Mario Balotelli and Manchester City at war
Newcastle United 1
Manchester City 3
Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini has personally sanctioned the £340,000 fine and misconduct charge for Mario Balotelli, which the striker is to fight at a Premier League tribunal – pushing him closer to an exit from the club.
Mancini, who has been isolated for months in his desire to persist with the player, has finally run out of patience and has thrown his full weight behind the club's unusual course of disciplinary action, which places Balotelli in a state of open conflict with the champions.
Balotelli will appear before an independent two-man league panel in London on Wednesday to challenge a fine of two weeks' wages – the maximum a club may impose on a misconduct charge – which he was hit with at the end of last season because of his general disciplinary record.
The club took the unusual step because they felt that his on-field indiscipline was causing him to miss far too many games, rather than because of any of his off-field antics.
It is rare for a club to issue a fine for an ongoing pattern of yellow and red cards, rather than a specific punishable act.
It is thought – though unconfirmed – that the club's Abu Dhabian owners may have been instrumental in pushing for the punishment because of their growing frustration with the disrepute Balotelli was bringing upon the club and the problems manager Mancini was encountering in getting the message through to him.
Balotelli missed eight Premier League matches through suspension last season, just over 21pc of all games. In all competitions, he missed 11 of 54 – 20.37pc. The club's concern about his indiscipline reached its peak in last April's defeat at Arsenal, where he was dismissed for two bookable tackles after the referee missed his studs-up tackle on Alex Song, which Mancini admitted he should have been punished for.
Balotelli's indignation about the fine has seen him go through a similar disciplinary process to the one Carlos Tevez embarked upon last season.
The 22-year-old appealed against the fine before a two-man independent executive City board, who rejected his protest. Balotelli subsequently took the decision three weeks ago to take the matter to a Premier League tribunal.
Tevez ultimately withdrew his own threat to take his own gross misconduct charge – imposed for his refusal to play as a substitute in a Champions League tie at Bayern Munich – to the league.
That was after the Professional Footballers' Association prevented City from imposing a four-week fine on the Argentinian and backed the striker's argument that he had not refused to play in the game.
The PFA did not respond yesterday to inquiries on whether it was supporting Balotelli in his own case against City.
Balotelli was left out of the City squad for Saturday's trip to Newcastle on the grounds that he is not fully fit. Though he trained yesterday, he is by no means guaranteed to make the squad for this Saturday's home fixture with Reading.
City, meanwhile, will allow a Northumbria Police investigation into the alleged use of racist language in an altercation between Aleksandar Kolarov and supporters at Newcastle to proceed before deciding on any course of action.
Kolarov had a pitch-side argument with a supporter waving an Albanian flag as he warmed up during the first half.
On the pitch, Mancini had much to be pleased about. As impressive as they looked, it was not City's slicing through Newcastle in the first half that indicated they are capable of winning back-to-back Premier League titles; it was the way they stubbornly held on to their lead after the interval.
Having looked capable of scoring at will for much of the first period as David Silva, Sergio Aguero, Carlos Tevez and Samir Nasri passed and moved around Newcastle's defenders as if they were training cones, City survived a black-and-white siege in the second half through sheer determination.
Two up at half-time thanks to goals from Aguero and Javi Garcia, City had been beautiful to watch, sucking up early pressure and then blowing away their hosts with a series of snappy, attacking moves.
Newcastle were made to look embarrassingly limited in defence at times and it is doubtful their Italian left-back, Davide Santon, would have been able to keep Nasri in his sights even if he had wrapped him in fairy lights and a Santa hat. But it was the manner in which City went about the uglier, less headline-grabbing side of the game that should give manager Mancini the most cause for optimism.
After Demba Ba scored six minutes into the second half, heading the ball over Joe Hart after his defence had been slow to move out from a corner, City were probed, pushed and finally penned in.
They could have buckled, but did not.
Arsenal once threw away a four-goal lead in such a testing environment, but City allowed Newcastle just one more clear chance, Papiss Cisse turning sharply away from Matija Nastasic, but the out-of-sorts striker lifted his shot high over the bar.
Alan Pardew's side are not far away from hitting their best form but individual errors are being punished, as was illustrated after Cisse's miss. Danny Simpson stood off Silva, allowing him to spread a pass to Pablo Zabaleta. He picked out Yaya Toure who scored the third goal after Fabricio Coloccini had gone to ground too early.
Pardew desperately needs Cisse to rediscover his form, particularly with Ba's representatives fluttering their eyelashes at any club with a bigger wage budget than Newcastle's. Pardew also needs to strengthen his defence next month. (© Independent News Service)