Reluctant supersub Dzeko underlines City's title pedigree
West Brom 1 Manchester City 2
It was like May 13 all over again. The moment in injury-time that Edin Dzeko swept in a sumptuous late winner to send Manchester City's players, fans and coaching staff into a frenzy of celebration brought memories flooding back of last season's title-snatching victory at the last against Queens Park Rangers.
Roberto Mancini whirled Dervish-like around the technical area, his assistant David Platt sank to his knees, while Dzeko himself ran to where the City fans were gathered, swooshing his shirt above his head in untethered delight.
And no wonder. This was a strike that signified a lot more than just victory.
It was a goal of real meaning, one quickly articulated from the stands.
"That's why we're champions," the delirious City fans chanted.
No one could gainsay that analysis; to win when playing with 10 men for 70 minutes, to beat a side as spirited as West Brom, to do so with a goal from the game's final attack, all signalled a return of the resolve that had hitherto this season not been entirely visible in City's play.
This was the match when Mancini's team delivered hard evidence that they were indeed determined to retain the title.
"I've been involved with teams that have won the title and I can see the signs," said West Brom chief coach Steve Clarke.
"I said before the game that I think City have everything to be champions again, and after the game I see no reason to change that view."
Yet, Clarke had come within moments of orchestrating City's first Premier League defeat since April. His team had taken the lead when the busy Shane Long had exploited City's Achilles heel by dashing between the flat-footed centre-back pairing of Joleon Lescott and a seemingly distracted Vincent Kompany.
Albion had not buckled when Dzeko equalised late on with a header from Samir Nasri's free-kick. And indeed they were pressing for victory when an overhead kick by the substitute Romelu Lukaku was brilliantly saved by Joe Hart.
"You think maybe you'll get the winner from the resulting corner," Clarke said. "Unfortunately we got done on a counter-attack."
What a counter-attack it was, one which, in the manner of its execution demonstrated precisely why City are a good bet to retain their title.
While it is true, as Platt insisted, that his side exuded spirit and determination throughout the game, what that goal showed is the unique edge they have over most of their rivals.
It was fashioned by their three replacements. Aleksandar Kolarov won the ball on the edge of his area and sent Sergio Aguero sprinting down the right wing.
Aguero looked up, saw Dzeko haring through the middle and bent a sublime pass into his path.
Without breaking stride the Bosnian joyfully arced the ball past Ben Foster for his third goal of the week.
Kolarov, Aguero and Dzeko: it is some Plan B available to Mancini, the sort of resource way beyond his opponents. And he used it to perfection.
Carlos Tevez and Mario Balotelli had started the game, the Argentinian his usual mix of industry and guile, the Italian his usual mix of eyebrow-raising skill and an incendiary fuse.
However, with time ticking and both tiring as they covered for the dismissed James Milner, Mancini sent for the replacement board.
Platt revealed that it had been hoped to keep Aguero, back from international duty only on Thursday, fresh for this week's encounter with Ajax. But needs must.
As for Dzeko, his ability to fulfil Plan B is rapidly earning him a soubriquet he dislikes.
"I am not a supersub and never will be," he said, his face a picture of wounded pride at the very thought. "When you get 10-15 minutes, you can't be sad or angry with the coach. You just have to play your game and do your best. That is in my mind always."
Platt, meanwhile, hinted that there may be immediate reward for the Bosnian.
"By doing what he has done today in coming on and getting two goals, when you start looking at your next game he goes right to the forefront of your mind," he said.
From that it can be surmised that those who finished up front at the Hawthorns will start at the Amsterdam Arena on Wednesday. In which case Tevez and Balotelli will be held in reserve, just in case. That really is why they are champions.