ALBION gave last season’s champions a thorough examination as they were sunk by nemesis Edin Dzeko’s questionable 35th-minute winner.
The Baggies impressed from start to finish but fell behind when Dzeko, who came off the bench to hit both City goals in their 2-1 win at The Hawthorns in October, volleyed home Carlos Tevez’s centre. Tevez appeared to be offside as he raced onto Jack Rodwell’s ball – but the goal stood.
Steve Clarke’s side regrouped and spent most of the second 45 camped in the City half.
And only the woodwork denied the once-again impressive Markus Rosenberg, who saw a 50th-minute free-kick rattle Joe Hart’s bar.
Second entertained eighth on a warm evening at Eastlands.
Back-from-loan Craig Dawson was handed his first Barclays Premier League appearance of the season as Clarke made four changes and tried a new 3-5-2 formation.
Boaz Myhill and Gabriel Tamas also made rare starts while James Morrison was recalled after making a full recovery from a groin injury. The men to make way were benched quartet Ben Foster, Gareth McAuley, Graham Dorrans and Shane Long, who were joined by fit-again Steven Reid.
With an FA Cup Final date against Wigan just four days away, Roberto Mancini made EIGHT changes. Hart, James Milner and Samir Nasri were the only survivors from City’s goalless draw at Swansea.
The Italian’s starting XI, though, still made impressive reading.
However, it was the visitors who threatened first. With just 90 seconds on the clock, Morrison pounced on a loose ball just inside the City half and threaded through Romelu Lukaku, who outstripped Joleon Lescott before seeing an acute left-footed drive blocked at the near post by Hart.
Albion were on the attack again in the fourth minute when Lukaku collected Claudio Yacob’s cross-field pass before drilling just wide from 25 yards.
The Baggies’ bright start continued in the sixth minute when Lukaku planted a firm header straight at Hart from Tamas’ cross after City failed to clear a Morrison free-kick.
The hosts registered their first effort at goal in the ninth minute but Tevez was well off target from 20 yards after exchanging a neat one-two with Nasri.
The next shot at goal proved much closer – and it again came at the other end. Lukaku’s intended ball for Morrison on the edge of the box was seized upon by Rosenburg, who whistled a right-footed drive past the near post.
Albion looked at ease in their new-look system and only lost their rhythm briefly in unfortuitous circumstances.
The Baggies were briefly reduced to ten men in the 24th minute when Tamas went to ground after being studded in the back of the head by Aleksandar Kolarov. Admittedly, the Romanian had ducked to head the ball and there was no malice in the left-back’s challenge. But it was still high and dangerous and the Serb looked relieved to only receive a yellow card from Phil Dowd.
While Tamas was having his head bandaged by the touchline, City pressed and Tevez fired just over from 20 yards from Milner’s pull-back.
The centre-half was back on the field shortly after, looking like John Wile ala 1978, and Albion were soon back on the attack. Lukaku fed Rosenburg along the right-hand side of the box and the Swede fired at Hart from an acute angle.
But Albion had their backs to the wall when City finally began to show their true credentials as the game ticked past the half-hour mark.
After Albion were caught napping at a short corner, Tevez fed Milner and Myhill was at full stretch to push the ex-Villa man’s low cross away from danger.
Moments later, Nasri’s left-wing cross fell neatly for Milner at the back-post who wastefully fired wide from eight yards.
On 34, Dzeko looked certain to score as he advanced towards Kolarov’s wicked left-footed cross but the Bosnian somehow failed to make contact with the ball.
In the same minute, Tevez collected Kolarov’s pass on the edge of the box and sped past compatriot Yacob before smashing the Baggies bar, with Myhill beaten.
City kept pressing but Myhill easily dealt with Kolarov’s short free-kick from 30 yards.
However, City’s pressure finally told in the 35th minute, although Albion could count themselves unlucky to be behind.
After Youssouf Mulumbu was caught in possession by Nasri, Rodwell released Tevez with a ball over the top. TV replays suggested the former Manchester United ace was just offside but the officials allowed play to continue and he crossed to Dzeko, who steered a fine volley past Myhill from 15 yards.
City now looked full of goals and almost went two-up on 43. After Myhill had parried Milner’s cross, Rodwell saw his goalbound effort blocked by Tamas.
Dawson did well moments later when he deflected wide Rodwell’s shot from the edge of the box.
Albion were still very much in this contest and Morrison fired an inviting volley straight at Hart from 20 yards.
Moments later, Rosenberg threaded in Lukaku who was dispossessed by Hart’s outstretched right arm as he tried to round the England keeper.
However, the final chance of the half fell to City. Tevez pounced on a Tamas error to feed Rodwell, who wastefully blazed over from 15 yards.
Albion came agonisingly close to drawing level just four minutes after the restart. After Rosenberg had been felled by Javi Garcia, the former Werder Bremen striker dusted himself down and beat Hart all ends up with the resulting 20-yard free-kick which rattled the City bar. Billy Jones leapt highest to head the loose ball goalwards and the right-back was denied by Hart’s one-handed save.
Just like they had at the start of the first half, Albion were showing real promise and Hart had to pull off a fine save low to his right to tip wide Morrison’s 25-yard grass-cutter.
City had barely got out of their half as the game ticked past the hour-mark but a string of Baggies corners were repelled by the home rearguard.
Mancini’s men finally earned some respite in the 65th minute – and could easily have put the game beyond Albion. Tamas and Jones both produced vital blocks to deny Rodwell and Tevez respectively from Nasri’s centre. The ball bounced back to Rodwell whose right-footed volley was pushed wide by Myhill.
Back came Albion and Rosenberg saw an ambitious 25-yard drive deflected wide.
The game was becoming stretched and Milner did brilliantly to control Nasri’s ball over his shoulder before firing straight at Myhill from 15 yards.
The action swung to the other end and Rosenberg chested down Tamas’ right-wing ball before seeing his 20-yard volley well held by Hart on his goalline.
There was real Albion agony on 80 when Jones saw his goalbound shot from Mulumbu’s pull-back blocked by Kolo Toure.
Moments later, sub Long bustled his way onto Lukaku’s flick-on before firing into the side-netting from 15 yards.
Albion kept pressing but could not grab the equaliser their endeavour deserved.
MAN CITY (4-2-3-1): Hart; Richards, K Toure, Lescott, Kolarov; Garcia, Rodwell (Maicon 76); Milner, Tevez (Razak 90+1), Nasri (Barry 83); Dzeko. Subs not used: Pantilimon (gk), Nastasic, Silva, Aguero.
ALBION (3-5-2): Myhill; Tamas (Long 81), Dawson, Olsson; Jones, Mulumbu, Morrison, Yacob (Dorrans 70), Ridgewell; Rosenberg (Odemwingie 76), Lukaku. Subs not used: Foster (gk), Popov, Reid, McAuley.
GOAL: MAN CITY – Dzeko (35).
BOOKINGS: MAN CITY – Kolarov (foul 25), Nasri (unsporting behaviour 65). ALBION – Yacob (unsporting behaviour 65).
REFEREE: P Dowd (Staffordshire).
ALBION STARMAN: James Morrison.