Silva supplies the stardust
'Star Wars' proclaimed the advertising hoardings. It could have been the slogan for the title race, rather than a commercial for a re-released film. But if it is, it favours Manchester City. Of the three principal contenders, the leaders possess the player whose star has shone brightest. David Silva's radiance has illuminated City's campaign and his unassuming excellence may prove decisive.
There is no more consistently creative player and an 11th assist of the season, as much as Edin Dzeko's goal, restored City's three-point advantage in the Premier League. Only an extra syllable separates Silva from silverware, and it is no coincidence. For City, the two are related. Restored to the side, the Spaniard brought the craft and his team-mates the graft to avert a third successive defeat, something they have never suffered under Roberto Mancini. "He is an important player for us," said a grateful manager.
Absent injured when City were unusually subdued against Liverpool, Silva had his own winter break in Spain. He returned rejuvenated, aided by the opposition. Wigan's progressive ethos could have been validated in a stirring final 20 minutes but it means they rarely set out to stifle and an attack-minded midfield were rather too generous. Indeed of the two sides lacking their athletic African enforcer, Wigan missed theirs rather more: while Yaya Toure was not needed, Mohamed Diame might have made a difference.
In the absence of the Senegalese, there were times when Silva was granted the freedom of the DW Stadium. Sunday saw one underdog out-play more garlanded opponents. But Monday was no repeat of Swansea versus Arsenal. City retain the division's best defensive record, aided by a fine save from Joe Hart, and Wigan have its bluntest attack.
They lost to a goal that showed Silva has a blend of style and substance, but which reflected badly on Wigan. "Soft," said Roberto Martinez. Even against a City side missing three of their best headers, his team conceded to a set-piece. Silva's free kick was met by Dzeko, who escaped from Antolin Alcaraz, to flick a back header that nestled in the net. "He deserved to score," said Mancini.
It was a first goal since Bonfire Night, ending Dzeko's 11-game wait. Target men are not supposed to be enigmas; that tends to be left to the designated flair players, the men who are expected to ooze glitz and glamour.
Yet whereas Silva is the epitome of reliability, Dzeko is among City's more mercurial performers, alternating between drought and flood and experiencing each in biblical proportions.
There could have been a torrent on this occasion. A header was directed wide, a curling shot brilliantly saved by Ali Al-Habsi and, most remarkably, Dzeko contrived to sidefoot tamely at the goalkeeper after Sergio Aguero, with a mesmerising solo run, was closing in on an extraordinary goal only for his team-mate to commandeer the ball and waste the opportunity. "We had three or four fantastic chances to score a second goal," rued Mancini.
Such profligacy could have been costly. Wigan held Chelsea and Liverpool on their own turf and could have made it a hat-trick. They rallied as Silva tired. "In the first half, that's as bad as we played," Martinez said. "It took us too long to adapt. But in the second half, we got the right reaction."
James McCarthy would have levelled but for Hart's outstretched foot. Victor Moses made a series of darting breaks and Mancini, after seemingly concluding his side were too wasteful to score a second goal, ended with a midfield comprised solely of workers, protecting a back four that briefly included Nedum Onuoha.
"We never gave in, we really finished strong and that's pleasing," added Martinez, who was praised by the victor. "Wigan are a very good team with a fantastic manager," Mancini said. Yet Wigan have more plaudits than points. The fact remains that, hindered by playing five of the top seven in that time, they have not won at home since August. While one Spaniard, Silva, may determine the destiny of the title, another, Martinez, is engaged in an uphill battle simply to stay in the division.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Joleon Lescott – Silva brought the class, but the solid citizens supplied the resilience. Paired with the unconvincing Stefan Savic in the centre of defence, Lescott's dependability was all the more important.
WIGAN VERDICT: Hart said that they are in a false position, and the performance suggested so, too. Yet the reality is that 21 games have only brought 15 points; the remaining 17 might have to produce 25 if they are to stay up. The key is finding a goalscorer and the fans' verdict was apparent when Callum McManaman's entrance was greeted with a huge cheer. Nevertheless, Wigan's best player was the excellent Al-Habsi, whose double save from Dzeko and Silva was superb.
MANCHESTER CITY VERDICT: The sight of the outcast Onuoha on the pitch for City in a league game for the first time since April 2010 showed why Mancini feels they are short-staffed. He hopes Micah Richards and Mario Balotelli, two of the injured, will be fit to face Tottenham on Sunday. One who did his cause little good was Samir Nasri, who was substituted again. James Milner made much more of a contribution, as he often does.