|Nasri 56||Defoe 60|
|Lescott 59||Bale 65|
|Balotelli (pen) 90+5|
Manchester City scored a late late penalty to get out of jail against a resilient Tottenham Hotspur, and move further ahead at the top of the Barclays Premier League, in a thrilling encounter at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday 22nd January 2012.
Man City ran out 3-2 winners after a dramatic second 45 minutes of Premier League football to stretch their lead at the head of the table.
The match really sprung to life in the second half, after a cagey first period saw the teams come in at 0-0.
City looked to have assured themselves of the points at their home ground where, this season, they have done nothing but win in the league, as they collected two goals in quick succession to go 2-0 in front just before the hour mark.
It was Samir Nasri who broke the deadlock on 56 minutes when his bursting run across the defence was picked out by a superb ball from David Silva. The French international took one touch before smashing a right-footed drive past the helpless Brad Friedel.
Minutes later, and Tottenham’s task was made doubly difficult when Jolean Lescott got onto an Edin Dzeko flick from a corner to bundle the ball home in ungainly style on 59 minutes. It wasn’t pretty, but it still counted, and his teammates celebrated what looked sure to be a vital goal in a game which had seen relatively few chances form a subdued Tottenham in the first hour.
But Spurs are a side who do not know when they are beaten – as they proved memorably last year in the San Siro – and they immediately set about reducing the deficit.
First, Jermain Defoe was alert when Savic, in the centre of Man City’s defence, misread a long drive forwards from Kaboul. The defender headed backwards, and put his goalkeeper, Joe Hart, into a foot race with Defoe. There was only one winner, and Defoe chested past his England teammate before slotting coolly home to make it 2-1.
Gareth Bale enjoys the big occasion, too, and his goal, Tottenham’s equaliser, was certainly the strike of the match, when collected a from fellow winger Aaron Lennon and hit first time with venom, beating Joe Hart all ends up from fully 20 yards in the 65th minute.
Tottenham, back in the match, then looked to be the more likely victors, though City, when in possession, still showed plenty of danger, in particular when Silva or Nasri touched the ball.
Edin Dzeko had been replaced by Mario Balotelli just after the Spurs goal, and the fiery Italian forward was soon booked for a foul on Assou-Ekotto. Later, he would be lucky to stay on the pitch after replays showed what appeared to be a deliberate stamp to the head of Tottenham’s Scott Parker.
Jermain Defoe had a great chance to win it for Spurs in injury time, and complete the comeback. Another slight mistake by Savic saw Gareth Bale set free down the left flank with only Jolean Lescott in chase. Bale drew in Lescott and squared low and hard for Defoe who was sprinting for the goal. At full stretch, the England centre forward could only just clip the ball agonisingly the wrong side of the far post with Joe Hart well beaten.
Moments later, and Defoe would have to watch as his miss was ruthlessly capitalised upon by Balotelli.
A long punt forward in the fourth – and final – minute of injury time from City saw the ball bouncing into the Tottenham penalty area with Balotelli and Ledley King going in for a 50:50 challenge. King’s lunge looked, at first glance, to have got the ball, but the replay confirmed Howard Webb’s assessment: the strong centre half had fouled Balotelli in the area. Penalty. Mario Balotelli stepped up himself to strike the spot kick as the clock ticked past the allotted additional time. He feinted, then slammed the ball into the bottom left corner, giving Man City the lead on 90+5 minutes and, moments later, when the final whistle blew, the 3-2 victory.
City’s win meant that they pulled six points ahead at the top of the table – if only for an hour or two – while Tottenham remain third, two behind Manchester United, and five in front of Chelsea.
But Spurs will wonder at what might have been, after this entertaining and thoroughly absorbing encounter at the Etihad Stadium. They looked to have done enough for a draw; they almost grabbed a winner; but they come away with naught. For everyone else, though, the fear must be that winning from such adversity is the mark of true champions. Maybe this Manchester City has what it takes to go all the way?