Tevez keeps City’s end of season flourish going
Late goal from Argentinian striker keeps up momentum for Mancini’s men
Manchester City's Carlos Tevez celebrates scoring the winning goal against Wigan at the Etihad Stadium. Photograph: Martin Rickett/PA
Manchester City 1 Wigan 0: After the recent revival that numbered eight wins from nine matches, this appeared a return to the Manchester City that caused supporters to curse in frustration throughout the campaign. That was until the 83rd minute when Aleksandar Kolarov fed Carlos Tevez whose finish from 20 yards came as a right-foot bullet impossible to stop for Joel Robles, the visiting goalkeeper.
Wigan Athletic's relegation-dodging escape act had previously yielded seven points from three games and, with Manchester United drawing at Upton Park, Tevez's goal made it a productive night for City, especially as for Roberto Mancini and his players the stated mission for the evening was to confirm second place and reduce the deficit behind United.
While United have played a game more, City's recent displays in beating them in the derby and knocking Chelsea out of the FA Cup to reach the final have been evidence of a late-season return to finer form.
Here, they took a while to wake up in what was a soporific opening from each side until the Etihad Stadium scoreboard flashed up that United had gone 1-0 down to a Ricardo Vaz Te goal at West Ham United. Suddenly Yaya Touré could be spied marauding through the middle then the returning Micah Richards surged into space down the right, before being blown for offside.
Next up, Sergio Agüero, playing to the left of the City trident behind the lone striker Tevez, made life awkward for Emmerson Boyce and Paul Scharner and flipped over a cross that was unlucky not to be met by a team-mate. And Kolarov, playing at left back for Gael Clichy, was set free by Tevez down the same flank, moved in on Robles's goal, and was unlucky to see the ball rebound off him to safety for the visitors.
City, though, had to bless their fortune at the other end as Wigan pinned them back in what became their most convincing passage of play. In front of Joe Hart's goal Kolarov had to be alert to make a skied clearance from a dangerous ball that could have gone anywhere but went for a corner from which Wigan failed to profit.
Further concern ensued when Arouna Koné's touch failed him when he had only Hart to beat, and the goalkeeper then had to throw himself into a starfish shape to save from Franco Di Santo after some quick footwork created an opening for him to shoot.
Moments later, Richards was forced to upend the same player to go into Jon Moss's book as the Argentinian looked to split the defence. The ensuing free-kick was hit over the wall by Shaun Maloney and straight into Hart's hands, much to home relief.
City finished the half having managed some more play in their preferred area of the pitch though after being unable to fashion a goal from a Kolarov corner, Maloney was still able to take aim with a 25-yard effort that was too high but sent a warning to City that they would have to be sharper after the break.
Agüero, who scored the clinching goal in the 2-1 win over Chelsea at Wembley, did not emerge for the second half as he was replaced by Edin Dzeko in a reshuffle that featured City going to three in defence, with Javi García joining Joleon Lescott and Vincent Kompany at centre-back.
Yet if Mancini was hoping this new formation would galvanise his side he had to watch as Lescott positioned himself superbly to clear from close to the line from Maloney, with Hart beaten.
The realignment had Kolarov and Richards, who was making a first appearance since October 27th due to a serious knee injury, pushing on down the wings. But Maloney's shot proved an unwanted augury for City as Wigan rattled them twice more in quick succession.
Koné was given too much room by García that he exploited before unloading from 20 yards and when Di Santo played the forward him a little later – as the home crowd jeered their sleeping team – his attempt required Kompany to block it.
Just before the hour, Mancini changed his personnel again. This time García came off for James Milner as his manager reverted to his original back four, with Nasri switching to wide left and the England midfielder taking his berth on the right.
Sensing someone should wrest the initiative, Tevez blazed at Robles but his radar was off. There were further chances for each side but no material result until the striker's pivotal intervention.
Mancini and Roberto Martínez had perhaps been correct to suggest that no implications could be drawn from this contest regarding the FA Cup final. But, if it is as entertaining as this game, May 11th should be an invigorating occasion.