Who says you cannot win anything wearing snoods? Well muffled against the bitter Tyneside cold Manchester City may have been but all the neck warmers and gloves in northern England could not disguise their ruthless incision as they reasserted their title credentials in chillingly effective fashion.
All in all it proved the happiest of anniversaries for Roberto Mancini, who took charge of City for the first time on Boxing Day 2009. The Italian was rewarded for 12 months' endeavour with a rare smile from Carlos Tevez, newly reconciled to life at Eastlands – possibly, even to the idea of being substituted – after the visiting captain's late replacement by Mario Balotelli.
At that juncture the Argentinian's second goal of the afternoon had effectively secured the gritty win which leaves City one place off the Premier League summit.
It is only Mancini's second English Christmas but even he must have been taken aback by the generosity of Newcastle United's welcome presents. The first arrived courtesy of Tim Krul, the Dutch goalkeeper paying a heavy price for a poor piece of opening-minute footwork which saw his attempt to play the ball gleefully intercepted by Tevez. Alert to an unexpected possibility, Gareth Barry sprinted down the left, Tevez perfectly delayed his pass and Barry's first-time left-foot shot resulted in the ball dinking beyond Krul and into the bottom corner. From that moment Barry soared in confidence, enjoying a fine game.
Alan Pardew's new side had barely regrouped before they were two down. This time the normally reliable, and subsequently impressive, Cheik Tioté conceded midfield possession to Tevez. Spotting James Milner, back at a former home, free on the right, City's captain played him in before accelerating into position to connect with the England winger's cross. It proved a good one, enabling a stretching, sliding Tevez to flick out his left foot and sweep a delicate low volley past Krul. It was his 11th Premier League goal of the season.
By way of slightly unhygienic celebration the Argentinian pulled a baby's dummy out of his sock and stuck it in his mouth.
Andy Carroll is said to be high on Mancini's January shopping list but the centre forward, whom Pardew says is not for sale, hardly boosted his valuation by heading straight at Joe Hart after meeting Wayne Routledge's cross when unmarked. Carroll, though, then gave Vincent Kompany and Joleon Lescott an exhausting work-out as, admirably refusing to fold, Newcastle rallied with Joey Barton and Kevin Nolan leading a rearguard action. Carroll threatened to score from almost every delivery into the box and Mancini will have been grateful that Milner's diligent efforts in tracking back against Jonás Gutiérrez and José Enrique limited the striker's service from crosses.
Suddenly tackles were flying in all over the place with a contretemps between Tioté and Yaya Touré proving emblematic. Signficantly Yaya Touré's advanced role in the visiting 4-2-3-1 formation was making life harder than usual for Tioté.
Encouragingly for Mancini, Tevez and friends gave as good as they got. The snood count may have been 4-1 in City's heavily gloved favour but their physical edge made a mockery of suggestions that warm necks and hands necessarily spell "soft".
Even City's notoriously hard-to-please manager applauded enthusiastically when Tevez, playing like a man possessed, tracked back and cleanly dispossessed Gutiérrez thanks to a wonderfully timed interception. Similarly undaunted by Newcastle's robust response, David Silva repeatedly used his superior vision and control to initiate counterattacks, on one occasion selling Routledge a wonderful dummy.
Pardew waited until the hour before making a change and finally replacing Routledge with Nile Ranger as he shifted from 4-5-1 to 4-4-2. Meeting fire with fire worked, Carroll soon scoring after wrong-footing Lescott at a Barton corner and thumping a header beyond Hart's reach.
Immediately City looked nervous, particularly when the onrushing Nolan poked Ranger's headed flick tantalising wide. Then Mancini got a slightly lucky, if not entirely undeserved, break as the substitute Adam Johnson slipped the ball to Tevez. Following some fancy footwork he unleashed a curling shot which took a hefty deflection off Fabricio Coloccini's backside en route beyond Krul.
Almost immediately Mancini withdrew Tevez, introducing Balotelli, wearing an outsize snood, in his stead as captain and manager showed off their recent rapprochement with smiles and an embrace. Refusing to capture the mood, Balotelli – whom Mancini wants to smile more – collected a stupid booking for dissent but this was an afternoon when not one team-mate had set him a bad example. Maybe Mancini is building a real team after all.
Man of the match Carlos Tevez (Manchester City)
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