West Bromwich Albion 1 – 2 Manchester City: Dzeko the hero with late brace for ten-man City
Manchester City earned an unlikely victory against in-form West Brom, scoring twice in the last ten minutes to condemn the Baggies to only their second defeat of the season.
The win was all the more surprising considering the champions had James Milner sent off early in the first half for a professional foul on Shane Long, who went on to give his side the lead on the hour mark. But City toiled admirably from that moment and levelled when Dzeko, so often their hero from the bench, netted with a header from a free kick. He then wrapped up the points by finishing a scintillating counter attack two minutes into stoppage time to spark wild scenes at the Hawthornes.
Questions have been raised concerning the credibility of City’s bid to defend their title after three draws in their opening seven games, but Mancini’s men answered every one emphatically on a day which started so disastrously for them. After Vincent Kompany dithered in midfield and James Morrison pounced, threading a sublime ball through for Long, Milner cynically brought down the Irish international and could have no complaints before heading down the tunnel.
At this point City were walking a tightrope, the ever-animated Balotelli shrugged and barged his way around the field after earning a yellow card for a petulant foul on Claudio Yacob. At one point he had to be almost manhandled by his own teammates as he stormed towards referee Mark Clattenburg, furious at a perceived lack of parity with his opponents. But the Machiavellian Italian is always worth the admission fee alone, proven in a moment of magic when rendering two Albion defenders useless before crashing a fine shot which Ben Foster was equal to.
Carlos Tevez, starting alongside Balotelli as a perhaps rightfully confused Sergio Aguero warmed himself on the bench, went close after the break but again found Foster in top form. Then it was Ya Ya Toure’s turn to attempt to breach the home side’s rearguard, but he nodded his header over from six yards out. Just as it was looking like a matter of time before the quality of the ten men remaining on the field would grind down their stubborn counterparts, Albion took the lead with a fine move, Peter Odemwingie slotting an inch-perfect pass for Long before the striker left Lescott for dead and slotted calmly past Joe Hart.
Steve Clarke’s men were proving to be a real joy to watch when in possession and produced some penetrative play in vital spells of the encounter. But as they began to dream of an unprecedented fifth home victory of the season, Dzeko pounced just moments after being introduced to the fray. The Bosnian, a catalyst for the title winning comeback in May, has now scored late goals against three of the sides he’s faced this term including Southampton and Fulham. Unfortunately for the Baggies he wasn’t done yet, and just as the home fans had finished lamenting their poor fortune after Joe Hart produced a spectacular stop to deny Roman Lukaku’s overhead kick, the forward rounded off a quality move to send the City faithful into raptures.
Unlucky for West Brom, who will feel they could and perhaps should have had more, but immensely promising signs for City who for the first time this season look to possess the character of champions.
Jamie Murphy, football correspondent