Five months after
This victory had all the hallmarks of the ones their bitter enemies across the city have copyrighted over the years, with Edin Dzeko producing a stunning 10-minute cameo to prevent Mancini from suffering another excruciating afternoon in the Black Country.
A first Premier League defeat since April had appeared ominous, but Mancini’s 10 men produced the type of gritty resolve that, quite simply, was the stuff of champions, recovering from the dismissal of James Milner with clinical efficiency.
It was a substitution in City’s last game that grabbed the headlines, after Mario Balotelli’s hissy fit down the Etihad Stadium tunnel, but this particular decision was far more rewarding as Dzeko collected his second and third goals of the week.
If the Bosnian international is as frustrated with life gathering dust on the bench as the rumours suggest, at least he is taking out his pent-up anger in the best way possible.
And when Dzeko swept home the winner, City’s bench jumped up as one in a virtual repeat of the crazy scenes on that baking hot afternoon in May.
It was all too much for Mancini, who had lost his voice by the end and sent out first-team coach David Platt to take on press duties.
“There is a lot of spirit in there and you don’t win league championships without that,” Platt said. “That’s what we did last year and that’s nothing new for us. There were games when we didn’t play particularly well last season but we got results.
“Bigger people than me have said you don’t play well all season to win leagues. But we don’t feel we nicked it here, we feel we deserved it.”
Last season’s 0-0 draw at the Hawthorns was the equivalent of an afternoon in the dentist’s chair for Mancini and it looked as if everything was going to conspire against his team here.
In a game littered with cautions, it was no surprise that Mario Balotelli got the ball rolling, for a petulant foul on Gareth McAuley and, after 23 minutes, Milner was dismissed by a busy Mark Clattenburg.
Vincent Kompany needlessly squandered possession on the halfway line and as
Shane Long advanced towards the City area, Milner was horribly exposed for
pace and hauled the
The dismissal lifted Albion, after a surprisingly hesitant start, but City were always in the game and Ben Foster was required to save impressively from Carlos Tévez early in the second period. Yaya Toure then wasted a decent chance from four yards on the hour.
Balotelli’s inevitable substitution came after 64 minutes but this time there were no fireworks, with the forward even offering his hand to his manager in the dugout. Any hopes of a result looked to have fizzled out for City three minutes later, though.
Peter Odemwingie, a substitute, chanced his arm from distance and his tame shot fortuitously fell into the path of Long, who diverted the ball into the bottom corner.
But Mancini’s decision to introduce Dzeko paid instant dividends, with the forward adding to his midweek international goal against Lithuania by heading home Tévez’s free kick.
Joe Hart recovered from his aberration in Poland to repel an overhead kick from Romelu Lukaku and then Dzeko pounced seconds later to force Mancini into losing his trademark cool, ruthlessly dispatching Sergio Agüero’s exquisite cross.
It was impossible not to feel sympathy for Steve Clarke, the West Brom manager, who had come so close to adding the Italian to his impressive collection of scalps.
“We feel we should have got something from the game,” he said, “but they showed why they were champions.”
West Bromwich Albion (4-2-3-1): Foster; Tamas, McAuley, Olsson,
Ridgewell; Yacob, Mulumbu; Fortune, Morrison (Gera 72), Dorrans (Odemwingie
63); Long (Lukaku 82).
Subs: Daniels (g), Popov, Rosenberg, Jara Reyes.
Booked: Long, Tamas, Yacob, Fortune.
Manchester City (4-2-3-1): Hart, Richards, Kompany, Lescott, Clichy; Milner, Barry (Dzeko 79); Nasri, Yaya Toure, Balotelli (Aguero 64); Tévez (Kolarov 83).
Subs: Pantilimon, Zabaleta, Sinclair, Kolo Toure.
Booked: Balotelli. Sent off: Milner.
Referee: M Clattenburg (Tyne and Wear).