Roberto Mancini, the Manchester City manager, admitted he took a gamble by using Mario Balotelli as a lone striker in last night’s FA Cup victory against Aston Villa.
Balotelli produced his usual unpredictable performance at Eastlands, scoring a brilliant goal, suffering an injury, getting booked and acting as peacemaker in a 3-0 win that earned City a quarter-final meeting with Reading on March 13.
It means the Italian now has 10 goals from his 18 City games, eight bookings and a red card. Little wonder no one can be quite sure what the temperamental 20-year-old is going to do next.
But Mancini is happy he took the responsibility anyway.
“I took a risk to play only Mario up front,” said Mancini, who axed both Carlos Tevez and Edin Dzeko. “But Mario played well and scored a fantastic goal.
“I was very pleased with the overall performance. This game was very important for us.”
Wigan are next up for City, who then go to Ukraine for the first leg of their Europa League clash with Dynamo Kiev before entertaining Reading, when they hope to clinch their first FA Cup semi-final berth since 1981.
It is the type of packed programme Villa had last term, when they reached the Carling Cup final and qualified for Europe under Martin O’Neill.
The Irishman’s replacement, Gerard Houllier, has been able to enjoy no such luxury and openly admitted he made eight changes last night in order to keep his squad fresh for this weekend’s encounter with Bolton.
City took full advantage, taking just four minutes to open their account through Yaya Toure before Balotelli struck and David Silva wrapped up the win in the second period.
Villa fans were clearly unhappy with the move to make so many changes but Houllier was unrepentant.
“I had to do it and I would do it again,” said Houllier, who confirmed Richard Dunne, the central defender, is struggling with a shoulder injury.
“I understand where they are coming from but I don’t think we could have beaten Manchester City today.
“We were beaten by a team that is better than us at the moment and was ruthless in terms of goal opportunities.
“They were clinical and you must give them credit.”