Manchester City 3
(Nasri – 56, Lescott – 59, Balotelli – 94)
Tottenham Hotspur 2
(Defoe – 60, Bale – 65)
Mario Balotelli scored a last minute penalty to compound a spirited Tottenham Hotspur to an unfortunate defeat at the Etihad Stadium.
Nine surreal second-half minutes sparked the encounter into life before Balotelli, who in some respects was lucky to still be on the pitch, was brought down by Spurs captain Ledley King deep into stoppage time.
Manager Harry Redknapp made two changes from the side that drew 1-1 with Wolves last weekend, Jermain Defoe and King coming in for the ineligible Emmanuel Adebayor and Michael Dawson.
A cagey start to the enthralling affair failed to see both sides graft out any real opportunities, the first real noteworthy occasion of the first-half came when Gael Clichy was booked for handballing a Kyle Walker throw-in.
After 12 minutes, City managed to grind out the first chance of the game, the lively Sergio Aguero created some space outside the box only for his effort to be blocked by King and out for a corner.
And the Argentinean international came close just five minutes later, some excellent work by David Silva inside the box saw the Spaniard square for the former Atletico Madrid ace but his shot was blocked by team-mate Edin Dzeko.
It wasn’t until the 20th minute that Spurs managed to get their first real chance of note, Scott Parker’s effort on the edge of the failing to test Joe Hart in the City with the England mans chance bobbling wide.
Aguero and Silva were looking troubling throughout the opening exchanges and the two combined excellently after 25 minutes, the former being forced out wide by Younes Kaboul only to find the latter marauding unmarked into the 18-yard box but, fortunately for Brad Friedel, the diminutive schemer dragged his effort wide of the far post.
Friedel was forced into his first save of the match on the half-hour mark after some excellent work on the right by Micah Richards before the burly full-back found Aguero in space only for the striker to drill straight at the American.
Rafael Van der Vaart saw a number of long-range efforts fire helplessly wide before Kaboul blasted a free-kick yards wide having been teed up the Dutchman and Luka Modric.
Dzeko had the final chance of the opening 45 minutes but the Bosnian fired over as referee Howard Webb blew for half-time with no added time.
The second-half started in similar fashion to the first, tight and cagey, and the home fans felt they had a decent shout for a penalty turned down after the ball struck the arm of Benoit Assou-Ekotto.
And in the 56th minute, City’s early pressure paid off. Silva picked out Samir Nasri with a perfectly weighted through ball and the Frenchman smashed past Friedel to make it 1-0 to league leaders.
Three minutes later it was 2-0 to the Citizens, Dzeko flicked on Nasri’s corner and Joleon Lescott was on-hand to bundle the ball over the line.
While many teams would’ve rolled over and accepted defeat, Defoe managed to pull one back for Spurs just a minute after Lescott’s goal, Kaboul firing up-field before the England man capitalised on Stefan Savic’s misjudged header to round Hart and caress the ball into an empty net.
Five minutes later and it was all square in Manchester, Aaron Lennon received the ball on the left before cutting back to Bale whose curling effort looped over Hart and into the top corner. A mesmerising nine minutes of football after a quiet 55.
Spurs sensed an upset was on the cards and Modric sent a rasping half-volley just inches wide of the far corner following substitutions for both sides, Balotelli replacing Dzeko and Van der Vaart making way for Jake Livermore.
Bale began to find his stride following his strike and forced Clichy into a defensive header with the Welshman’s cross destined for Lennon at the back-post.
Balotelli looked lively following his introduction and was unlucky not to turn Nasri’s free-kick goal-bound, his header drifting just inches wide before Friedel was forced off his line to collect the ball from the Italian’s feet.
Entering the last 10 minutes of the game and the former Inter Milan ace can consider himself lucky to have still been in the field of play following a stamp on Parker, after the combative midfielder did well to rob the striker of possession.
Both teams looked nervous heading into stoppage time and the final chance for Spurs came in the 91st minute. Livermore collected the ball from the sloppy Savic before threading through to Bale on the left.
The Wales international broke out wide after some impressive defending from Lescott before squaring for Defoe. Reminiscent of Paul Gascoigne at Euro 1996, the pint-sized hit-man was just inches away from guiding the ball into the net at the far-post for what surely would have been the winner.
City upped the ante from then on and after a ball over the top wasn’t properly cleared, captain King, playing his first game since the 1-1 draw with Chelsea, dragged Balotelli down leaving Webb no choice but to point to the spot. The controversial front-man pulled himself up to bury his effort and make it 3-2 on the day.
Barely enough time for the restart, Bale quickly worked the ball down the left but Richards comfortably cleared before Webb blew up for full-time leaving Spurs to wonder what could have been.
What Redknapp had to say.
“It just proves to me that we’re as good as anybody. They weren’t better than us today,” Redknapp told Sky Sports.
“We were so close and looked the more likely team to win. I’m delighted with the players. It just shows how far we have come and where we can go from here. We’ve got a good team.
“We’ve been beaten 3-2 here knowing we shouldn’t have been beaten. It should be very easy to pick them up. They’ve proved to everyone today that they’re good enough to play against Man City.”
Man of the match.
No real stand-out candidates, but the award goes to Younes Kaboul for us. The Frenchman again showcased his aerial prowess to deny each and every Manchester City long-ball. Dragged out of position for Samir Nasri’s opener but other than that, continues to impress on his second return with the club.
Moment of the match.
Where to begin, Gareth Bale’s wonder strike, Joleon Lescott’s elbow on Younes Kaboul, Mario Balotelli’s stamp. It has got to go to Jermain Defoe’s miss. After Stefan Savic hesitated in the midfield, Bale found himself breaking down the left. The Welshman did everything right but Defoe could only get his studs to the ball as he tapped just wide for what could’ve been the winner. The miss proved costly as two minutes later, Brad Friedel was picking the ball out of his net after Ledley King conceded a penalty in the 94th minute, substitute Balotelli tucking away confidently from the spot.