Verdict: Manchester City 3 Wigan Athletic 0
Goals: Tevez 71, 74, 83 for City.
Frustration ultimately gave way to satisfaction as Carlos Tevez once again inspired City to victory with a 12 minute hat-trick in the second-half. Wigan will point to the sending off of Caldwell on 71 minutes as the turning point, but City fans won’t care as we maintained our chase for a Champions League place.
As is now customary, Roberto Mancini sprung a few surprises in the starting eleven. Dropped to the bench were Bellamy, Barry, Richards and Santa Cruz, while Ireland was presumably not fit afterall.
Garrido came in at left-back, presumably to give us a better attacking option, while Zabaleta was in his preferred position of right-back. De Jong and Vieira was the surprise midfield combination. Johnson and Wright-Phillips took up stations on the wings with a view to supplying Tevez and the returning Adebayor.
Despite the loss against Everton, Mancini must have been confident of victory to rest Barry and Bellamy. There was a certain logic to trying de Jong alongside Vieira. Barry isn’t a great deal more mobile than the Frenchman, who does like to play quick incisive passes when he can. One of these lead to the first goal, but there were far to many other, more straightforward passses, that went astray.
With Wigan enjoying an extra man in the middle and liking to stroke the ball around, de Jong was required to cover an awful lot of ground to little effect. Vieira isn’t able to do an equal share, and while his physical presence may have matched that of the Wigan players, they were often to quick for him.
One of our strikers, preferably Tevez, ought to have dropped deep to help out, but for some reason neither did. Adebayor prefers to pull out wide and offer himself for the ball. This can be a useful outlet, but the Togolese then needs to move into the middle quicker to prevent us getting bogged down on the flanks with little to aim at in the penalty area.
Without Ireland, it was again apparent that none of our central midfielders are likely to get forward. It becomes far to easy for the opposition to pick up any second balls off our strikers and regain possession.
Wigan remain a powerful side and there was always the danger of their players from the Americas creating something on the break. Rodagella in particular looked dangerous and threated to get away from Zabaleta and co on several occasions.
All this lead to increased frustration within the crowd. With Liverpool and Tottenham both winning at the weekend, the pressure was palpably on City and a failure to get an early goal or play free flowing football was always likely to result in nervousness.
It should be noted that while Wigan were proving themselves no pushovers, City did create chances and a goal was always a possibility. Even without the sending-off there was still a good chance that we would force a goal, possibly with the help of an attacking substitution by Mancini.
Tevez had been on the receiving end of some strong tackles throughout the match, with the referee showing little sympathy, so it was a surprise to see him pull out a red card for Caldwell’s forceful challenge. Maybe having the referee on the spot did for him as it did for Adebayor in his sending off at Stoke. That’s the nature of the game these days.
For a spell City endured the cliche of finding it harder playing against ten men, and frustration among the crowd becoming distinctly more audible. Vieira was the main victim and it looks like he may better used as a substitute or in a three man midfield.
Ironically it was the Frenchman’s throughball that created a goal. Stojkovic in the Wigan goal hesiated, allowing Adebayor to poke it into the path of Tevez for a simple tap-in. The tension was lifted and with Wigan’s reputation for collapsing, the omens were good.
Moments later, Tevez played in Adebayor who took an age to sort his feet out and allowed Scharner to make a recovery tackle. It made little difference as a cross following a corner was poorly defended, allowing Tevez to slide in his second at the far post.
The best came last with an exhausted looking Carlos finding one last surge of energy to carry the ball into the penalty area, swerve round a defender and trick the keeper with a shot into the far corner.
Our hero departed to a standing ovataion having single-handedly kept us in the hunt for a Champions League place. At half-time, Mancini was apparently angry at the lack of urgency, and afterwards he gave an insight into the strategic thinking which saw Barry rested.
“We rested Barry, he has played a lot this season and he needed rest with seven important games coming up. Pablo and Nigel were close to getting suspensions before tonight, so it was important to rest Gareth with that in mind.”
Next up is Burnley away in a fixture that will once again be described as must-win. Expect to see more tweaks to the line-up as Mancini seeks to find a more convincing formula in midfield, while hoping Adebayor does more to assist Tevez.