MANCHESTER // All of a sudden, Manchester City are believing again. What could have been an awkward night of reflecting upon a dream that appeared to have died turned into a joyous occasion, City running riot in a rout of West Bromwich Albion while Manchester United endured an awkward evening at Wigan.
The gap between the local rivals is still sizeable – five points – but April 30’s Manchester derby could yet be of pivotal importance in a title race that had seemed over.
Not any more. With David Silva’s goal drought ending, City provided reminders of their autumnal excellence, but with a twist.
Carlos Tevez, who was persona non grata then, struck for the first time in May. The key, however, was the scorer of the first two goals and the provider of another two.
Sergio Aguero sparkled as normal service resumed at the Etihad Stadium. After going three league games without a victory for the first time in Roberto Mancini’s reign, City returned to winning ways, and in emphatic fashion.
It was a fine response to Sunday’s disappointment at defeat at the Emirates Stadium.
The immediate beneficiary of Mario Balotelli’s meltdown at Arsenal was another of City’s troublesome strikers. Tevez made his first start since September.
Yet if the game began with attention focused on one Argentine, it was very soon diverted to another.
Collecting a pass from Samir Nasri, Aguero advanced with typical zest and, from 25 yards, placed his shot in the bottom corner of Ben Foster’s goal. Remarkably, it was the first time in eight games that City had opened the scoring in a game.
It rendered it their easiest match for quite some time. It was also their finest performance for a while.
They were playing at a pace they rarely found at Arsenal, zipping the ball around as the Manchester rain suited their swiftpassing game. Nasri, anonymous on his return to the Emirates Stadium, exerted an influence, along with the irrepressible Aguero.
Tevez, too, played his part, piercing the visitors’ defence with a pass to find Micah Richards. The full-back’s first touch took him past Foster.
His second was a rasping shot that the back-pedalling Craig Dawson managed to block on the line, albeit with the hint of a hand.
Yet while Albion, injury-hit and out of sorts, kept the score at 1-0, they had hope. A second goal ensured there would be no comeback and, predictably, Aguero supplied it.
City’s twin inventors were involved, David Silva and Nasri combining as the Frenchman slid a pass into the top scorer’s path. He angled his shot across Foster and into the goal, allying composure with precision.
It was a 26th strike of the season in all competitions for the former Atletico Madrid forward, a sign of the impact he has made in his debut campaign in England, and it was followed by the first of Tevez’s controversial, stop-start season.
Having appeared rusty when skewing an early chance wide, he proved more accurate when a second opportunity was created.
Aguero accelerated on to Nasri’s pass and cut the ball back for the former captain in the area. He finished, albeit via a deflection off Nicky Shorey.
Three minutes later, a prolific marksman showed his creative capabilities again as, after robbing Jonas Olsson, Aguero found Silva, whose deft chip over Foster.
Both were soon substituted, Aguero to a standing ovation, and saved for Norwich on Saturday.
Win that, and, if only for a day, they will be a mere two points behind United.