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Mancini feels the strain as Duff swoops to earn Cottagers share of points

Just over a month ago, Roberto Mancini spoke bullishly of the 'creative tensions' within his squad which, the odd training ground punch-up aside, were propelling Manchester City towards a possible Premier League title.

Yet having allowed himself to be drawn into a pointless spat over handshake protocol with Mark Hughes in the technical area following City's latest disappointing result, the tension now appears to be afflicting the Italian and driving him to distraction.

Damien Duff's 48th-minute equaliser, a far post strike from Andy Johnson's cross, cancelled out Mario Balotelli's eye-catching opener and left City with just five points from their last five games.

Winning the Premier League title this season is now nothing more than a pipe dream, but with the mantra from Eastlands always that the sole priority is Champions League qualification, Mancini and City are beginning to feel the heat.


Tottenham and Chelsea both have games in hand on City and Mancini's men must meet their principal rivals during the run-in.

"If we don't have motivation, it's a big problem because we are in third position and in two cups." Mancini said. "Motivation should be very high. I think the season is very long. I'm disappointed by the result, but this is what happens when you play every three days and you don't have many players, like we don't at the moment."

Whether Mancini is straying into dangerous ground by constantly talking of tiredness and risking a self-fulfilling prophecy only time will tell.

City were still able to take the lead through Balotelli, whose 20-yard strike flashed beyond goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer for his ninth goal of an injury-hit season. It was a stunning effort by the Italian, but the brilliance quickly evaporated and another moody, surly performance ensued.

His moping demeanour appeared to spread to Carlos Tevez and Edin Dzeko, who was substituted on the hour, and Mancini was not sparing in his criticism of Balotelli and his strike partners.

"He (Balotelli) scored a good goal but I am not happy," said Mancini. He should play well, better than today. For the strikers it is important to score, but strikers should also play for the team.

"You cannot always play well, but the attitude is always important. If you don't have a good attitude, it is difficult to play with three strikers." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent