Tevez (14, 65), Lescott (53)
A inspired double from Carlos Tevez, which sandwiched a Joleon Lescott header, ensured Manchester City’s chase for third place is now firmly in their own hands. They cantered past a Stoke City side who resembled a wounded animal following their weekend Wembley disappointment against the Blues.
As well as nudging Man City closer to third place in the Premier League this game also showcased – as if needed – how important their talismanic captain is for their progression. It was always going to take a mammoth effort from Tony Pulis’ men to pick themselves up from their Wembley heartbreak, but the hosts never gave them an inch.
Roberto Mancini made three changes from Wembley as he tried to guide his side to third place, and with it avoiding the tricky qualifying rounds in the Champions League. Adam Johnson, James Milner and Pablo Zabaleta all came in, with Mario Balotelli, Aleksandar Kolarov and Gareth Barry dropping out. Stoke manager Tony Pulis attempted to freshen things up with five changes; Jermaine Pennant and Matthew Etherington among those rested – the latter had only just made the cup final.
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After the opening goal it seemed Mancini’s men were intent on giving the crowd more of a display, at least compared to their recent triumph over Tottenham in that dull top-four decider. Stoke, often pigeon-holed for their robust approach, tried to keep it on the floor in the first half, but rarely tested Joe Hart as the influential Etherington and Pennant were sorely missed. John Carew and Jonathan Walters were penned as the front two, but they continually drifted wide in search of involvement. This meant when crossing opportunities were developed, Joe Hart and his back four had little congestion to overcome in the area.
Stoke started the second-half with more intent and in the early minutes the game was stretched, but their new found purpose only encouraged City, as space developed for the Blues to exploit. The second goal killed the game off as a contest, as Stoke, who had enough trouble creating when they were one goal down, looked deflated after Joleon Lescott beat Thomas Sorensen to Adam Johnson’s free-kick.
Edin Dzeko’s introduction just prior to the hour mark meant a slight re-shuffle for City as it meant Tevez dropped deep, allowing the Bosnian his central striking berth. With 25 minutes left it was an exercise in damage limitation for the visitors, who followed up their cup defeat with an ever bigger humbling here, just three days later.
Pulis’ men can be pleased with their achievements this term; a day out at Wembley and a place in the Europa League next season, but this was all about the sustained revival taking place at Eastlands. If Mancini’s troops had played with the expression they protruded in the final quarter of this game all season, then maybe, their geographical neighbours would still be searching for confirmation of their 19th title. However, next season could be a very different story.