Rampaging giant Toure drags Mancini's charges to brink of historic title
Newcastle Utd 0 Manchester City 2
Published 07/05/2012 | 05:00
At the end of the game, even Roberto Mancini could not stop himself walking on to the pitch and hugging some of the players for whom he represents, for most of the time, a rather distant and unyielding authority figure.
He even seemed to be having a laugh and a joke with Samir Nasri as the two of them walked off down the St James' Park tunnel.
Would he be watching Manchester United play Swansea on television? No, he wanted to go home. Were City the favourites for the title now? Maybe. How did it feel to be standing on the brink of history? He would get back to us all come next Sunday evening.
But, however much Mancini chooses to deny it, City fans believe that they are heading towards a significant point in their club's history.
The 'Temple of Doom', as Alex Ferguson once called their stadium, is preparing to welcome City's first title in 44 years and, perhaps, herald a change in English football that will last much longer than what promises to be one big blue day in Manchester. Let's not get too far ahead of ourselves, however. City go into the final weekend of the season with a goal difference eight superior to United, knowing that they only have to match their old rivals' result to win the title.
They face a QPR team managed by Mark Hughes, still fighting for their Premier League status. But City do so at home, where they have dropped only two points all season and have not lost in the league since December 2010.
United must go to Sunderland, the only team to have got a point at the Etihad all season, as they attempt to keep pace with their arch-rivals. City might secretly have feared a barrage of United goals yesterday to change the goal difference situation but the advantage -- slender but significant -- belongs to City.
Bitter experience will tell them they have found more than one way to concede a winning position in the past.
Perhaps the old ways are changing at last. The condition that Joe Royle once called "City-itis", the innate capacity to blow it, was a feature of their past, but yesterday they took the penultimate step towards vanquishing it for ever.
With 20 minutes of the game left and Mancini reshuffling his team dramatically, other sides might have lost their nerve. Plenty of teams have run United close in the title race over the years but not quite cleared the final hurdle. Yesterday City found it from somewhere to turn this game, against one of the best teams in the division, when they might just have faded away and handed the advantage back to United.
Their goals came from Yaya Toure -- the man whose transfer from Barcelona in 2010 forced Sheikh Mansour to take Premier League wages into another realm, and who embodied the very best of City yesterday.
He began the game in central midfield alongside Gareth Barry and was then pushed up behind Sergio Aguero and Carlos Tevez, later replaced by Edin Dzeko, from where he scored the two goals that won the game.
Toure was well rewarded for leaving what was then the best team in Europe but he looked like a player completely committed to the cause yesterday.
On a booking and having been asked by Mancini to push on and win the game, this great rampaging giant of a midfielder summoned up the spirit and delivered the goods.
This was not a bad performance from Newcastle; it was just that for much of the first half they were simply not in the game.
Hatem Ben Arfa forced a fine save out of Joe Hart with 11 minutes gone but, when Newcastle cleared two Barry shots from inside their goalmouth at the end of the first half, you had the feeling that this might be one win too far.
What is it that great title-winning teams have? Brian Kidd, alongside Mancini on the City bench, knows that from his days with Ferguson, especially from that moment 19 years ago when he sank to his knees on the Old Trafford turf as United beat Sheffield Wednesday to win their first Premier League title.
Perhaps he will have a similar moment at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday. He is developing a habit of being present at seminal moments in Manchester's football history.
Great title-winning teams have the wherewithal to find a goal from somewhere. That was the case on 70 minutes yesterday when Toure exchanged passes with Aguero and curled his shot just inside Tim Krul's left post.
He should have scored another on 86 minutes when Aguero played him through on goal and, in the process of dribbling round Krul, the midfielder simply toppled over.
The heart-in-mouth moment for Newcastle came with two minutes of normal time left when substitute Shola Ameobi had a clear shot at goal. It was blocked by Micah Richards, only brought on three minutes earlier. It was the kind of moment upon which games are won and lost, and a minute later City had scored their second.
By then they had a five-man defence, but, when Aguero stole the ball from Yohan Cabaye in midfield with a minute remaining, he was accompanied on the break by Nigel de Jong, Gael Clichy and Toure. The ball was passed in that sequence before Toure clipped it past Krul from close range.
It will be a good reminder of how far Manini's team have come -- but there will be no better symbol of that than if they have the Premier League trophy to lift at the end of the day. (© Independent News Service)