Roberto Mancini's team rescue victory from jaws of defeat after Shane Long had given the home side a 67th minute leadWEST BROMWICH, England -- On paper, this trip to fortress Hawthorns always looked a major test of Manchester City’s title credentials.
So it proved as Edin Dzeko came off the bench and rescued a 2-1 victory from the jaws of defeat for Roberto Mancini’s 10-man team in the most dramatic of circumstances.
Shane Long’s poacher’s goal had given West Brom a 67th minute lead and looked like propelling the home side to its fifth consecutive home Premier League win of the season following James Milner’s early sending off.
But Dzeko had other ideas. A minute after coming on the pitch, he headed an 80th minute equalizer from Carlos Tevez’s free kick following an error from Ben Foster.
Then, in added time he sent City’s travelling fans wild with his second goal and fifth league strike of the season, calmly slotting home with his right foot.
Either side of Dzeko’s last-minute winner, another substitute, Romelu Lukaku, had come close to scoring, but he was denied - first by Joe Hart and then by an Aleksandar Kolarov goal-line clearance.
Before kickoff this clash had ‘upset’ written all over it. West Brom has adapted smoothly following the change over from Roy Hodgson to Steve Clarke, accumulating 14 points from their first seven matches.
Moreover, the Hawthorns has been quite a fortress for Clarke’s team. Their opening four home league matches have yielded four victories - against Liverpool, Everton, Reading and QPR – and nine goals.
Mancini selected a team with a strong English core. Joe Hart, Joleon Lescott and James Milner all started despite the 20-hour delay to England’s match in midweek and they were complemented by Gareth Barry and Micah Richards.
Sadly for City, Milner only last 23 minutes. A mistake by Vincent Kompany allowed Long a clear run on Hart’s goal, which meant that the midfielder had to time his tackle perfectly. He did not.
Long was hacked to the ground and replays showed that Mark Clattenburg was correct to show Milner a straight red card for a professional foul.
Briefly, City lost its composure as feisty challenges rained in from the home side, backed by its vocal home support.
Mancini needed his 10 men to stand firm but Balotelli was having one of those days when he felt the whole world was against him. After being booked in the 19th minute for lashing out following a challenge, he began to tread a disciplinary tight-rope as the opening half finished, even if he was harshly penalized for a foul.
When the whistle blew and with the crowd increasingly getting on his back, Balotelli marched up to Clattenburg and his assistants to have his say, before being sensibly escorted away by Joe Hart.
Few among the 24,891 spectators expected the temperamental Italian to come back out after the break, but Mancini reshaped his team into a 4-3-1-1 formation, moved Tevez back and gave Balotelli the spearhead role in which he is far more comfortable.
It paid immediate dividends. City began to gain a foothold in the match, creating opportunities and quietening the home fans for the first time.
Tevez’s long-range shot was heading for the top corner before it was athletically pawed away by Ben Foster while Toure headed over the bar after Balotelli’s mis-hit volley.
Against the run of play, West Brom took the lead after 67 minutes. Substitute Peter Odemwingie made an immediate impact, putting Long through on goal with a slide-rule pass and the No. 9 tapped in his third league goal of the season and fifth in all. Replays showed he was narrowly onside as City’s defenders moved forward.
Mancini hauled off Barry and sent on Dzeko to rescue a point. The Bosnian managed to do even better.