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Mario Balotelli and James Milner struck in the second half as Barclays Premier League champions Manchester City edged out spirited Wigan Athletic 2-0 on a freezing night at the DW Stadium.
City took time to warm up and Wigan had several chances before Balotelli, making his first start in six matches, changed the game 21 minutes from time with his first League goal since March. Milner, having not long been on the field, then doubled the lead with a superb strike before being forced off injured.
The result extended City's unbeaten Premier League run to 20 matches and kept them within a point of leaders Manchester United.
City were the first to go close when Maicon charged down the right and fired narrowly over from a tight angle. Wigan threatened on the counter-attack after a City move broke down and Franco di Santo released Arouna Kone, whose long-range shot was grabbed by goalkeeper Joe Hart at the second attempt.
The visitors had another chance as David Silva played in Sergio Aguero, but the Argentinian shot into the side-netting. Another good City move led to Pablo Zabaleta, starting on the left rather than the right, break into the area but he lost control and Ali Al-Habsi claimed.
Maicon looked in some discomfort after a Di Santo cross struck him in the throat but the Brazilian was able to continue after a stoppage for treatment.
Wigan continued to play their confident brand of football and Jean Beausejour created a chance by cutting inside Maicon but Vincent Kompany was able to block. The Latics had a scare when a high bounce caught out Maynor Figueroa and Aguero broke clear but Adrian Lopez came across to tackle.
Wigan's Ronnie Stam beat Zabaleta with a superb run down the right and crossed from the byline. Kone beat Hart in the air, but his header dropped on to the roof of the net.
Hart was then pleased to see a Jordi Gomez free-kick flash over after the Spaniard was fouled by Aguero outside the area.
After being shaded in the first half, City upped the tempo and looked a much stronger proposition after the break. Balotelli sent a free-kick over and Yaya Toure then shot over before Balotelli headed wide from a Maicon cross. City then had a let-off as an unmarked Kone headed wide from a James McCarthy cross and Gomez also missed the target.
The champions needed to respond again and this time they did so decisively. Al-Habsi was unable to hold Barry's low strike from the edge of the area in the 69th minute and Balotelli was quick to react. The Italian's first effort was blocked but he made no mistake with the second chance and he emphatically tucked away his third goal of the season in all competitions.
City put the result beyond doubt just three minutes later as substitute Milner, brought on for Javi Garcia, found the top corner with a stunning long-range strike. Maicon should have added a third after being presented the ball by an Emmerson Boyce clearance but side-footed wide.
Milner's night ended prematurely when he limped off 10 minutes from time, but it had been quite an impressive 21-minute cameo from the England international.
Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini: "I am very happy for [Mario Balotelli] because he scored his first goal this year. He scored an important goal. I hope he can improve in the next week and the next game.
"Mario [Balotelli] is one of the four strikers, we have four top strikers. In this moment we have had some difficulty scoring goals like last year, but if we work we can change this.
"We thought Mario or Sergio [Aguero], but Mario in this moment is maybe more fresh than Sergio. Sergio has played all the games and for this reason we changed. Also Mario moved well. He didn't play like he knows, but in this position Mario was better in this moment.
"We knew before the game it was difficult because every time we play against Wigan, we don't win easy. They play good football, their manager is a good manager and they play very well.
"We had some problems for various positions on the pitch, but in the end we deserved to win because we shot 16 times against one and we should be also passionate in this game."
Wigan manager Roberto Martinez: "From our point of view, we edged the game for 60 minutes. The disappointment is we couldn't get the first goal in that period.
"When you are just slightly ahead of the opposition you have to score and that [Arouna Kone] was a clear chance. We could have been more patient but the frustration is we couldn't find a goal. That was the only thing missing. But I loved the attitude, effort and personality that we showed. We kept showing that desire. It was a very pleasing performance from many aspects but we are still disappointed.
"I don't want to be a Wigan Athletic representative saying we are happy to lose with a good performance against the champions. That is not accepted any more. It is not good enough for us. We are disappointed we couldn't get a positive result."
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|08 Dec 2012||v QPR (H)|
|15 Dec 2012||v Norwich (A)|
|22 Dec 2012||v Arsenal (H)|
|26 Dec 2012||v Everton (A)|
|29 Dec 2012||v Aston Villa (A)|