Wigan Athletic 0 Manchester City 1

Wigan Athletic v Manchester City: James McCarthy's shot is saved by Joe Hart
Wigan Athletic v Manchester City: James McCarthy's shot is saved by Joe Hart

BRAVE Latics huffed and puffed but couldn’t quite blow down the most expensively assembled house in the footballing world last night.

As predicted by many, top of the table did indeed prevail over bottom.

But, as anyone who was at the DW Stadium will testify, that told only a small part of the story.

Edin Dzeko’s first-half header was the difference at the end of the day, but the home side can count themselves desperately unlucky not to have come away with a share of the spoils after a rousing response.

Sure, Latics needed the brilliance of Ali Al Habsi to keep them in the game as City threatened a second on the break.

But only a world-class save by England goalkeeper Joe Hart prevented James McCarthy from scoring a deserved equaliser in the final quarter as Roberto Martinez’s men showed they may be down - but they are certainly not out of the Premier League just yet.

Martinez had made three changes from his last Premier League starting side, Gary Caldwell back from suspension for Steve Gohouri, James McArthur in for Ben Watson and Victor Moses replacing the injured David Jones.

City made four changes due to suspension and African Nations Cup commitments, although David Silva was passed fit to play in a team that still contained the likes of Sergio Aguero, Dzeko and Samir Nasri.

And Silva was immediately into the game, inviting Nasri forward inside the opening 30 seconds, although the home defence held firm.

At the other end, a textbook block tackle by McCarthy set up Wigan’s first attack that almost brought about the opening goal.

Albert Crusat’s cross from the left was only half cleared, and Jordi Gomez appeared to be fouled by Gareth Barry as the pair waited for the ball to drop.

Referee Martin Atkinson waved play on, and McArthur’s showed excellent technique to control his volley that was blocked and scrambled away.

City threatened again when Gael Clichy’s cross found Dzeko unmarked at the near post, but the header was poor and flashed well wide of Al Habsi’s right-hand post.

But the end-to-end nature of the game continued when Moses led a two-on-two break with Hugo Rodallega in support.

City centre-backs Stefan Savic and Joleon Lescott were on the back foot, but Moses lost his composure at the wrong side and lashed a shot from outside the box well over the crossbar.

It was a really open first quarter, in which both sides enjoyed a fair amount of possession without managing to work the oppposition goalkeeper enough.

All that changed midway through the first half, however, when Silva swung in a free-kick from the left and Dzeko’s header arrowed into the top corner past Al Habsi.

It was nearly 2-0 shortly after when Caldwell played McArthur in to a load of trouble on the edge of his own box, and fortunately the centre-back was able to atone for his own error when Silva’s attempted through ball looped into his path and he headed clear.

Typically tenacious play from McCarthy, backed up well by his former Hamilton pal McArthur, ensured Latics were holding their own in midfield, while Gomez was seeing plenty of the ball and showing some nice touches.

One move, involving all three, saw Moses released down the left-hand channel.

But, with the defence stretched, the winger elected to cut back inside and was crowded out when he would have been better advised to cross first time.

The rest of the half saw Latics more than holding their own without really having that cutting edge to worry Hart in the City goal.

And City showed their respect for their opponents by being content to pass the ball along the back line for the one minute’s added time and protect what they had, rather than push for a second goal.

Latics started the second half the way they’d finished the first, and were again claiming a penalty within seconds of the restart when Moses’ cross appeared to strike the hand of Pablo Zabaleta - albeit at point-blank range.

More great harrying from the midfield then saw McArthur get another sight of goal, but the shot was always going past Hart’s far post.

After soaking up everything Latics could throw at them, City almost doubled their lead 10 minutes into the second period.

First Dzeko and then Sila thought they’d scored, only for Al Habsi to pull off a couple of world-class saves to keep his side in it.

Then Aguero embarked on a mazy dribble that cut right through the heart of the Wigan defence, who couldn’t get near enough to him to get in a tackle.

But the Argentine seemed to want to score the perfect goal and, after spurning repeated chances to pull the trigger, fell over his own feet before Dzeko stepped in and stabbed the ball straight into Al Habsi’s hands.

Latics received another life on the hour mark when Clichy’s cross from the left went through the legs of both Alcaraz and Caldwell, who were relieved to see the ball continue through for a corner.

Caldwell was quickly in action at the other end joining a break that was started by Gomez and continued by Rodallega, only for Stam to give the ball away in a promising position.

Martinez would have been pleased by most of what he was getting from his side save the obvious, and he made his move at the three-quarter point with a double substitution.

Off came Crusat and McArthur, the latter after a tireless effort, and on came Franco di Santo and Watson.

And the switch nearly reaped instant dividends.

Rodallega was the instigator, marauding through the midfield against a backtracking backline, and he picked the perfect time to release McCarthy.

The Ireland midfielder raced into the box, slightly left off centre, and his finish was low and assured - only for Hart to pull off a great save with his legs.

That was the signal for Roberto Mancini to make his first change, bringing off Nasri and sending on enforcer Nigel de Jong to try to restore the balance in the engine room.

De Jong’s first touch was to give the ball away on the edge of the Wigan box, and his second was to slide into Rodallega for a regulation yellow card.

He was soon joined out in the middle by Nedum Onouha, Silva this time making way, which told you everything you needed to know about City’s ambitions for the rest of the game.

Martinez responded by withdrawing Gomez for young Callum McManaman, the home crowd responding by giving their new favourite a rapturous welcome.

City had a couple of chances to put the game to bed, Dzeko seeing a deflected effort tipped over by Al Habsi, before Aguero pulled a shot wide from a very good position.

There was a flashpoint in the last minute, when Maynor Figueroa misjudged a bouncing ball on halfway and, with Aguero behind him, stuck a hand out to keeep the ball away from the City man.

Referee Atkinson decided a yellow card was the correct punishment, not an reasonable call given the fact there was over 50 yards between the ball and the Wigan goal.

However, the decision provoked a quite astonishing outburst from Mancini on the touchline, the Italian completely losing the plot and brandishing imaginary yellow cards to the fourth official and anyone within range for several seconds.

The scene was, it seemed, set for a final sting in the tale but, try as they might, Latics couldn’t quite carve out one final opportunity that may just have brought about a deserved point.

Latics: Al Habsi 8; Stam 6, Caldwell 7, Alcaraz 6, Figueroa 7; Moses 7, McArthur 8, Gomez 7, McCarthy 8, Crusat 7; Rodallega 6.

Subs: Pollitt, Gohouri, Boyce, Watson (for McArthur, 68) 7, McManaman (for Gomez, 81), Di Santo (for Crusat, 68) 6, Sammon.

City: Hart; Zabaleta, Lescott, Savic, Clichy; Milner, Nasri, Barry, Silva; Aguero, Dzeko.

Subs: Pantilimon, Kolarov, Onouha (for Silva, 80), Hargreaves, Johnson (for Aguero, 90), De Jong (for Nasri, 74), Rekik.

Star Man: James McCarthy