Manchester City kept pace with their cross-town rivals with a home win against Tottenham Hotspur, cutting their deficit a the top of the table from four points to one with their 2-1 triumph. They didn't make it easy, however, conceding in the first half and having to fight hard for a comeback before Edin Dzeko saved them with an 87th-minute strike.
It was, perhaps unexpectedly, a nervy start from the visitors. City, after all, hadn't lost at the Emirates in league play since the 2010/11 season, and the quality of the defending champions' squad would be enough to scare anyone into a defensive shell. The hosts were stroking the ball around comfortably, seeking to exploit Tottenham's relatively high line by squeezing passes through the channels, but although they were certainly causing scares the weighting was never quite right and Brad Friedel was able to collect every time.
But while we were waiting for a breakthrough at one end, a goal was scored at the other. Sergio Aguero brought down Aaron Lennon well inside the City half, and Tom Huddlestone's delivery was met by Steven Caulker. While the header was strong, it was also directed straight at Joe Hart, and should have been a routine stop. Instead, England's number one swatted it straight into his own net.
The goal was just what the match needed, sparking off plenty of action. The hosts had a legitimate penalty shout turned down shortly thereafter when William Gallas blocked an Aguero flick with his arm only to have their appeals denied by _, and at the other end of the pitch Huddlestone blasted a low, swerving shot just wide following an excellent driving run by Emmanuel Adebayor.
And there was suddenly a real edge to the game as well, as the City players began losing their cool and embroiling themselves in shouting matches with their Spurs counterparts. The clash between Paulo Zabaleta and Adebayor was particularly contentious, and Huddlestone opted, perhaps unwisely, to show support for his teammate by barging the Argentinian right back over in the penalty box. Again, the penalty shouts were waved away.
City closed the first half with a pair of decent chances, both created by David Silva. The Spain international first fed Carlos Tevez at the top of the box only to see the striker waste his chance by shooting straight at Friedel, and then a similar fate befell Zabaleta after Silva had picked him out as he stormed into the area.
Aguero managed to waste a golden opportunity to draw City back on level terms immediately after the break, falling over while trying to take down a pass in acres of space. Perhaps the striker's maladroitness was the universe enforcing immediate justice for the blown offside call that had led to him being clear on goal in the first place.
Anyway, by this point Roberto Mancini had seen enough of this whole 'back four' business, and Matija Nastajic was the victim. The centre back was perhaps not entirely blameless in Caulker's opener, but he'd have been somewhat surprised to be removed from the action for a wingback as Maicon came on.
Mancini's been ridiculed for playing an aggressive 3-5-2 on the flimsiest justification, but the switch was followed by a City goal, so presumably he'll get praise this time. Said goal came from the boot of Aguero, who turned Caulker inside out before turning and dispatching a shot just inside Friedel's right-hand post. 67 minutes into the match, and it was 1-1. That's not what the hosts would have been hoping for, but it was a lot better than being a goal behind.
Now the City pressure was really starting to tell as Spurs resorted to using pacy counterattacks while the hosts put their goal under siege. A winner was clearly coming, and super-sub Edin Dzeko was the man to get it. In the 87th minute, the big Bosnian picked the ball up on the right flank, gave it to Silva, and ambled forward into the box, timing his walk perfectly for the return pass over the top.
Rather than going for immediate control, Dzeko waited for the bounce and, with Michael Dawson in close attendance, showed brilliant technique in lashing a half-volley beyond Friedel to give City a late 2-1 lead. The visitors didn't have much time to get themselves back in the match, and the defending champions ended up seeing out the win in relatively comfortable fashion.
Seeing Dzeko save the day is becoming rather routine at this point, isn't it?