By Alex Fisher at the Britannia Stadium
Manchester City are back on top of the Premier League but their players and fans are not celebrating too much after they stumbled their way to the summit with a 1-1 draw against Stoke. When only a win would do, their grip on the No.1 spot is anything but tight.
Before kick-off at the Britannia Stadium things looked rosy for the visiting side as they anticipated a comfortable away victory to put them two points clear of their city rivals, and despite moving back up to top spot, they know a victory for United at home to Fulham on Monday will move the Red Devils three points clear with only eight games left to play.
City started the game well and were able to quieten the cauldron of noise emanating from the home fans, but too often lacked the creativity that has seen them steamroller so many sides this season. Even when chances were put on a plate they were wasted by some poor finishing from Edin Dzeko and Pablo Zabaleta.
Their eventual breakthrough, a deflected effort from Yaya Toure, would only be enough to salvage a draw, after a spectacular Peter Crouch volley had given the Potters the lead. What should have been a stroll to the top had quickly become a rescue mission.
|THE FINAL STR-EIGHT
Man City's remaining games
||West Brom (H)|
||Norwich City (A)|
||Manchester United (H)|
It has become something of a familiar story for Mancini’s men, who have struggled on their travels of late and cannot afford to drop any more points home or away if they are going to wrestle the Premier League trophy out of United’s hands.
However it should not be all doom and gloom for City; having controlled large parts of the game, they are top of the league and there is no guarantee United will beat Fulham. Not this season.
Mancini's side showed excellent spirit and fight to come back from a goal down in what is probably the league's most intimidating atmosphere, while defensively they have not missed captain Vincent Kompany as was the case earlier this season. The Italian’s decision to move Micah Richards to centre-half and to bring Pablo Zabaleta in at full-back has seen to that.
What will worry some City fans is that the mind games being played by Sir Alex Ferguson on the other side of the River Irwell seem to be starting to have an impact on their club.
Mancini’s decision not to face the media after the Stoke game spoke volumes. As the rumour spread around the gathered journalists that he would not be attending the post-match press conference it became clear that the City boss is concerned that anything he says may be used against him.
The Italian sent coach David Platt to talk up his team's chances but it was his absence, not the fighting talk, that resonated.
City, and Mancini, simply cannot afford to go into hiding. WIth eight games to go in their quest for a first title in 43 years, they must still travel to Arsenal, Newcastle and Norwich, as well as welcome United to the Etihad at the end of April.
As such, the players must stand up and be counted. Kolo Toure claimed after the game that his side would treat every remaining fixture as if it were a cup final and it's difficult to disagree - City need perfection from here on in. Squeaky bum time? You bet.
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