Edin Dzeko struck against West Bromwich Albion for the third time this season as FA Cup finalists Manchester City earned a 1-0 victory in an open contest at the Etihad Stadium.
The Bosnian international, whose double at The Hawthorns in October included a last-gasp winner, guided home a volley after 35 minutes of a Premier League clash lacking in intensity but not incident. Both sides spurned numerous chances with City hitting the woodwork twice through Carlos Tevez and James Milner in the first half and Marcus Rosenborg doing likewise for West Brom after the break.
The build-up to the game had a distinct lack of edge to it with both teams making a number of changes and fans slow to make their way into the ground. City, although not mathematically certain of second place, made clear Saturday's date at Wembley was their priority as they fielded a team showing eight changes.
Despite the visitors' lack of obvious incentive, coming into the game comfortable in eighth place, they started brightly. Romelu Lukaku had three good chances inside the opening six minutes but failed to trouble Hart, shooting and heading at the keeper and dragging another effort wide.
Tevez had City's first attempt after linking well with Nasri and cutting inside but his shot was well off-target. Lukaku teed up Rosenborg at the other end but he too fired the wrong side of the post. City settled and Jack Rodwell had a chance after Myhill failed to deal with an Aleksandar Kolarov free-kick but shot over from close range.
Kolarov was perhaps lucky to stay on the field after committing an offence of his own when he caught Tamas on the side of the head with a high boot. The Romanian left the field for treatment, later to return bandaged up, while Kolarov escaped with a yellow card from referee Phil Dowd.
City then enjoyed a good spell as Tevez shot narrowly over from the edge of the box and Milner slammed a good chance from a dangerous Nasri cross. Rodwell was then inches away from turning a Kolarov corner towards goal and Tevez rattled the crossbar with a powerful drive from the edge of the box.
Dzeko volleys home
The opening goal came moments later as Tevez broke away down the right and clipped back a delicate cross for Dzeko. The Bosnian, guilty of a glaring miss at Swansea, watched carefully and guided a well-weighted volley past Myhill. City maintained the momentum and Rodwell had a shot cleared off the line and another effort deflected wide before Milner drove against the foot of the post.
Tevez played in Rodwell after another good break but again the otherwise impressive former Everton midfielder was out of luck and missed the target. The break came at a good time for West Brom and they began the second period with renewed vigour.
Rosenborg smashed a free-kick against the bar after being tripped by Javi Garcia on the edge of the area and Hart then saved well from Billy Jones' follow-up header. Hart was in action again soon after, tipping a low effort from Morrison wide of the post. West Brom applied pressure for a spell but were unable to break through and City came back at them.
Nasri slipped past three defenders on a run into the box but Tevez could not connect with his cross and Rodwell's attempt was blocked. The ball came back to Rodwell but again he was denied as Myhill saved. Nasri won a free-kick which led to a little squabble with Claudio Yacob but Kolarov wasted the opportunity.
Rosenborg connected with a volley from the edge of the area but Hart grasped the ball and Baggies manager Steve Clarke made the controversial decision to send on unpopular striker Peter Odemwingie. He was predictably greeted negatively by the visiting support but West Brom continued to press and Youssouf Mulumbu got behind the defence before Jones had a goalbound shot blocked.
Another substitute, Shane Long, fired into the side-netting with his first touch. Maicon came off the City bench and blazed over, prompting a mass exodus as the game petered out in the closing minutes.