Newcastle 0 Manchester City 2
Yaya Toure blasted Manchester City to within touching distance of the Barclays Premier League title with a hard-fought victory at Newcastle.
The Ivory Coast international struck twice in the final 20 minutes of a pulsating contest to secure three precious points and send City into next Sunday’s final-day clash with QPR in pole position to claim their first title in 44 years.
City’s last triumph in 1968 came courtesy of a 4-3 win at St James’ Park, and today’s victory could prove almost as pivotal.
However, it remained in doubt right until the final stages as the Magpies fought to keep alive their dreams of Champions League qualification.
It was not until Toure blasted a 70th-minute shot past goalkeeper Tim Krul that City got their noses in front, and although both he and Sergio Aguero wasted further chances to cement the win, Toure made sure at the death with a simple tap-in.
Roberto Mancini’s players celebrated just as lustily as their fans high in the stand behind Krul’s goal after the final whistle with the promised land tantalisingly close.
City arrived knowing victory was a must if they are to pip arch-rivals United to the title, while their hosts ran out having already exceeded their wildest expectations and enjoying the luxury of a shot to nothing with a Champions League place firmly in their sights.
With the vast majority of a raucous crowd of 52,389 behind them, the Magpies flew out of the blocks to pin the visitors back inside their own half, although without ever looking like troubling keeper Joe Hart.
But as the half wore on, City’s class and guile saw them gradually ease into a position of dominance.
With Carlos Tevez and David Silva targeting right-back James Perch, playing in yet another role with Danny Simpson injured, they threatened to open the scoring on several occasions before the break.
That they did not was testament to Krul and the stubborn refusal of the men in front of him to concede.
Perch and Yohan Cabaye blocked shots from Samir Nasri and Toure in quick succession and Krul produced excellent saves to deny first Silva and then Aguero from close range inside the opening 17 minutes with Mancini’s men flexing their muscles.
Newcastle were sinking ever deeper towards their own goalline in an effort to keep City at bay, but from somewhere, they found the strength to first stem the tide, and then turn it in their direction.
Demba Ba, without a goal in 12 games, sent a 29th-minute shot on the turn just over after Hatem Ben Arfa’s spring-heeled run down the right and then saw another snapshot blocked by Gael Clichy before Ben Arfa forced a superb diving save from Hart from the rebound.
Ba then headed over from Ben Arfa’s 40th-minute cross after good work from Jonas Gutierrez with a breathless contest showing no sign of abating.
However, it took heroic blocks from first Fabricio Coloccini and then Davide Santon to keep out Gareth Barry four minutes before the break.
Krul’s clean sheet was in peril once again within seven minutes of the restart when Perch tripped Tevez after the Argentinian had wriggled away from him, but Toure’s free-kick flew harmlessly over the bar.
Such was Newcastle’s determination not to concede that winger Gutierrez turned up inside his own penalty area to head Silva’s 53rd-minute cross clear, and Krul had to make a smart save from Tevez’s snapshot from distance.
But with the pace of Ben Arfa and Cisse worrying City on the break, Newcastle not only managed to keep them out, but to press them back.
Mancini decided the time for change had arrived and with 62 minutes gone, replaced Nasri with Nigel de Jong, the man whose tackle last season left Ben Arfa with a double leg fracture, a fact which had obviously not been forgotten by the home fans.
Ben Arfa almost provided the Dutchman with the perfect welcome within three minutes when, after being picked out by Ba, he twisted and turned his way in on goal, only to screw his right-foot shot wide.
De Jong’s arrival allowed Toure to push further forward, and the move paid dividends with 20 minutes remaining.
Seconds after Edin Dzeko had replaced Tevez, Toure exchanged passes with Aguero 25 yards out and smashed a dipping right-foot shot past Krul and into the bottom corner.
It should have been all over within five minutes when Silva played in Aguero over the top, but with just Krul to beat, he side-footed wide.
Cisse might have claimed a point with a close-range header from substitute Shola Ameobi’s 79th-minute cross, but for once, he failed to hit the target.
Toure should have made sure six minutes from time, but fell over as he attempted to round Krul, who managed to touch over Aguero’s follow-up.
But the powerhouse midfielder wrapped up the points with a minute remaining when he accepted Clichy’s pass six yards out and beat Krul to end Newcastle’s hopes of a fightback.