“The satisfaction is the same,” said manager the Manchester City manager, a stylist savouring the outcome of a rather scrappier affair that was settled by Yaya Toure.
Manuel Pellegrini happy with Man City’s scrappy win against Stoke
Manchester // There have been times when this season seemed to be going just too smoothly for Manchester City. The talk was of an unprecedented quadruple of trophies as the goals flowed freely and the thrashings became commonplace.
Not recently, and certainly not on Sunday. This was a hard-fought, often fraught 1-0 victory, ending an awkward run with the sort of relief that unconvincing wins can provide.
“The satisfaction is the same,” said manager Manuel Pellegrini, a stylist savouring the outcome of a rather scrappier affair.
After Tuesday’s draining defeat to Barcelona, after failing to score in their previous two league games, after 69 minutes of mediocrity, they simply required to bank three points to ensure that their title challenge was not derailed.
They did because Yaya Toure delivered the only goal to beat Stoke City. It was just Manchester City’s third strike and only their second victory of a frustrating February. Barring something remarkable at Camp Nou, City may have effectively exited the Uefa Champions League this week.
When their prospects in the Premier League seemed likely to be damaged, Toure, the scorer of the 2011 FA Cup final decider against Stoke, added to his tally of significant strikes against the club.
It came at a point when City’s problems were mounting. An uninspired Alvaro Negredo’s goal drought had extended into a fifth game. Stevan Jovetic had come off the bench and hobbled off with a hamstring problem.
In a theme of the month, they were missing the injured Sergio Aguero. Then City rediscovered their slickness.
David Silva bisected the defence with a pass that found the advancing Aleksandar Kolarov. His first-time cross was delivered into the perfect area for Toure to prod his shot past Asmir Begovic. The Stoke resistance, finally, was over.
It was rather symbolic of City’s ability to make a seemingly easy fixture – Stoke have not won on the road since August – rather too difficult that they spurned the simplest of chances of score a second goal.
Toure robbed Charlie Adam and picked out Jesus Navas. The Spaniard’s low centre gave Edin Dzeko an open goal which he contrived to miss. The Bosnian booted the post in frustration, connecting rather more sweetly than he did with his attempted shot.
“Maybe he had a bad day, maybe he was nervous after he failed that goal, but I continue trusting in him,” said a forgiving Pellegrini.
Negredo, he argued, is yet to fully regain his momentum after a shoulder injury. Aguero will resume full training on Tuesday and could be fit for Sunday’s League Cup final against Sunderland.
In the Argentine’s first spell on the sidelines this season, City were remarkably prolific. During his second stint on the treatment table, they have been unexpectedly impotent.
And it means that City end February without any of their three leading marksman recording a goal.
“I think it is normal during the season sometimes the strikers may lose [the knack] of scoring,” Pellegrini said. It left his side with sterile domination, statistically far superior – they had 74 per cent possession – but with the Chilean admitting: “We didn’t create many chances.”
That reflected well on his Stoke counterpart and a predecessor at Etihad Stadium.
“We had a game plan,” said Stoke manager Mark Hughes. They only really failed to execute it once.
“We made errors that led to the goal: we missed a tackle on the edge of the box, we allowed the ball to be crossed into a dangerous area and we did not track the runner into the box,” he elaborated.
One mistake separated Stoke from a ground-breaking result. Instead, this remains the definition of home banker: Stoke have lost on all six league trips to Etihad Stadium and are yet to register a goal, let alone a point. They came close to both.
Charlie Adam launched a one-man assault on the City goal. His best effort, a crisp drive, was repelled by Joe Hart.
“An outstanding save,” added Hughes. If little else stood out, City may yet savour an eminently forgettable win.