Mario Balotelli showed why Roberto Mancini has placed much faith in him with two terrific goals as City returned to winning ways with a 2-0 victory at West Brom this afternoon.
The precocious Italian striker struck twice in six first half minutes, but then was sent off on the hour to spoil an otherwise stunning display.
This was a match where the City players and manager boss silenced their critics in a performance that smacked of class and proved the old adage true that the season is a marathon, not a sprint.
And with so many of the Blues’ close rivals dropping points over the weekend, what better way to prepare for Wednesday’s Manchester derby?
City were bidding to end a dismal run of results at The Hawthorns that had seen five defeats in the previous six visits. In fact, the Baggies had only lost twice in the last 11 meetings with City in the past ten years – a jinx by anyone’s standards.
Mancini decided to start with perhaps his most attacking line-up of the season with the fit-again Carlos Tevez partnering Mario Balotelli in attack and David Silva behind them in his usual floating role behind the attackers.
Nigel de Jong recovered from his foot injury to resume his holding role in front of the back four and James Milner was relegated to the bench, along with Emmanuel Adebayor and Micah Richards.
With Spurs and Arsenal both losing their games this weekend, City needed to get their season back on track after three successive defeats against an Albion side unbeaten at home since last January.
Roberto Di Matteo’s men have been one of the surprise packages of the season but the Blues took control almost straight from the kick-off and Pablo Zabaleta almost broke the deadlock on 10 minutes with a fierce drive that whistled over the bar from 25 yards.
Tevez then went close moments later, but the Blues were finally rewarded for their neat build-ups and probing with a delightful move between Silva, Tevez and finally Balotelli.
Silva picked up the ball just inside the Albion half and then played a sublime pass to Tevez who beat his marker to fire a low cross into the six yard box where Balotelli slid the ball home for his first Premier League goal.
It was no more than City deserved and six minutes later, the lead was doubled with a magical piece of skill from Balotelli. The superb Silva again provided the killer ball with a 30 yard lofted pass to the Italian striker who controlled the ball and then set himself up almost within one move before firing a low shot past Scott Carson.
The relief was almost tangible! And City really should have wrapped the points up before the break with chances for Silva and Tevez, but nobody was complaining.
The Blues emerged leisurely from the dressing room after the break, much to the chagrin of the home players and referee Lee Probert and Simon Cox came within a whisker of reducing the arrears soon after with a stinging shot that struck the inside of Joe Hart’s post.
Jerome Boateng had a great chance to seal the victory on 50 minutes when he was put through by Silva , but he took his eye off the ball as he looked set to shoot and the chance went begging.
Then, on the hour, Balotelli ruined his sparkling afternoon by becoming embroiled in a tussle with Mulumbu which referee Probert deemed worthy of straight red card. It was naive at best by the Italian who, ironically, was about to be substituted and it left his team-mates facing a difficult 30 minutes.
It’s worth noting that the refereeing decisions towards the Blues in this game were, at times, mystifying with countless fouls on City players going unpunished.
Albion immediately stepped up the ante and Silva somehow managed to scramble one effort off his own line with various parts of his body, but City held strong and almost went three up when Yaya Toure’s terrific run almost resulting in a goal for Tevez.
The Blues, having weathered the storm, saw parity restored when, on 79 minutes Mulumbu, agitator in the Balotelli sending off for which he also picked up a booking, was sent off for a rash tackle on Tevez.
Wind the hosts’ sails well and truly deflated, City cruised to full-time with the style and panache they’d begun the game with and left for home with a richly-deserved three points.