Swansea 1-0 Manchester City: Daily Mirror match report
Published 21:40 11/03/12 By Martin Lipton
Remember the date, City fans. Circle it in your diaries. Carry it in your hearts.
March 11, 2012. The day, perhaps, the title dream that has sustained the club all season began to die.
For six months, since beating Aston Villa on October 15, City have finished every set of fixtures on top of the pile, their lead as big as five points on two occasions.
Now, though, they are second, looking up, peering at the one side you don’t want to be trailing with 10 games to go.
It is not over. Not yet. April 30 and United’s visit to the Etihad could still be the key moment.
But City’s remaining games look tougher, far tougher. They are the ones who seem to be crumbling, vulnerable, lacking the swagger they carried before them when everything was all so simple.
And as Roberto Mancini appeared a manager on the verge of a nervous breakdown when Sian Massey rightly raised her flag to cancel out Micah Richards’ celebrations and chalk off what would have been an equaliser at the death, you sensed the momentum has to be arrested quickly before it becomes an unstoppable force.
Lee Mason’s whistle brought the Liberty Stadium to its feet, the home fans shaking their heads in delirious joy, with Brendan Rodgers the last man down the tunnel.
City’s dressing-room inquests were doubtless already starting, the choice of “The Levellers” to provide the soundtrack utterly apt.
After all, Sheikh Mansour has spent £300million-plus to try to win the league, with Roberto Mancini’s starting side worth the thick end of £180m on the open market.
Yet you would not have known it, nor that Swansea were assembled for a fraction of that.
As Luke Moore, the striker bombed by Aston Villa and West Brom, rose between the static figures of Richards and Kolo Toure to nod past Joe Hart seven minutes from time, seismographs would have detected the ripples all the way to Old Trafford.
City, though, could have no complaints, no arguments – apart from the rucks between themselves, Yaya Toure and Mario Balotelli having to be dragged apart at the interval, Gareth Barry furious when he was hooked – not when they were second-best for all but 20 minutes either side of the break.
Had Hart not produced an outstanding penalty stop after seven minutes, the end might not have seemed so dramatic.
That incident was symptomatic. City, heavy-legged after their journey back from Lisbon, stood off when Scott Sinclair teased through to the excellent Danny Graham and when the ball ran on Wayne Routledge got to the ball before he was clattered by Hart.
Mason had no doubts but Sinclair did, a stuttering run followed by a low shot to the keeper’s right and his first missed penalty in 14 attempts for the Swans.
Rodgers’ team did not fold, though. In fact, they stepped it up, passing, probing and forcing a furious Mancini into the tactical change that saw Sergio Aguero introduced as Barry told assistant David Platt how unimpressed he was. Balotelli claimed a spot-kick in vain after clipping heels with Joe Allen, but it was Swansea who dug deepest.
Steven Caulker flicked the terrific Gylfi Sigurdsson’s corner wide and then, four minutes after replacing Graham, Moore struck.
Again, City were their own worst enemies, Stefan Savic selling Yaya Toure horribly short on halfway but Sigurdsson, Angel Rangel and Routledge pounced, the little winger’s cross powered home by Moore from eight yards.
Cue the desperate siege. Michel Vorm denied Balotell and Kolo Toure before Richards thought he had rescued a point.
Edin Dzeko was close in stoppage time before Hart had to race back from the Swansea box as Sinclair’s effort from half-way ran out of legs. It was City’s charge, though, that looked to be dying on its feet.
A glorious day for Swansea and Rodgers. A nightmare for Mancini and City. It felt decisive, too.