If Roberto Mancini was not already aware of just how hard it is to achieve sustained success in the Premier League, then Saturday's 2-1 defeat away to struggling Hull City will have made it abundantly clear. The Manchester City manager's cool persona was replaced by fire and brimstone as his side suffered their second league defeat since he replaced Mark Hughes at the end of December.
This is a period of the season where matches will only get tougher and the aspirations of teams at the top and bottom of the table will be realised. With two games in hand on Liverpool - who currently occupy fourth spot - and three points to make up, a Champions League place is still within City's grasp. But Mancini knows they cannot afford any more slip-ups, especially on their travels. Last season they won just twice away from home, something the Italian is keen to address. "We want to change this mentality. But at Wolves, the game was like Hull and we played hard and we won," said Mancini. "This month is a crucial moment. We have games against Bolton, Stoke, Liverpool, Chelsea and then Tottenham.
"We have a good chance to finish in the top four, but if we want to arrive at our target, we must win away." There will be home comfort tonight as Bolton head to Eastlands, but Owen Coyle's side will be prepared to take the fight to City just like Hull. They are only a point clear of the relegation places and the City midfielder Nigel de Jong said his teammates must adopt the same mentality as teams struggling at the wrong end.
"We are a scalp for teams now and we didn't contend with that well enough at Hull," said the Dutch international. "We always try to play football, but sometimes you have to win the battle first. "We know teams at the bottom are going to fight for everything and we have to do the same." Patrick Vieira could provide that as he prepares for a home debut. The Frenchman came off the bench for his first appearance since his move from Inter Milan last month.
A calf injury has hampered him, but Mancini said: "Vieira's an important player and has a good mentality. "On Saturday when he came on the pitch, he changed the situation for us. I think all the players can improve and Patrick can help them." With Craig Bellamy's knee problem causing concern, Adam Johnson should start on the left wing and Joleon Lescott and Roque Santa Cruz are available after returning from injuries.
Their height and presence could be useful against the set-piece threat posed by the Bolton striker Kevin Davies. Physical and fearless, he will cause problems for a City defence that could not cope with the Hull pairing of Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink and Jozy Altidore, who are of similar ilk to Davies. But, significantly, Bolton will be without Gary Cahill at the back. The defender has been influential this term, but a blood clot on his arm could end the defender's season - and hopes of making England's World Cup squad.
His manager Coyle said: "As disappointed as we are, at 24, Gary has a marvellous career ahead of him. "I believe he would have made the World Cup for the summer, but we have to make sure first of all he recovers from this blood clot. "He will have other opportunities, England being the power they are, and play in major championships. "I believe he can play for anybody in the Premier League. He has pace and power, everything you want in a defender."
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