Balotelli strike keeps City on leaders' heels
Wigan 0 Manchester City 2
Mario Balotelli and James Milner struck in the second half as champions Manchester City edged out spirited Wigan on a freezing night at the DW Stadium.
City took time to warm up and Wigan had several chances before Balotelli, moments after a bad miss, changed the game 21 minutes from full-time with his first Premier League goal since March.
Milner, having not long been on the field, then doubled the lead with a superb strike before being forced off injured. The result extended City's unbeaten Premier League run to 20 matches and kept them within a point of leaders Manchester United.
Balotelli was making his first start in six matches and, after a mostly frustrating night, eventually justified Roberto Mancini's selection of him ahead of Edin Dzeko.
City were the first to go close when Maicon charged down the right and fired narrowly over from a tight angle.
Wigan threatened on the counter-attack after a City move broke down and Franco di Santo released Arouna Kone, whose long-range shot was grabbed by Joe Hart at the second attempt.
City had another chance as David Silva played in Sergio Aguero, but the Argentinian could only shoot into the side-netting.
Another good City move led to Pablo Zabaleta, starting on the left rather than the right, break into the area but he lost control and Ali Al Habsi claimed.
Maicon looked in some discomfort after a Di Santo cross struck him in the throat, but the Brazilian was able to continue after a stoppage for treatment.
Wigan continued to play their confident brand of football and Jean Beausejour created a chance by cutting inside Maicon, but his desire to shoot with his left foot gave Vincent Kompany time to block.
The Latics had a scare when a high bounce caught out Maynor Figueroa and Aguero broke clear, but Adrian Lopez came across to tackle.
Wigan's Ronnie Stam beat Zabaleta with a superb run down the right and crossed from the byline. Kone beat Hart in the air, but his header dropped on to the roof of the net, much to the relief of the goalkeeper who felt, incorrectly, the ball had gone out before Stam crossed.
Hart was then pleased to see a Jordi Gomez free-kick flash over after the Spaniard was fouled by Aguero outside the area.
Gomez, high on confidence after a match-winning hat-trick against Reading, appealed for a penalty after Zabaleta wrapped his arm around his body, but referee Mark Halsey deemed his fall too theatrical.
After being shaded in the first half, City upped the tempo and looked a much stronger proposition after the break. Balotelli sent a free-kick over and Gareth Barry felt he was impeded by Stam after getting into the area in the hope of getting on the end of a cross.
Yaya Toure then blazed over before Balotelli was guilty of a glaring miss when he headed wide from close range at the far post from an inch-perfect Maicon cross.
City then had a let-off as an unmarked Kone headed wide from a James McCarthy cross and Gomez also missed the target.
The champions needed to respond again and this time they did so decisively. Al Habsi was unable to hold Barry's low strike from the edge of the area in the 69th minute and Balotelli was quick to react.
The Italian's first effort was blocked, but he made no mistake with the second chance and he emphatically tucked away his third goal of the season in all competitions.
There was a slight delay to play restarting as Balotelli ran off to celebrate with substitute Carlos Tevez, who was warming up on the touchline.
City put the result beyond doubt just three minutes later as substitute Milner, brought on for the ineffective Javi Garcia, found the top corner with a stunning long-range strike.
Maicon should have added a third after being presented the ball by a poor Emmerson Boyce clearance but side-footed wide with Al Habsi beaten.
Milner's night ended prematurely when he limped off 10 minutes from time, but it had been quite an impressive 21-minute cameo from the England international.
The scoreline was harsh on Wigan, whose spirit did not drop, but City had done what was required.