The 2011/12 champions had to dig deep against Crystal Palace and grind out a win at home for once. It was not free-flowing nor was it gluttony on the goal front, but it was dogged, determined and most importantly patient when the home fans were growing frustrated that the struggling South London side were not being cast aside like other stunned victims at the Etihad Stadium have been this season. City supporters never enjoyed his views but this is what former Manchester United manager and serial title winner Alex Ferguson would have labelled as “the mark of champions”, just as he did on so many occasions when his side performed in a similar manner but still attained those vital three points.
Edin Dzeko’s 66th-minute winner sealed the victory for a City side that had six changes from their victory over Liverpool on St Stephens’ Day. The Bosnian international curled in from Jesus Navas’s cross, as City’s constant probing finally paid off and their 100% record at the Etihad this season was maintained, just.
They were not at their best against Palace and clearly missed midfield general Yaya Toure, who was one of the six rested following their exertions less than 48 hours before against Liverpool.
However, the job was done with a number of squad players also used and big names kept fresh for a New Year’s Day trip to South Wales to face Swansea.
“It is useful to win this way,” said manager Manuel Pellegrini.
“If you ask me I would prefer to win by three or four but, for the team, it is useful to win this way.
“We must know how to win like this [to be champions] – that’s very important. I talked with the players at half-time and told them to be patient and continue to try and find the space but I knew it would be very difficult because teams like Crystal Palace are prepared to defend and they do it very well. I also had a lot of trust that we would score a goal.”
While this was possibly the mark of champions for City, it was also the stuff of survivors for plucky Palace who could have argued their corner that they deserved to leave Manchester with something on Saturday night.
City were the dominant side in possession, had more attempts and had the ball in the opposing half for the majority of the game, but Palace were resolute. Dzeko was kept quiet apart from his goal, David Silva was frustrated and Navas was kept out wide.
And Joe Hart, who suffered a nasty eye injury in the first half after colliding with Cameron Jerome, also had to put in arguably his best display this season as he kept out second-half efforts from Jason Puncheon, Mile Jedinak and Joel Ward.
Tony Pulis has only been in the manager’s job since November but you can see that grittiness he instilled in his Stoke sides already in Palace. They won four games out of eight since his appointment on November 23, much improved from the solitary victory prior to that date.
He is now awaiting the opening of the January transfer window on Wednesday to add some players to further enhance their chances of avoiding an immediate return to the Championship.
“It was important we tried to get up within a certain number of points of the rest of the group at the bottom of the table and it gives us a chance and that is all you can ask for,” Pulis said. “If we can bring a few players in, strengthen it up a little bit and give it a good blast when the year turns round.”
MANCHESTER CITY (4-2-3-1): Hart 8; Boyata 7 (Negredo 55, 6), Kompany 6, Nastasic 6, Clichy 6; Garcia 6, Fernandinho 5 (Nasri 55, 6); Navas 6, Milner 7 (Kolarov 75, 6), Silva 6; Dzeko 7.
CRYSTAL PALACE (4-5-1): Speroni 7; Mariappa 6, Gabbidon 7, Delaney 7, Parr 7; Puncheon 7, Ward 5, Jedinak 7, Bannan 5 (Gayle 81, 6), Bolasie 5 (Williams 76, 6); Jerome 6 (Chamakh 35, 5).