month and he was part of the trail of errors for the Wigan goal one minute before half-time. A high ball down the right saw Zabaleta lose out to Paul Scharner. Jason Scotland got to the ball before Richards and played in Rodallega whose shot was stopped but not held by Shay Given. N'Zogbia beat Wayne Bridge to tap in the rebound.

Having proved second best every step of the way in that passage of play, City came out after the interval and ambushed their opposition. Carlos Tevez scuttled down the right and cut the ball back across the box. When Wright-Phillips missed it, the Wigan defence was wrong-footed. Titus Bramble was painfully slow in shutting down Petrov who beat Chris Kirkland easily. Typical of Bramble. Less than 10 minutes later he slid in to take the ball off Emmanuel Adebayor beautifully as he ran through on to a pass from Tevez. For his part, Kirkland had to have a dislocated finger wrenched back into place by the physio following a challenge at a corner.

Whether Wiley watched his own highlights montage that Sky Sports ran at half-time – with "Keep on Running" by the Spencer Davis Group as the soundtrack – we will never know. But he was correct with the decision to dismiss Zabaleta for a blatant trip on Scotland, his second yellow after a foul on Figueroa in the first half.

City were forced to reorganise and Adebayor, already limping, was substituted for Vincent Kompany who went to centre-back so Richards could fill Zabaleta's role at right-back. Hughes said Adebayor should be back in action for next weekend but in truth he looked badly off the pace yesterday.

The best chances at the end of the game all fell Wigan's way – a shot from Diame that went over, another from substitute Jordi Gomez and then a brilliant save from Given from the excellent Rodallega. City have not lost sight of the summit, according to Hughes, they have merely stumbled.

Wigan Athletic (4-4-2): Kirkland; Scharner (Gomez, 72), Boyce, Bramble, Melchiot; Figueroa, Thomas, N'Zogbia, Diame; Scotland, Rodallega. Substitutes not used: Pollitt (gk), Cho, Koumas, Sinclair, Kapo, King.

Manchester City (4-3-2-1): Given; Zabaleta, Richards, Lescott, Bridge; Wright-Phillips (Ireland, 83), De Jong, Barry; Tevez (Santa Cruz, 82), Petrov; Adebayor (Kompany, 70). Substitutes not used: Taylor (gk), Johnson, Sylvinho, Weiss.

Referee: A Wiley (Staffordshire)

Booked: Wigan Thomas, Figueroa Manchester City Zabaleta

Sent off: Zabaleta (65)

Man of the match: Rodallega.

Attendance: 20,005.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Amazon's drones were unveiled last year.
business
Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished
tvReview: The latest episode was a smidgen less depressing... but it’s hardly a bonza beach party
Life and Style
Worth shelling out for: Atlantic lobsters are especially meaty
food + drink
News
i100
Sport
Gareth Bale
footballPaul Scholes on how Real Madrid's Welsh winger would be a perfect fit at Old Trafford if he leaves Spain
Arts and Entertainment
Lily James in ‘Cinderella’
film
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss