'SuperMario' lives up to his reputation
West Brom 0
Manchester City 2
He's a brat, but he's brilliant. At least Manchester City knew what they were getting when they parted with £24m for Mario Balotelli, and yesterday 'SuperMario' lived up to his gloriously individual reputation.
Two goals -- his first in the Premier League -- a firebox of tricks and flicks, power and pace, a yellow card and then, two minutes later, a straight red.
A surly shrug, an angry trudge and a stuck-out lip and down the tunnel he went. Eccentric? Eclectic? Enigmatic? Yes, yes and, yes again.
This was the strangest of days for City. Fourth in the table, only behind Arsenal on goal difference, and now just five points off the summit with Manchester United, no less, to come on Wednesday and the chance of overhauling them. Let battle commence.
With an impressive performance, City easily arrested their run of three straight defeats which had ratcheted up the pressure -- whatever the hollow denials -- on manager Roberto Mancini, who was on the pitch at the end to acknowledge the relentless backing of the visiting supporters.
Did he get such support at Inter Milan? "Yes," Mancini said. "But only after I had won three scudettos (league titles)."
A little humour -- but a lot of relief. And, once again, the extraordinary sight of two City players arguing on the pitch as Vincent Kompany quarrelled with Yaya Toure.
It so infuriated brother Kolo Toure that he tore off his gloves and threw them on the ground in disgust, but Mancini shrugged it off. "I'm happy with this," he said. "It is better that players argue (on the pitch)."
It could be said that the gloves have been off for some time at City where there have been more pouts -- and sometimes pints -- than points at times this season.
Balotelli will take the headlines -- as is usual for him -- with Mancini having recognised that the red mist was descending when his fellow Italian was booked after back-chatting referee Lee Probert. Mancini prepared Adam Johnson to replace him, but it was not quick enough.
The Italian tangled with Youssouf Mulumbu who, ridiculously, clutched his face to give the appearance he had been kicked there. Instead Balotelli had struck out at his back and was dismissed.
Mancini was angry. Angry with Balotelli -- for not heeding his warnings -- but more angry with the referee.
"I don't agree that the offence was a sending off," he said. "Red card for what? I'm angry because I explained to him before the game 'pay attention with the referee' and it was at that moment (the dismissal) that I wanted to change Johnson for Mario and I did not have time to change it."
Mancini said City would appeal the decision but conceded that he also had to educate Balotelli and make him "calm down". "Yes, I need to change this," he said of the 20-year-old's hot temperament.
What he doesn't need to change is Carlos Tevez. Although Balotelli and Mancini will take the headlines, the real game-changer for City was the return of their captain, their talisman, who flew back from Argentina, recovered from a thigh injury and a host of personal issues, to galvanise the team.
They quickened their step, their belief swelling with the striker back in their ranks. He was at his indefatigable best, a blur of perpetual motion and crackling positivity.
That was a key also. City were more positive all-round, Mancini stocking his line-up with attacking players and reaping an early dividend when Tevez made a trademark angled run, picked out by David Silva, who slid a pass into the penalty area.
Tevez cut the ball back across goal and there was Balotelli to sidefoot home. Just 20 minutes had passed and six minutes later he struck again, with Silva again involved.
This time his lofted pass, between West Brom's two central defenders, should have been cleared by Gabriel Tamas, after Balotelli flicked it on. But, instead, Balotelli rolled his marker, and struck an instant shot back across Scott Carson, catching out the goalkeeper.
"He's a real handful," conceded West Brom manager Roberto Di Matteo. "He's a big boy, quick and powerful, but you look at their team and you see the sheer amount of quality players."
Indeed so. The challenge is to bring them together and as slick as City's early play was it didn't last. A snap-shot by Simon Cox cannoned off the inside of a post and after Balotelli's dismissal, Kompany contrived to head against his own crossbar.
Had either effort struck the net rather than the goal-frame, it would have been game on. Instead, Mulumbu was also dismissed, for a second yellow after a rash tackle on Tevez, and West Brom's challenge ended. (© Daily Telegraph, London)