Manchester City 1 Stoke City 0

FA Premier League
Saturday 22 February 2014, 15.00 KO

City: Hart, Zabaleta, Kompany (c), Demichelis, Kolarov, Fernandinho (Navas 63), Toure, Nasri, Silva, Dzeko, Negredo (Jovetic 56 (Garcia 69))
Unused: Pantilimon, Lescott, Clichy, Milner
Goals: Toure (70)
Booked: Kompany, Fernandinho, Dzeko

Referee: Chris Foy
Man of the Match: Pablo Zabaleta

Nasri is fouled.

Nasri is fouled.

A second-half strike was enough for City to scrape their way to a vital three points on a day when their title rivals all won. The pressure was on the Blues to begin with, following Chelsea’s last-gasp winner at Stamford Bridge, and it looked like it was showing in the early stages. Stoke had a game plan to defend and it was paying off.

The early chances fell mainly to the home side, but Dzeko headed well over from a corner and Fernandinho drove an effort straight at Begovic from the edge of the box. Negredo slipped Zabaleta in on the right, but the full-back’s shot ricocheted off the goalkeeper and behind; the Blues were struggling to create clear-cut opportunities and Stoke packed the box.

The visitors could have opened the scoring on 20 minutes as the ball broke kindly for Adam on the left corner of the area. The Stoke man hit it towards the far side of the goal, and it looked like it was creeping in until Hart’s fingertips intervened and pushed it around the post.

Begovic collected efforts from Kolarov, Toure and Fernandinho, as City tried their luck from range – but their luck was pretty similar each time, as the shots bobbled through for the goalkeeper to hand on to comfortably. It then fell to Negredo and Nasri to hit from the edge of the area, but both of their shots were over the bar, as City struggled for an opening.

Dzeko was inches away from opening the scoring just before half time as he picked up the ball on the edge of the box and carried it across the 18-yard line. He put his foot through it and curled it towards the bottom corner – and Begovic was worried – but it dropped inches wide of the post.

There was some improvement from the hosts after the break, but it was still an arduous process for them to create chances. Dzeko scooped over from a Silva pull-back, before Toure hit a free kick into the Stoke man-wall.

When it looked like the goal might not come, an injury to substitute Jovetic forced the manager’s hand: He moved Toure forward and, as the Ivorian gambled into the box, he connected to a Kolarov cross and forced it past Begovic. The goalkeeper got a hand on the effort, but the ball trickled over the line.

The goal didn’t open the game up as many thought it might: Dzeko (somehow) missed an open goal from less than a yard out, as his shot ricocheted off his right foot and onto his left before falling clear of the six-yard box. Garcia hit a belter from the edge of the area, before Ireland had the opportunity to stun the fans at his old stomping ground, but his volley was well wide.

It was by no means a classic – but it was a vital three points for City.

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