MAN CITY 1, STOKE CITY 0
It was as though Manchester City were still suffering from a Champions League hangover as they secured a scruffy win against Stoke City to remain in the thick of the title hunt in the Barclays Premier League.
City, beaten in midweek by Barcelona in their last-16 European battle, were decidedly flat as they laboured for much of the match in which they lacked the spark which had been a feature of their early-season play.
Yaya Toure’s match-winning goal also reflected City’s disjointed display as it only just squeezed past Stoke keeper Asmir Begovic.
It was tough on the Potteries’ side which defended heroically as well as asking questions of City on the counter attack.
City may have enjoyed a massive 74-per-cent of possession and had 19 goal attempts, but they never looked like winning by a comprehensive margin on a frustrating afternoon.
Manager Manuel Pellegrini admitted City were far from their best adding the only important statistic was that his side won.
He said: “The satisfaction is that we have three points more.
“Teams come here to try and draw and we cannot pretend to win by three or four every match.
“It is important to win both ways by scoring at least one goal and keeping a clean sheet .”
Pellegrini admitted City didn’t create many clear-cut chances, but gave credit to Stoke for the way they defended.
“We had to be patient for 90 minutes to score and then concentrate at set pieces and second balls to make sure we kept a clean sheet,” he continued.
Samir Nasri and Edin Dzeko replaced Gael Clichy and Jesus Navas, the two changes from the starting line which faced Barcelona in midweek.
Brazilian Fernandinho had City’s first chance as his 25-yard drive was acrobatically turned over by keeper Asmir Begovic.
But it was Stoke who created a host of goal attempts in the opening quarter of the game as City fans became edgy at their side’s inability to threaten their opponent’s goal.
Charlie Adam forced a fantastic save from Joe Hart and pulled another effort wide when well placed. Glenn Whelan shot straight at keeper Joe Hart while Ryan Shawcross glanced a header not far off target.
City were restricted to speculative efforts as Yaya Toure shot straight at Begovic before blazing over from six yards.
Dzeko curled an effort not far wide while in stoppage time Fernandinho forced another decent save from Begovic.
The frustration continued for City after the restart as they were unable to find a way through Stoke’s massed defensive ranks.
City made their first change in the 56th minute when Alvaro Negredo was replaced by Stevan Jovetic as they looked for a route to goal.
Dzeko spooned a shot over while Jovetic’s piledriver was parried by Begovic as Stoke’s defence continued to hold firm. And City’s troubles continued when Jovetic limped off after only 13 minutes on the pitch.
The breakthrough finally came with 20 minutes left when Aleksandar Kolarov crossed from the left for Yaya Toure, eight yards out, to squeeze a shot low past Begovic for his 16th goal of the season.
Dzeko ought to have sealed victory not long when he missed an open goal from three yards from a Navas cross as he kicked the goalpost in anger at a glaring miss.
Begovic pulled off a smart stop to deny Javi Garcia as City continued their pursuit of a second goal to clinch victory.
Stoke had a chance to equalise three minutes into stoppage time when substitute Stephen Ireland pulled an angled shot wide when well placed.