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Birthday-boy Tevez puts City back in title race

Perhaps, after all, Roberto Mancini is too negative for English football. A birthday hat-trick for Carlos Tevez and a free-wheeling attacking display to see off West Bromwich Albion dispelled fears the Italian would resort to stereotype to repair Manchester City's stuttering campaign, but simply served to highlight how premature, how pessimistic he was to dismiss his side's title challenge.

For all the frustration he must have felt at seeing his team drop two precious points at Birmingham in midweek, City have no reason to develop an inferiority complex.

Mancini has no reason to lower his ambitions or expectations. His team travel to Old Trafford next week: whatever the result there, they are a side capable of staying the course, capable of challenging until the bitter end.

That is, in no small part, down to Tevez. There remains the prospect that managing to quell the Argentine's attempted mid-season mutiny will be the moment that the title race turned, not Chelsea's capture of Fernando Torres or United's success in satisfying Wayne Rooney's doubts. Few players are so crucial, so consistently, as the Argentine.

He had this game settled within 22 minutes. Tevez had already touched one Aleksandar Kolarov cross on to a post by the time Steven Reid tripped the Serb in the penalty area and City's captain rolled his spot-kick low to Boaz Myhill's left; his second, though, will be the one which is the toast of his 27th birthday celebrations.

Vincent Kompany, elegantly stepping out from defence, rolled a pass into the Argentine's path, 30 yards from goal. He exchanged passes with David Silva, sidestepped a sliding Jonas Olsson and coolly dispatched the ball past Myhill. Not spectacular, but quite exquisite.

He could not have timed it better. Two minutes later, Eastlands' big screen displayed a montage of Neil Young's greatest moments at the club, in honour of the forward who lost his long battle with cancer this week. Young scored the winner against Leicester City in the 1969 FA Cup final in the 24th minute; it was at the same instant here that City celebrated his memory.

The game secured, a club getting used to looking forward could afford to look back.

Otherwise, after the goal rush, this was the most straightforward of afternoons. Tevez completed his hat-trick with a second penalty after 36 minutes -- his 20th goal of the campaign -- after a foolish, unnecessary handball from Jerome Thomas, Kolarov saw a 30-yard piledriver tipped on to the bar by Myhill.

Silva went close, Tevez saw what would have been his fourth roll agonisingly, gently past a post. The visitors' only hope was that City would relax their grip on the game.

"You can come out with all the cliches," City's coach, David Platt, said. "But human nature means you take your foot off the pedal. It is a bit disappointing, but I'd still rather be in our dressing room than Arsenal's."

There was, in truth, little chance of Roberto Di Matteo's team managing the sort of comeback that Newcastle produced yesterday. West Brom managed two chances in the opening period -- Joe Hart denying Chris Brunt and Jonas Olsson in quick succession -- and their threat was scarcely less fleeting in the second half.

Still, seeing Peter Odemwingie, Marc-Antoine Fortune, Brunt, Nicky Shorey all send efforts whistling wide was enough to send Mancini apoplectic on the touchline. Even Tevez lost his golden touch, ballooning over the chance to record a fourth.

That lack of intensity will be the only negative the Italian can take from an afternoon replete with positives. Manchester City are still -- or, to Mancini's mind, are back -- in the title race. This is no place for pessimism.


Sunday Indo Sport