Cruise nearly capsizes in needed away win

Posted by David Mooney

Wednesday evening’s narrow victory over West Bromwich Albion was all about the letter C for Manchester City: Confidence, control, cruising, casual, Costel, careless, close.

It finished 3-2 in favor of the visitors, but the game was nowhere near that tight and the Blues should -- in absolutely no way -- have won by only one goal, especially having been three goals up.

It started with the confidence. From the kickoff, the away side imposed its style of play on the match and kept possession as if it were, in fact, at the Etihad. For a team that had struggled on the road, City were showing the type of belief that suggested they were a side that hadn’t dropped a point all season, let alone one that had just four points from a possible 18 on its previous travels.

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A domination of Tottenham and a comprehensive victory over Swansea clearly had blown the cobwebs from Manuel Pellegrini’s men, and West Brom were looking as if they would be on the receiving end of a thumping, as Sergio Aguero netted superbly inside eight minutes. Edin Dzeko -- who has looked like he would rather be anywhere else than on the pitch in recent weeks -- deftly played in Pablo Zabaleta, who found his compatriot perfectly.

City’s control came when Yaya Toure doubled the lead midway through the half. The hosts had threatened once or twice without managing to get a shot away, though there was always the feeling that a one-goal advantage was vulnerable.

In a cute passing move that set Aleksandar Kolarov free on the left, the Blues were looking good for the win once Toure had opened up his body and redirected the Serbian’s cross into the bottom corner of the net.

From there, the away side was cruising. It looked as if it might bag another five or six, as West Brom were overpowered and forced onto the back foot. But the Blues took their foot off the gas. With little need to continue charging forward, they allowed their pace to drop and began to take it easy.

That was a mistake. As the first half grew older, City’s threat became less. While West Brom didn’t manage to force a save from goalkeeper Costel Pantilimon, they did have spells of pressure, which could have changed the game before halftime.

The second half continued this pattern until Toure doubled his personal tally from the penalty spot, as Kolarov was felled en route through a packed box. And 3-0 should have been where it finished -- but when City eased off the gas pedal further, their opponent began to see more of the ball in the visitors' half.

The Blues had become casual. Sloppy. They were playing in a manner that suggested mentally they were already on the coach home, listening to their music and thinking about a job well done -- which is where their hosts took advantage.

In the earlier stages, while City were in control, the Baggies had no time on the ball and always had a blue shirt pressing them in possession. By the end, that had all but ended, and a neat passing move from Albion slotted Matej Vydra in to cross low. Pantilimon dived for it but missed. Kolarov tried to pass it clear, only to pass it into his goalkeeper and see it deflect into the goal.

That should have been the only blemish on a night when City’s away points tally for the season took a huge leap toward double figures, but there was another to come. This time it was simply careless of the away side. City had been knocking the ball around comfortably once again, looking to see out the remaining time, but a misplaced pass from Zabaleta and some slack defending from Martin Demichelis allowed Victor Anichebe to turn. The Argentine centre-back was too tight and rolled too easily.

Pantilimon didn’t cover himself in glory with the striker’s shot. While it wasn’t in the corner of the goal, it was struck with pace and from close range. Still, on another day, he might have stopped it.

There may have been only 20 or so seconds left on the clock, but a confidence-boosting 3-0 victory (as it should have been) had been transformed in a matter of 10 second-half minutes into a rather nervy 3-2 win. The points are the most important thing, but Pellegrini will be frustrated that the scoreline finished as close as it did, given the dominance in and performance throughout the opening 45 minutes.

The victory was welcome, but it doesn’t seem like the away woes are over just yet. At 3-0, this game should have been much more routine than it was.

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