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Edin Dzeko's first-half strike helped Manchester City to a 1-0 Barclays Premier League win over West Bromwich Albion. Barring a 25-minute spell before the break in which they were in complete control, City barely got going and were thankful for West Brom's profligacy, which allowed them to take all three points from this contest at the Etihad Stadium, which guaranteed them UEFA Champions League football next season.
Dzeko, who came off the bench to score twice in the last 10 minutes of the reverse fixture in October, which City won 2-1, netted after 35 minutes, calmly converting a volley to give his side, who are second, a seven-point gap on the third-placed Chelsea.
With Saturday's FA Cup final against Wigan on his mind, City manager Roberto Mancini made eight changes as Sergio Aguero and David Silva dropped to the bench, while Yaya Toure was left of the squad altogether. West Brom also shuffled their pack, with goalkeeper Boaz Myhill and defender Gabriel Tamas headlining their four inclusions, while striker Shane Long started as a substitute.
The visitors were toying with a three-man defence in a bid to give them extra bodies in midfield, and they started well, with Chelsea loanee Romelu Lukaku having three efforts on goal in the first six minutes. The forward’s pace and power looked like causing big problems. City came back though, with Carlos Tevez and James Milner narrowly missing the target, while Jack Rodwell missed an open goal. Tevez then thrashed an effort into the crossbar from 20 yards before City's goal finally came, with Dzeko the scorer.
Tevez was the provider, latching onto a through-ball down the right before lifting a cross into the box that Dzeko slotted into the right-hand corner, via Myhill's right hand.
The chances kept coming for City as Rodwell went close on two occasions, while Milner saw a superb 25-yard effort swerve into a post and bounce away to safety, with Mancini's men unlucky not to lead by more than one after recovering from a slow start to dominate the opening half.
As in the first half, West Brom came out firing after the break, with Markus Rosenberg's free-kick thudding into the crossbar from 25 yards moments after play had resumed. The rebound from Rosenberg's effort was nodded down by Billy Jones and City goalkeeper Joe Hart had to be alert to claw the header away.
James Morrison had a good strike from distance turned behind by Hart, before City had a golden opportunity to kill the game off. Samir Nasri's surging run into the penalty area ended in a clip across the face of goal, with Rodwell seeing his effort blocked before Jones intervened to deny Tevez.
The ball was still live in West Brom's penalty area and Myhill did well to deny a rasping drive from Aleksandar Kolarov. Rosenberg had a pair of decent shots on goal but it was not his night, while Milner's left-foot shot was straight at Myhill at the other end.
Jones went close again, only for Kolo Toure to deny him with an important block, while substitutes Long and Peter Odemwingie fired wide. In the end it was the failure of Steve Clarke's side to convert one of their many chances that allowed City to claim their 14th home league win of the season.
Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini: “It was a difficult game. We changed a lot of players, we took some risks, but in the end it was important to win this game.
"After 10 minutes, we started to play very well. We had five incredible chances to score, but we were missing. For that reason, we suffered more in the second half. They are a good team. They have had a fantastic season, they play good football. We knew that it would be a difficult game."
West Brom head coach Steve Clarke: "We were excellent, played well. We had a dodgy 10-minute spell in the first half, which came around about the goal.
"We started great. We had a little tactical switch, we decided to go with three at the back, something different. It's credit to the players that we are in the position we can do that at this stage of the season, we can experiment a little bit and look at different things. It worked really well for us, maybe we caught Manchester City out with the shape.
"We had chances, three or four in the first 10 minutes, and on another night one of those goes in and it could be different. The very least we deserved was a point, but we have to dust ourselves down, go to Carrow Road to face Norwich City in another difficult game on Sunday and try to get a win there.
"We want to try and secure eighth position. It's still in our hands. If we can pick up at least a win in the last two games, that might be enough to secure the eighth position - which would be a tremendous achievement for this group of players."
|14 May 2013||v Reading (A)|
|19 May 2013||v Norwich (H)|
|07 Dec 2013||v Southampton (A)|
|14 Dec 2013||v Man City (H)|
|21 Dec 2013||v Fulham (A)|
|26 Dec 2013||v Man City (H)|