Had Romelu Lukaku's finishing been a bit sharper City could easily have gone home with nothing, for the West Brom substitute missed three great chances in his nine minutes on the pitch, before Edin Dzeko plundered an unlikely winner after levelling the scores 11 minutes earlier. In a match when every substitution made a difference, City's late changes combined successfully when Sergio Agüero galloped down the right in the closing seconds before looking up and releasing Dzeko with a perfect pass for a perfect finish.
The character of the game changed abruptly midway through the first half when James Milner was dismissed for a professional foul to leave City down to 10 men with over an hour to play. Moments earlier Mario Balotelli had picked up the afternoon's first booking for a retaliatory foul on Claudio Yacob but that was just par for the course. Milner's exit, shortly after he had found Balotelli with a magnificent crossfield pass to help set up a chance for Carlos Tevez, left City short-handed with their most volatile individual treading on eggshells.
Milner would dispute the term professional foul and claim he was only going for the ball, which he possibly was, but he caught Shane Long instead and even though the foul was 30 yards out the Albion forward was denied a clear run on goal. Milner was desperately trying to retrieve Vincent Kompany's mistake after the City captain had been caught in possession attempting to dribble his way out of trouble on half way, and a combination of Long's alertness and James Morrison's excellent pass simply left him with too much to do.
What had been a lively and open encounter became more than a tad fractious after that, with Long, Yacob and Gabriel Tamas receiving yellow cards for the home side before the interval, and Tevez and Balotelli being fortunate not to join them. Not that Balotelli considered himself fortunate, of course. He went over to make a point to Mark Clattenburg on the half time whistle, only to be cut off in his prime by Joe Hart, who wisely grabbed his arm and ushered him off the pitch. Ben Foster had been the busier of the two goalkeepers in the first half, though apart from one stop when Balotelli cut in from the left, most of his saves had been routine ones.
Although Roberto Mancini must have been tempted to make a change Balotelli returned for the second half, and was soon combining with Tevez for the latter to bring a fine save from Foster. Tamas made the next save, the big defender bravely getting in the way of a goal-bound drive from Gaël Clichy, before Balotelli missed the best chance the game had so far produced on the hour, failing to make proper contact as the ball dropped to him in front of goal from a Tevez free kick.
Though not exactly giving Foster a workout, City were doing most of the attacking at that stage and making light of their numerical disadvantage, so it most have been dispiriting for the home side when Mancini finally brought off Balotelli and sent on Sergio Agüero. Steve Clarke made a substitution at the same time, however, and with what amounted to West Brom's first attack for over half an hour Peter Odemwingie managed to make an instant contribution with what appeared to be a tame shot until Long popped up between Kompany and Joleon Lescott to guide it expertly past Hart. Two can play at that game though, and when Mancini threw on Dzeko for the last 12 minutes he too found almost immediate reward, getting his head to Tevez's floated free kick to leave Foster punching fresh air in the manner of Hart for England in Poland.
There were late chances for Micah Richards at one end and Lukaku at the other, before Agüero broke from defence to make the game safe. The Argentinian does not always look up, but this time he did, and once he saw Dzeko in space a tidy pass led to an evcen tidier finish.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
image: © mafue