Dzeko keeps City on track
WIGAN 0 MANCHESTER CITY 1
This was an ugly win for Manchester City but a very important one. Roberto Mancini's men, missing many of their luminaries, struggling recently, ground out their first away win since November 5 through Edin Dzeko's goal to restore their three-point lead at the pinnacle of the Premier League.
This was the type of gritty display that title campaigns are built around.
"We are top of the league,'' chanted City's fans at the end but this was nervy fare, particularly in the second half. Wigan had a real go, attacking hard and fast with Victor Moses terrific. Joe Hart, Joleon Lescott and company stood firm.
Stuttering in recent days, City had started as if they had a point to prove to their critics as well as three points to gain in their quest for the title. After withstanding brief pressure, City tore into Wigan's ragged defence, exploiting the generous amount of space gifted by their hosts.
Even before Dzeko rose unmarked to score, City had been pouring forward in that wonderful retro red-and-black strip of theirs. Dzeko headed wide, a waste of Gael Clichy's cross. City were in the mood, delighting their huge and very vocal congregation.
City's front four were full of movement and determination. David Silva's return from an ankle injury inevitably injected more invention into City's attacks. Dzeko was occasionally a force, leading the line with the lively Sergio Aguero darting about behind him.
Samir Nasri, who has never quite replicated his best Arsenal form here, was far more involved than usual, even closing down Wigan players as well as teasing little passes in to Aguero, Silva and Dzeko. City were as confident in these stages as they became nervous in the second half.
The stage for such performers was built by two Englishmen. James Milner, short of sleeves but long on energy, buzzed around in midfield, snapping into tackles. Gareth Barry made some important interceptions, particularly as the half closed and Wigan showed signs of life.
By then, City were ahead, taking the lead their dominance deserved after 22 minutes, the opportunity gifted by a daft challenge by Antolin Alcaraz on Dzeko. When Silva swept in a free-kick from the left, Dzeko rose untroubled to head his first goal since November 5.
Mancini's men should really have kicked on, turning around further ahead but they were denied by inaccuracy and Ali Al Habsi, ensuring some anxiety after the break.
Wigan rallied, although their approach work mixed the sublime and the ridiculous. One moment Moses or Albert Crusat were darting forward, the next Ronnie Stam was almost finding the M6 with a cross.
Moses was excellent. He had already impressed, embarrassing Stefan Savic, and soon he was at it again. Having tricked his way around Savic, Moses was dispossessed by the alert Barry.
The England midfielder has been enjoying a good season, quietly influential in the City engine-room, and he did well to nick the ball off Alcaraz and send Silva scampering upfield.
The Spaniard teed up Aguero, who was denied by the outstanding Al Habsi.
Half-time brought the joys of the DW DJ, who warmed the shivering supporters with some sweet soul music, including some classic Jackie Wilson. It seemed to inspire the players. James McArthur fizzed a shot wide of Joe Hart's right-hand upright.
Then City stormed forward, Wigan's defence opening obligingly.
Fortunately, for the hosts, Al Habsi was at his athletic best. He somehow anticipated Dzeko's intentions, flinging out a hand to push the Bosnian's shot away. Al Habsi then dropped to his left to deny Silva.
Wigan's 'keeper was then helped out by an unexpected source. Aguero wriggled in from the left in marvellous style, embarking on a run that his father-in-law Diego Maradona would have admired. Having run out of Wigan defenders to dribble past, Aguero turned to shoot. Just as he was about to make contact, Dzeko knocked the ball to Al Habsi, causing much hilarity amongst Wigan fans.
City then became all defensive. Wigan dared to dream. Hugo Rodallega drove through the middle before slipping the ball left to James McCarthy, whose angled shot was superbly saved by Hart.
A measure of Mancini's caution arrived when the Italian removed a ball-user in Nasri and sent on a ball-winner in Nigel de Jong of the Netherlands.
De Jong's arrival allowed Milner to push on and the Englishman was soon charging down the right, winning a corner. Yet still City looked worried when Wigan counter-attacked. Pablo Zabaleta panicked when the substitute Franco di Santo tried to work his way down the left. Then De Jong flew in on McCarthy, following Zabaleta into the book.
Mancini twisted again, sending on Nedum Onuoha for Silva, a defender for an attacker. Mancini was really battening down the hatches, although City still hinted at a second on the break. When Aguero laid the ball square, Dzeko's shot deflected off a defender, looped up and required an unorthodox save from Al Habsi.
With seven minutes remaining, City should really have killed the game off.
Aguero was presented with a great chance, but snaked his shot wide from right to left.
The game was getting scrappier and scrappier, De Jong belting the ball clear. Then Moses went through the gears again, speeding past Clichy, and whipping the ball in low and hard but Joleon Lescott was alive to the danger.
Controversy then ensued. Maynor Figueroa, standing on the halfway line, was the last defender and clearly handled, preventing Aguero from breaking through into undefended space. Figueroa earned only a yellow when it looked to be denying a goalscoring opportunity.
Mancini was particularly incensed, waving an imaginary card.
Mancini then removed Aguero, running down the clock and sending on Adam Johnson. Wigan still attacked. Moses was magnificent, almost working a way through. Hart refused him entry. (© Daily Telegraph, London)