Toure the hero as City mix grit with sparkle
Micah Richards smiled when reminded that the African Cup of Nations from January 21 to February 12 would deprive Manchester City of the heavyweight services of the Ivorian Yaya Toure. "Yes but we will just go and buy someone else!" Richards joked.
Alarming for the rest of the Premier League, that reality is a delight and a pressure for City's players. Their Arab wealth means high-class cavalry is only a transfer window away and it also ensures Richards and company know they must deliver in every game.
"It can be frustrating,'' said City's in-form right-back of being left out. "But this is a team that is going places. If you want to be part of it you've just got to grin and bear it."
It is a great credit to the management team of Roberto Mancini, David Platt and Brian Kidd, and the character of individuals like Richards, that City have forged the type of unity required for those wanting to last the marathon of a league season. Saturday's edgy win over an endlessly adventurous QPR reflected City's resilience as much as the technical gifts of David Silva.
This was one of those breathless, end-to-end games in a packed-out, noisy arena that helps explain the Premier League's worldwide appeal.
Neil Warnock's hosts took some pride in defeat, departing to a standing ovation for having given the league leaders such a run for their considerable money. Joey Barton and Ali Faurlin excelled in central midfield, Jay Bothroyd imposed himself aerially while Heidar Helguson ran relentlessly and intelligently.
"We played some good stuff and I don't think people expected that from us against the champions-elect,'' said Neil Warnock, who added that QPR "need four" new players. "City were very fortunate to come away with a win but that's what makes them such a good side.''
Mancini's men were on the back foot for chunks of this compelling game, even suffering the rarity this season of trailing when Bothroyd headed in Barton's superb free-kick.
City dug deep, conjuring up breakaway goals to seize the lead. James Milner released Edin Dzeko, who cut inside and finished in style.
Milner and Dzeko again combined, teeing up Silva, whose first touch totally wrongfooted Anton Ferdinand and Danny Gabbidon before his second beat Paddy Kenny.
"Sometimes I just watch and admire,'' continued Richards, captain for the day. "I'm just glad to be in the team and it was a great honour to lead out a team of such stars."
Nevertheless QPR rallied. Bothroyd's header struck Helguson to make it 2-2, more reward for Bothroyd's improved performances of late. "He's a changed boy at the minute and all credit to him,'' said Warnock of Bothroyd.
"He came to see me and asked me how he can get back in the team after I left him out. I told him he had to show me on the training ground he was hungry to come back in because his attitude wasn't good at the time. The last couple of weeks he's been fantastic. His eyes are bright."
Those eyes could also see the quality in City's ranks. "It's more than ability,'' said Bothroyd. "Names don't make a great team, it's the work ethic and the ability. They're improving. They hammered Man United, they've been in top form all season, they're scoring goals freely. Generally they keep it tight at the back."
Not here. City missed Vincent Kompany. QPR's central defence of Gabbidon and Ferdinand was hardly convincing either. When Aleksandar Kolarov whipped in a cross from the left, Yaya Toure leapt well to restore City's lead.
"There have been games when you're winning 5-1 and you're sat there with that Ready Brek glow around you, but we didn't have that luxury here,'' said City assistant boss David Platt. "The glow was missing. But in the cold light of day, that's a great performance for us to look back on -- because it shows we can win games without being at our best." (© Daily Telegraph, London)