As with the majority of the previous eighteen consecutive Premier League victories at the Etihad Stadium, the distinctive feature of Manchester City’s record-equalling nineteenth was how routine the victory over Bolton seemed.
In the event, City was not even made to work hard to do that. Sashaying forward, Gael Clichy was given the freedom of the left flank. An infrequent goalscorer, he indulged in the oceans of space afforded him by the petrified Bolton defence. If his shot was every bit as wayward as one would expect from a man whose 211 Premier League appearances have yielded one goal, it was nevertheless powerful enough to spook Gretar Steinsson into making an intervention. Unfortunately the Icelander’s sense of timing was misjudged, the ball careering off his head to wrong-foot Adam Bogdan in the Bolton goal.
It was cruel luck on Wanderers’ goalkeeper, whose litheness and confidence in the face of a relentless City onslaught belied his tumultuous recent introduction to first-team football. He alone can be credited with keeping the score respectable. Like a customer at the local all-you-can-eat buffet whose awareness of the pickings on offer superseded their actual need for more, City’s attacks exposed the lifeless non-entity masquerading as opponents. If an air of complacency set over the stadium, City could have been forgiven. Bolton, their overworked goalkeeper aside, were that bad.
Mario Balotelli – who else? – was frequently the frustrated party. Nevertheless, given the ease with which the feeble Wanderers backline was carved open, his revenge seemed inevitable. It came in the 69th minute, owing much to the bewitching trickery of Adam Johnson. In many ways, the goal was his – borne of his direct, incisive foray infield from the inside-right position. A shuffle of the hips and feint of foot saw him slither between two defenders like a lizard through rocks, enticing Bogdan towards him. A magical back-heel flick left the goalkeeper stranded, providing Balotelli with the cathartic release of a goal. As if to confirm what the football-watching public of England suspected, there was now no way back for Bolton.
Fittingly, the nineteenth successive home triumph victory saw Mancini’s men draw equal with Manchester United, Sir Alex Ferguson’s men having completed a similar run of home victories last year. The equalling of the Red Devils’ recent records is symbolic of the fact that this promises to be the most unyielding Premier League title race since 1998/99. More recently, perhaps only the La Liga two-horse-race of 2009/10 waged between Barcelona and Real Madrid, matching each other point for point, win for win, is comparable.
On Saturday’s evidence, it is well within City’s capability to come close to the 99 points required of Barcelona to emerge as Spanish champions that season. Once more, the Citizens exuded a haughty superiority; an ability, as the chant goes, to score when they want. Considering the similarly impressive form of their cross-city rivals, it is something that will need to be maintained.
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