Mancini frustrated as City take points but leave goals behind
Despite the photographic evidence from their training ground, Manchester City are still pulling their punches.
They created enough chances to win this game by a handsome margin, with David Silva alone doing enough to win three or four games, but managed to find ways of missing most of them and ended up clinging on for victory over their cash-strapped neighbours with 10 men.
"We never reached the heights we have shown we are capable of this season," Bolton manager Owen Coyle said. "We hardly gave ourselves the best start by conceding a soft goal so early, but we came back into it."
Missing from City's squadsheet was Jerome Boateng, one half of the Carrington sparring match, while Mario Balotelli, the other protagonist, played the whole game but only briefly came to life in the second half.
Once again City were indebted to Carlos Tevez, for his 10th goal of the season, even if the story of the game was the number of opportunities strikers missed. "We must improve," Roberto Mancini said. "We had maybe 15 chances to score and we deserved to win by three or four goals. I think if I had played in the game I would have scored two or three."
City have been waiting two months for a home league goal, and when one arrived as early as the fourth minute the crowd settled back in anticipation of a feast. It did not quite work out that way, however. Tevez had already seen a shot saved by Jussi Jaaskelainen by the time Yaya Toure sent him clear after three and a half minutes. Tevez stayed onside to do the rest, muscling onto the ball and tucking an early shot past the goalkeeper.
Tevez and Silva were incensed midway through the first half when a goal was unnecessarily chalked off for offside, and the City captain earned himself a booking and suspension by booting the ball away in disgust when his next challenge was deemed illegal. Tevez produced a tame shot from Silva's cut-back, then managed only a feeble miskick in front of goal when Aleksandar Kolarov teed him up. Inbetween, Pablo Zabaleta missed the clearest opening of all.
The visitors could have drawn level at the start of the second half when Kevin Davies connected with a Sam Ricketts cross but sent his volley high.
City were better in the second half, without being in any way deadly. Zabaleta brought a save from Silva's pass before Balotelli came into the game, hitting a post when he should have done better then seeing a sharper effort blocked by Cahill. Tevez wasted another invitation from Silva before the Spain striker shot against the bar.
Hart almost brought Bolton back into it when he spilled a free-kick and needed Vincent Kompany to tidy up on the line, and the final 12 minutes became more interesting when Kolarov picked up two bookings in quick succession, the second for a two-footed challenge on Ricketts, and then Tevez made his displeasure with Mancini known in the 90th minute, as he was being taken off.
Entering December three points off the top and just a point behind Chelsea is not a bad position to be in, and it was even being argued that City would have lost this game last season. "I still expect Chelsea to win the title," Mancini said. Perhaps he had better find his boots and make a comeback. Like one of Tevez's goal attempts, the title could go anywhere.