Tevez brace boosts high-flying City
Carlos Tevez drew level with Dimitar Berbatov in the battle for the Golden Boot as his magnificent brace helped lift Manchester City to a 3-0 win over Stoke City and put them on the brink of direct qualification for the UEFA Champions League.
The Blues captain lashed his side in front after beating two men inside the Stoke City box, then curled home a superb free-kick to take his tally to 20 goals, exactly the same as Berbatov, with one game of the season remaining.
More importantly for manager Roberto Mancini, it leaves his team knowing a victory at Bolton Wanderers on Sunday will secure a straight passage through to the group stages of Europe's elite club competition, avoiding a hazardous qualification round in August when Bayern Munich and Villarreal had already been lined up as potential opponents.
Joleon Lescott also found the net with a simple header to complete a perfect week for City, but rub salt into the Stoke wounds still gaping after that devastating FA Cup final defeat at Wembley on Saturday, which ended the Blues' 35-year wait for a trophy.
Stoke's capacity to raise their spirits for this game, just three days after suffering the crushing weekend disappointment had to be called into question. Yet City too struggled to find any fluency, as if all their energy had been left in London despite the enormity of the prize on offer.
James Milner did race onto an excellent pass from Tevez, which the Argentinian flicked over his shoulder, but Milner's volley went woefully wide, and the quizzical looks at the referee which followed were done more to save his own embarrassment.
Tevez decided it was time to get involved himself. Given the uncertainty over his City future, this could potentially turn out to be the 26-year-old's final game at Eastlands. If so, he marked the occasion in style.
Collecting Milner's return pass just inside the Stoke box, he nimbly stepped past Ryan Shawcross and Andy Wilkinson, two of the six men who retained their places from the weekend for the visitors, before cutting a superb shot into the far corner. It was further proof that if Tevez does decide to move elsewhere, he will leave a king-size hole in Mancini's squad that money alone will not necessarily be able to fill, no matter what status the world's richest club enjoy.
"He has a five-year contract and has told us he wants to stay," said Mancini regarding Tevez's status with City. "He said that before. He never had any problem."
City toyed with their visitors after that. Milner and Toure both launched speculative efforts towards the visitors' goal without looking like adding to City's lead and Stoke's only response was an equally unlikely strike by Glenn Whelan that Joe Hart dealt with easily.
Lescott adds to City's lead
Tony Pulis at least galvanised his team into action at the start of the second period. But all hope was lost once City had gained a rather fortunate free-kick for a Danny Collins foul on Micah Richards. Lescott evaded all attention, got in front of Sorensen as he jumped for Adam Johnson's free-kick and had the easiest of tasks to nod home his second goal of the season.
Watching from the stands, Wigan Athletic manager Roberto Martinez could only hope Stoke will be in similarly lethargic mood at the Britannia Stadium on Sunday when they face that heart-stopping five-team battle for survival.
Substitute Edin Dzeko should have doubled his tally of Premier League goals instead of drilling a shot straight at Sorensen after muscling his way into the penalty area. When Whelan brought down Nigel de Jong, the Tevez let fly with a quite magnificent curling free-kick that gave Sorensen no chance as it flew right into the top corner. Dzeko struck the outside of a post from an acute angle, which again just highlighted how much City rely on Tevez.
A mad dash out of his goal to clear, and an equally frantic scramble back again ensured Hart's goal remained in tact, which confirmed another clean sheet and the Golden Glove prize. But the highest goalscorer is the award that carries greater prestige, and Tevez would have gone in front had he not clipped yet another free-kick narrowly over in the latter stages.