English Premier League
Monday 26 December 2011, 15.00 KO
City: Hart, Zabaleta, K Toure, Kompany (c), Clichy, Y Toure, Milner (Dzeko 83), Silva, Nasri (Barry 59), Balotelli, Aguero (A Johnson 75)
Unused: Pantilimon, Savic, Lescott, de Jong
Booked: Yaya Toure
Referee: Lee Mason
Man of the Match: Mario Balotelli
Early possession in this season’s Boxing Day fixture was dominated by the visitors, but it was the home side who had the first chance: Odemwingie found Brunt on the edge of the box and he turned neatly to shoot first time. Hart had it covered, but it flashed just wide of the post and gave City an early scare.
Aguero was set free soon after down the left flank by Nasri and his low cross towards Balotelli was cut out by the West Brom defence, before the same man crossed for Milner to head, but the midfielder’s effort was wide of the back post. Silva was blocked off in the box and the rebound fell to Nasri on the edge of the box, volleying towards the near post, but Foster manager to get his body behind it and hold on to the ball.
West Brom had the next effort on goal, coming from range through Scharner. The midfielder wasn’t closed down outside the City box and he got his shot in at the near post. Hart got down well to push it behind. City should have then taken the led as Aguero found Silva on the penalty spot and, with the shot on, he somehow scooped it over the bar, when he should have made Foster pick the ball out of the net.
A deflected Balotelli free kick almost found the net, with Foster rooted to his line, but the ball trickled wide of the post. A succession of corners for the visitors then finished with Yaya Toure being taken by surprised by the ball reaching him at the near post and he couldn’t convert. Instead, it struck him and bounced behind. Balotelli then curled an effort from the edge of the box, looking for the far post, but Foster got behind it, as the away side began to turn up the heat.
The Italian did have the ball in the net on 34 minutes, but the linesman’s flag was up for offside. Silva had a shot from the edge of the box and it looped up off the defender, landing to Balotelli, who volleyed neatly into the net. But it wouldn’t count, Aguero flagged off as he challenged the initial ball in. At the other end, Kompany put in a great interception to cut out a ball across the box towards Long.
Odemwingie caught Balotelli with an elbow on the edge of the box, but there didn’t appear to be too much in it, as the two strikers collided. Balotelli had laid the ball off and tried to go one way, with the West Brom man trying to get out of the way. Milner had the chance to look for a red and black shirt in the box just before half time, but his low cross was cut out – City had had the possession, but West Brom were defending stoutly and not giving the visitors much room to manoeuvre.
The early second half possession was West Brom’s, but it was Balotelli who forced his way into the box down the by-line and his low cross was cut out before it could reach Aguero or Nasri in the middle. Milner’s cross to the back post was then overhit and drifted behind. Balotelli had a go out of the blue from the edge of the box, beat Foster, but didn’t beat the bar. It clipped the frame of the goal and ended up in the fans.
It was the home side who should have taken the lead on 56 minutes, as the ball landed to Shane Long unmarked in the City box. His header, though, didn’t make Hart work, as he nodded it wide of the post, after he’d escaped the attention of Kolo Toure.
A neat City move resulted in Silva taking a shot from just inside the box, after he’d found Yaya Toure and Aguero on the 18-yard line. It wasn’t too much trouble for Foster, however, and he was able to hold the shot. McAuley then denied Aguero with a great challenge on the penalty spot, as the Argentine had beaten the offside trap.
On 72 minutes, West Brom could have taken the lead. A ball into the box was cleared as far as Thomas who hit the shot first time and it smashed into the foot of the post and bounced clear. Hart threw himself at it, but he wouldn’t have had it covered had it been on target. It was a let off for the visitors, who were struggling to create any clear cut chances of their own.
City began to step up on the possession front, but were still struggling to create anything of note against a well organised home defence. Yaya Toure had an effort from the left side of the box, but it was another easy stop for Foster. Silva’s shot from the edge of the box was then blocked by Olsson. The late pressure almost paid off for City, as Balotelli spun in the box and won a corner, before Dzeko headed the flag kick wide at the back post.
It turned out to be the last chance for City to take the game, and it was the stubborn defence of West Brom that came out on top. The home side by no means parked the bus, but City just couldn’t break them down – City will be top of the league still, but United’s big victory over Wigan leaves them level and will have dented the goal difference.