Man City 1 Reading 0
The second half of 2012 may have failed to live up to the memorable peaks of the first, but as Manchester City continued their dogged defence of the Premier League title, they are playing well enough to have at least one of their rank drawing comparisons with the Arsenal “Invincibles.”
The defending champions have been far from convincing in the opening four months of this campaign, particularly in Europe where their displays have cast doubts over the future of manager Roberto Mancini.
But the fact remains that in the league, Mancini’s team is one late Robin van Persie goal away from being undefeated and within touching distance of neighbours and leaders United. Their form may not have the football cognoscenti thinking of the great Arsenal team of 2003-04 but the manner of their late victory over Reading had one survivor from that Gunners’ team, the City defender Kolo Toure, daring to make the comparison. “It was the same at Arsenal, that team who were the ‘Invincibles’,” said Toure. “We knew when we were losing or drawing we could get the crucial goal. We have the same winning mentality here. We never accept drawing or losing.”
That quality was to the fore against the division’s last-placed team as City toiled, enjoying a glut of possession without forcing goalkeeper Adam Federici into a real save of note.
Finally, at the start of the third of four injury-time minutes, Gareth Barry rose above Nicky Shorey and headed in David Silva’s cross.
Reading claimed Barry had pushed his marker in the process but the sheer weight of City’s superiority made this a just result, even allowing for it representing a cruel outcome for the losers.
Not that any of this should have been a surprise to City, or even neutral, supporters. Following on from winning the championship with virtually the last kick of the season against QPR in May, City have now won four of their 18 league games to date in the 87th minute or later, a staggering statistic. “We know every game we play here, teams are going to come and defend,” explained Toure. “For us we need to be patient. When you push too much you can get frustrated. It is really important to be calm because we know we can score at any time. We just keep believing we will score — we can score at any time. The belief comes from the quality players we have. Last season we know about the crucial goal against, today it was Gareth Barry — who is not a striker — came and did the same.”
However, for all those undoubted qualities, there is something still lacking in City’s play to date this season. Rarely, if ever, has it reached the heights that, frequently last season, rendered the likes of Silva, Carlos Tevez, Sergio Aguero and Yaya Toure virtually unplayabale. City had the vast majority of the ball — the 62% claimed by the official Premier League stats seemed inaccurately low — without troubling Reading unduly. As City discovered in all of their six Champions League group games, a committed and well-organised opponent simply needs to match their work-rate and off-ball movement and running to take away much of their offensive game plan. Reading, the weakest team in the division, proved that point perfectly and might even have taken the lead had they not been denied a 75th minute penalty claim for a foul on Jay Tabb by City debutant Karim Rekik.
“Yes it’s giving us encouragement because we haven’t played to our best yet,” added Toure of the victory. “And we can still be better. We know United, they are really strong. They will want to win it back but they know we are really strong as well. The team we have is a winning team. Every time we go out there we are just trying to win that title again. It’s going to be a big fight.”
Reading boss Brian McDermott was left to bemoan his team’s wretched luck and referee Mike Dean’s decision making but he was not the first, or one suspects, the last manager to fall victim to City’s penchant for the late and the dramatic.
“Manchester United notoriously score late goals,” he said. “Manchester City scored a late goal last season which was quite important apparently. They do that. That’s what top, top sides and top, top players do.”
MAN CITY (4-2-3-1)Hart 6; Zabaleta 6, K Toure 5, Nastasic 7, Rekik 6 (Milner 83); Garcia 5 (Dzeko 59, 6), Barry 8; Aguero 7, Y Toure 7, Silva 6; Tevez 6 (Sinclair 74, 6).
READING (4-4-1-1)Federici 7; Gunter 7, Pearce 8, Mariappa 8, Harte 7 (Shorey 86); Kebe 6, Karacan 7 (Guthrie 70, 6), Leigertwood 6, McAnuff 7; Tabb 6; Pogrebnyak 9.
Referee: M Dean 5.
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