Friday 20 April 2018

Toure lifts lacklustre City back to the summit

Manchester City 2 Swansea 1

Yaya Toure (centre) celebrates Manchester City’s winner with team-mates Nicolas Otamendi (right) and Kelechi Iheanacho
Yaya Toure (centre) celebrates Manchester City’s winner with team-mates Nicolas Otamendi (right) and Kelechi Iheanacho
Manchester City goalkeeper Joe Hart (centre) punches the ball clear
Swansea defender Angel Rangel (L) vies with Manchester City's Wilfried Bony
Bafetimbi Gomis volleys home a late leveller for Swansea at the Etihad
The ball deflects off Manchester City's Kelechi Iheanacho and into the back of Fabianski's net

Paul Wilson

Manchester City returned to the top of the Premier League with this victory, though after hitting the heights to win their Champions League group in midweek, it was an emphatic return to the ordinary until Yaya Toure produced something special in stoppage time.

The home side had just been caught by a 90th-minute equaliser and Swansea fully deserved it. But for Joe Hart, easily the busier of the two goalkeepers, the visitors could already have been in front. Given that Swansea only went behind through deserting their defensive duties at a first-half corner, City were about as unconvincing as it is possible to be without actually dropping points, though in the short time that remained after Bafetimbi Gomis had levelled, Toure managed to save the day.

The winning goal was awarded to Kelechi Iheanacho, who unintentionally gained the final touch, though as Toure's shot from a narrow angle appeared to be on target anyway. It certainly deserves to be remembered as a Toure goal. The Ivorian did not have one of his most influential afternoons, but his will to win was there when City needed it. It had been a terrible game on a terrible day, yet it boasted an astonishing last five minutes. "I would have been happy with a 1-0 win, because we did not play well," Pellegrini conceded. "But the last two minutes said a lot about my team. Even though time was short and things were not going well, we tried to score, we wanted to win the game."

For all their current problems - no manager, allegedly dispirited dressing room, one win in 11 matches - Swansea did not start the game like a side low on confidence. It was their other failing, the lack of a reliable goalscorer, that counted against them most as they had a couple of clear chances to take the lead before the home side settled into their rhythm.

Neat passing from Jack Cork and Gylfi Sigurdsson opened up City as early as the sixth minute, and though the final ball was intended for Andre Ayew, it turned into a better opportunity for Wayne Routledge, who effortlessly left Nicolas Otamendi behind, but was unable to beat Hart. The goalkeeper was needed again to deny Sigurdsson 10 minutes later.

City were doing their share of attacking, though with Kevin de Bruyne rested, they lacked some of their usual invention and were making hard work of breaking Swansea down until a set-piece came to their rescue. Jesus Navas left Neil Taylor on his backside with a sharp turn and shot, which Ashley Williams headed behind for a corner. Navas swung in a cross from the left, and though Williams appeared to be marking Wilfried Bony at first, by the time the ball arrived the former Swansea striker had lost him, and Lukasz Fabianski had little chance with a firm header from the six-yard line. Swansea have never really replaced Bony, and if it was not exactly a surprise to see him open the scoring against his old club, almost equally inevitable was the sight of Ayew leaping to meet Sigurdsson's corner a couple of minutes later, but putting his header over the bar.

Raheem Sterling was withdrawn at half-time to enable Pellegrini to bolster his midfield defence with Fabian Delph. De Bruyne came on for David Silva midway through the second half without making much difference. The only save Fabianski had to make was from a Toure free-kick. Hart had to save on two more occasions from Sigurdsson, and when he was finally beaten by the Icelander five minutes from the end, the goal did not stand because of dangerous play by Gomis. The referee was probably right, but it was a close call. If that was tough on Swansea, tougher still was to come. Gomis brushed away Eliaquim Mangala with contemptuous ease to reach Angel Rangel's through ball and beat Hart legitimately at his near post with a blistering finish. Swansea celebrated wildly, with the fourth official about to hold up the board indicating four minutes of added time.

Thanks to Toure, the celebrations proved premature. It seems to be true that struggling sides do not get any luck, though on the evidence of this performance, it is hard to see why Swansea should struggle.

"We were excellent," caretaker manager Alan Curtis said. "We deserved something from the game. It was disappointing to lose after we had clawed our way back, but we set a standard that we now have to keep up."


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