City eased into the knock-out stages of the Europa League thanks to an emphatic win over Red Bull Salzburg.
A potentially tricky trip to Turin now does not have qualification hanging on it, and City’s controlled performance thoroughly deserved that outcome, with Lech Poznan also going through after their draw with Juventus.
Mario Balotelli is often the centre of attention when he plays, and this game was no different as he put City out of sight with two clinical finishes. Adam Johnson’s sublime run and shot capped a night that could be consigned to the file marked “mission accomplished”.
Roberto Mancini signalled his intention to wrap things up with a game to go by going for an attacking line-up in a 4-4-2 formation. Jo & Balotelli were the strike partnership, Johnson and Wright-Phillips started on the left and right flanks respectively and Shay Given made his third appearance of the season.
The visitors had to win to retain an interest in this competition, and came into the game, held in the kind of bitterly cold conditions they would be more familiar with than their hosts, right in form after three straight wins in the Austrian Bundesliga.
City made the better start, with Balotelli firing over, an excellent cross from Wright-Phillips just eluding Jo and Lescott involved in a goal-mouth scramble all within eight minutes.
Patrick Vieira unlocked the resolute Red Bull defence after quarter of an hour with a searching pass that found Mario Balotelli, but with Jo begging for the ball in space the Italian took the selfish option only to see Tremmel save by flinging out a foot.
It mattered little though, because he made amends just a couple of minutes later, volleying home Zabaleta’s cross from the left to give City a deserved lead.
The goal did not exactly sting the visitors into action, and Shay Given was barely concerned by the few attacks Red Bull mounted. City maintained their grip on proceedings with Wright-Phillips making the most of a rare opportunity to try to impress and Milner working his socks off in his central role. The versatile Yorkshireman had no option but to go for goal after bursting clear just before the break, and the shot that was pulled wide was the last action of the half.
Super Mario was at the heart of the action early on after the break, putting in a decent cross from the right that just eluded Jo, then slamming a shot into the side-netting – this time showing a lot more emotion than when he had actually scored.
Balotelli and Jo had made dubious claims for penalties before the break, and maybe the Czech referee had them in mind when denying the Brazilian a spot-kick even though the ball had clearly hit Lietgeb’s raised hand inside the box.
Jo’s enigmatic strike partner for the night put the result beyond doubt on 66 minutes, tapping home his fifth goal in just six appearances for City after Vieira’s shanked effort landed invitingly at his feet. This time Mario allowed himself a hint of a smile as his team mates, who clearly rate his talents very highly, paid their respects.
The Italian’s work for the evening was over by the time City went three up with 11 minutes left, Adam Johnson weaving his way past three defenders from the left touchline before curling the ball past Tremmel.
With news filtering through from Poland that Juventus could only draw with Lech Poznan, both City and the Polish side could metaphorically put their feet up with one game to go and the final 32 beckoning in the new year.