Mario not so super but striker delivers for champions with timely second-half goal
Wigan Athletic 0 Manchester City 2:Mario Balotelli did not do much in this game except score the opening goal, yet it was enough to tilt the result Manchester City’s way after Wigan Athletic had spent an hour looking more than capable of holding the defending champions to another scoreless draw.
Wigan even had chances to take the lead before the Italian pounced with a slightly scruffy goal to re-energise a tired-looking City. Many a manager would have hauled the under-performing striker off in favour of Carlos Tevez or Edin Dzeko before the 69th minute, but Roberto Mancini’s patience paid dividends and another of his substitutes, James Milner, made victory safe with a stylish goal before departing injured.
The game’s first quarter was evenly contested, with both sides passing neatly and briskly in midfield.
Internazionale have just denied they are interested in re-signing Balotelli, and on this evidence Nerazzurri fans would not consider they are missing out on much. Balotelli made a rare start for the visitors in the centre of an attacking trio, occasionally moving out to the left wing to see more of the ball.
Aguero was taking a turn in the middle when a mistake by Maynor Figueroa almost proved costly, Adrian Lopez coming to the rescue after the Wigan defender’s attempted clearance went straight to the City striker. Aguero had a clear run to goal from 40 yards out but could not quicken to shake off the rapidly arriving cover.
Thus reprieved, Wigan came back strongly, with Ronnie Stam twice showing Pablo Zabaleta a clean pair of heels down the right and Kone heading narrowly over from the second of his crosses. Gomez shaved an upright from a free-kick following a foul by Aguero, who found himself exposed in a defensive area through Javi Garcia’s reluctance to make a challenge.
City survived a penalty appeal right at the end of the first half when Gomez flung himself theatrically to the ground after a the tiniest of shirt-tugs from Zabaleta, then the Wigan player earned a caution for taking out his frustration with a snap at Barry’s ankles.
On the day when David Platt earned a two-match European ban for being sent to the stands against Real Madrid, and City picked up a £10,000 fine for having five players booked in the same Champions League game, Mancini’s side made it to the interval unscathed.
Stam was the next player to get away with shirt pulling in the area when he clearly fouled Barry at the start of the second half, before Balotelli gained his first clear goalscoring opportunity and missed. Maicon’s cross found the Italian unmarked at the far post but Balotelli failed to hit the target with a close-range free header.
Minutes later at the other end Kone was guilty of an even more glaring miss when James McCarthy’s cross picked him out in front of goal, yet from a position near the penalty spot his header was wide by yards.
Balotelli struck within seconds of Aleksandar Kolarov coming on for Aguero. Milner and Silva were involved in the build-up, before Ali al-Habsi spilled Barry’s low shot to allow Balotelli net the rebound.
Milner beat him again three minutes later from the edge of the area from Silva’s pass, and City had bagged the points.