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Mancini's hand on title

IF 44 years of hurt finally end for Manchester City this week, then the history books should triumphantly record that it was Roberto Mancini's canny repositioning of Yaya Toure at critical second-half moments that reacquainted the club with the English title after so long.

Last Monday, Mancini took Carlos Tevez off after 67 minutes, sent on Nigel de Jong and pushed Toure forward to disrupt Manchester United.

Yesterday, Mancini took Samir Nasri off after 61 minutes, sent on De Jong and pushed Toure forward to score twice against Newcastle United.

City have one hand touching the Premier League trophy because Mancini knows how to seize a game and influence its flow. For an hour yesterday, Toure anchored midfield, squeezing the space around Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse, and was then released into more fertile territories. His goals here were terrific.

"Yaya in that position was fantastic,'' said City's manager of the Ivorian's redeployment off the front man. "He can play in a number of different positions. He has experience, he's won trophies at Barcelona and he has brought that to us. We brought him for that reason. He's very important for us.''

City could still slip up, of course, the crown falling from their fingers. A QPR side managed by Mark Hughes, a United legend with little affection for Etihad employers who sacked him, is in town next Sunday. Joey Barton, Nedum Onuoha and Shaun Wright-Phillips also return.

City are level on points with United who travel to Sunderland but Mancini's side boast a plus-eight superior goal difference. Momentum and mathematics are with City.

Certain elements have played into Mancini's hands. Mario Balotelli's suspension allowed the Tevez-Sergio Aguero axis to flourish. Alex Ferguson's caution in the Derby cost United dear. Yet Mancini has been the decisive force. He banished the pressure from the City dressing-room by constantly saying United were favourites. His use of Toure spoke of his qualities as a tactician.

At the final whistle, City's players embraced while Mancini's coaching staff hugged each other. They all knew what a significant step had been taken. To a man, they went over to salute their fans up high in the Leazes End, their crowd in the clouds, acknowledging the support of those who have endured so much heartache down the years.



Celebrations

Watching all the celebrations was Mike Summerbee, who scored when City prevailed here on May 11, 1968 to seal that title. So long ago. The last time City were champions, Louis Armstrong's 'What a wonderful world' was sweeping the charts across the globe, London Bridge had just found a new home in Arizona and a programme at Maine Road cost a shilling.

The feats of the Boys of '68 are being matched by a new generation in blue, by the likes of Yaya Toure and City's outstanding leader, Vincent Kompany. This pair have dominated the headlines this past defining week but others deserve so much praise. Joleon Lescott currently plays the best football of his career, defending with poise and commitment. Off the field, Lescott has also played an important part; in the wake of that dispiriting defeat at Arsenal which left City eight points adrift, Lescott spoke passionately about how all was not lost, that United could still be reeled in. In City's hour of darkness, Lescott shone a torch of hope.

Gareth Barry, rarely receives mention in dispatches but talk to those behind the scenes at the Etihad, those who see his daily dedication to the cause, and they speak of how highly valued the midfielder is. In the mind's eye, Barry is seen being given the runaround by Mesut Ozil in Bloemfontein but the England international has been so influential for his club this season. Barry is a player's player, a hard worker who ensured Newcastle never settled.

Once again, the industry of Mancini's players was exceptional. The Italian is a demanding taskmaster, occasionally upsetting members of his squad, but it is merely his relentless, often ruthless pursuit of perfection that famously characterised him as a player of the highest order.



Slipping

There was no question of City slipping up here. Their attitude was too determined, their tactical discipline too good. Even the creatives rolled their sleeves up and joined the ball-winning classes. David Silva nicked the ball off Cisse. Tevez closed down Jonas Gutierrez. Even when Hatem Ben Arfa was quickest to a loose ball, Joe Hart parried.

Like Hart, Toure continued to impress. Toure embodies what Mancini craves in the new City: modest off the pitch, versatile on it.

Just after the hour, Mancini made his move. When Nasri was removed, murmurs of surprise could be heard. Surely City needed the Frenchman's deft passing and dribbling? Surely they had to go for the win?

Within 10 minutes of shifting upfield, Toure struck. After playing a one-two with Aguero, Toure stroked the ball from 20 yards past the diving Krul, getting the party started.

Newcastle's lingering hopes of a fightback were ended when Gael Clichy crossed to Toure, who controlled with his right foot, and then lifted it past Krul with his left. Mancini's tactics had worked. The title awaits.


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