By Jamie Dunn
With three minutes to play at the Etihad Stadium, Roberto Mancini allowed himself to get up from his seat and wave to a pocket of Manchester City fans who were singing his name.
It was a small gesture, from both the supporters and the Etihad boss, but a telling one. Mancini will have been utterly relieved to have seen his side ruthlessly brush Leeds United aside on Sunday, even if he wouldn't let anyone know it.
For while the Italian is clinging on to hopes of mounting another late charge at Premier League leaders Manchester United, the FA Cup undoubtedly represents the reigning champions’ best chance of winning some silverware this season – and Mancini’s best chance of keeping his job.
The manner of the victory will have pleased the 48-year-old, too. City steamrollered over their Championship opposition, scoring four times and never looking like conceding after asserting their dominance five minutes into the game. In truth, it could have been a lot worse for Neil Warnock’s side.
Perhaps more pleasing still for Mancini would have been the contributions of four of his key players, who combined throughout the game to leave Leeds dazzled and dizzied by the class and superiority of their illustrious opposition.
The Ivory Coast midfielder plundered his way through the Leeds midfield from the start and scored in the fifth minute, rounding Jamie Ashdown before finishing into an empty net after a neat exchange with Carlos Tevez. How Mancini must wish he had had the former Barcelona man’s power and persistence at his disposal in the goalless draw against QPR at the end of January.
The Tevez pass to Yaya Toure, a clever scoop into his team-mate’s path, was the Argentine's first involvement in the game, but far from his last. The striker was a nuisance to the Leeds back four for the duration and was rewarded early in the second half with a goal far from the type the combative forward is associated with.
It was the simplest of tap-ins for Tevez, who forced the ball over the line and into an open goal, but having failed to find the net in each of his last four games, the 29-year-old will be less concerned with merits for style and quality and more hopeful of embarking on a scoring run that has evaded him thus far this season.
But the stars of the show were arguably Sergio Aguero and David Silva. Working in tandem to produce the majority of the hosts’ best chances, the diminutive pairing was simply irresistible.
It was Aguero who earned and scored the all-important second goal after 16 minutes, winning a soft penalty and sending Ashdown the wrong way having been tugged at by Tom Lees enough to prompt referee Mark Clattenburg to point to the spot.
Silva combined with Aguero to provide Tevez with the easy task of making it three for the hosts, before the Spanish star released the former Atletico Madrid striker with a wonderful lifted pass over the Leeds defence 15 minutes from the end. Aguero made no mistake, slotting in off the post, and the result was emphatically rubberstamped.
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Aguero took his tally to 13 for the season, including three goals in his last four starts, but the Argentina international seemed to relish working in close quarters with the resurgent Silva, who offered a glimpse of his very best at the Etihad against a side who simply could not cope with his craft.
It was a relentless performance from the home side, rousing enough to allow Mancini to say, at least to the media if not behind the scenes, that the champions could still shock the world.
"We need our strikers to score more like today," he said. "If our strikers start to score I think that we can have another chance in the Premier League."
Unfortunately for Mancini, the title could prove to be out of his reach regardless of how prolific his front line is. Given the 12-point advantage held by Manchester United, the Premier League is the Old Trafford club’s to lose.
But with more potential fodder in the form of Championship side Barnsley waiting in the quarter-final, the FA Cup is still well within Manchester City’s grasp.
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