Super Mario steals the points


Manchester City 3 Tottenham Hotspur 2:Mario Balotelli spent only half an hour on the field but the Italian found time not only to provide the controversy but also the decisive finish as Manchester City pinched victory over title rivals Tottenham. So we are left to pore over whether match-winner Balotelli should have been on the field to win, and score, the late penalty clincher.

The enigmatic striker is rarely far from the headlines and a clash with Scott Parker, soon after he was booked, will inevitably prompt much discussion. A deliberate stamp with his heel from the substitute on the England midfielder? Or a stumble? The outcome was no punishment.

Spurs manager Harry Redknapp had no doubt, passing an immediate guilty verdict. “He does it a lot,” Redknapp said.

The result leaves City in command of the Premier League title race, although its less-than-convincing nature will no doubt see the debate continue over which manager is doing the better job. The touchpaper had been lit before the game by suggestions from Redknapp that the wealth available to Roberto Mancini had made his City counterpart’s job much easier.

To illustrate his thinking, City lined up with a side that cost a combined £188.6million while the Spurs team was assembled for a relatively meagre £59.1million. In that sense Redknapp had a good point as, man for man, his team looked just as exciting as City’s on paper.

Talented players of the like of Gareth Bale, Aaron Lennon, Luka Modric, Scott Parker and Rafael van der Vaart would be the envy of most teams, perhaps even for one boasting Sergio Aguero, David Silva, Samir Nasri and Gareth Barry.

At around a third of the price Redknapp has moulded a side capable of challenging for the top prize. Yet Mancini has, with equal validity, pointed to the fact that City have come from much farther back in the field.

When Spurs were finishing fifth twice in succession in 2006 and 2007, City were trailing in 15th and 14th place. Ten years ago they were not even in the top flight. To get to a level befitting the ambition and wealth they were infused with by Sheikh Mansour’s takeover in 2008, they needed to spend quickly and lavishly.

Spurs, even if they had the money available, might not have needed to make the same outlay as they already had players to sustain higher-placed finishes. Yet there is no denying that City’s wealth has allowed them to overtake most of their rivals to the extent they are justifiably regarded as title favourites.

Spurs’ elevation into title contention under Redknapp has been much more modest and a lot of credit for that is due to the manager. It should not be forgotten, however, that some of his success this season came as a result of the generosity of City in loaning them Emmanuel Adebayor, who must have been an interested spectator today.

Mancini’s achievement in putting together a team when, with such money and expectation, the potential for implosion is high should also not be belittled. It also took good organisation to ensure a result was secured against a serious rival while missing two of the most important players.

For all the high-calibre players City still had available, the absences of influential captain Vincent Kompany and the equally inspirational midfielder Yaya Toure are sorely felt. Anyone salivating at the prospect of a feast of attacking football could only have been disappointed by the caginess of the first half.

City carved out a number of opportunities, but aside from when Aguero forced Brad Friedel to block they did not seriously threaten the goal. Spurs hardly worked Joe Hart at all.

That changed dramatically in the second half in a nine-minute spell as exciting as anything seen in the Premier League this season as both sides struck twice. Nasri made no mistake from the edge of the area, Joleon Lescott bundled one in at a corner, Jermain Defoe underlined his enduring ability and Bale curled in a stunner.

Questions will again be asked about City’s durability after surrendering a two-goal lead. Yet they fought on and, despite a late scare when Defoe went close, showed the spirit of potential champions to snatch victory.