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Year in review 2012: Manchester City – Blue moon? More like heaven with first top-flight title in 44 years

By Chris Bailey

Remember 44 years – a number which hung around Manchester City’s neck and was draped across Manchester United’s Stretford End.

But with a swing of Sergio Aguero’s right boot, the Blues banished decades of failure to land the Premier League title – this is the story of their year.

JANUARY

As much as 2012 would go down in history for City, there were no New Year’s celebrations – a last-minute Ji Dong-Won goal for Sunderland made for a frosty defeat at the Stadium of Light.

Despite a triumph over Liverpool in the Premier League, the Merseyside club returned the favour as they dumped the Blues out of the Carling Cup with ex-Blue Craig Bellamy playing a pivotal role.

And, as so often happens, things would turn from bad to worse. A 3-2 loss in the FA Cup to arch-rivals United coupled with a Premier League defeat to Everton ended a miserable month.

League wins over Tottenham Hotspur and Wigan Athletic eased some of the pain, but City entered February with Alex Ferguson’s side breathing down their necks.

FEBRUARY

A month the way potential champions should respond. A three-goal brushing aside of Fulham would be followed by a hard-fought win away at Aston Villa courtesy of a Joleon Lescott header.

A swift dispatch of FC Porto in the Europa League would not quite make up for a disappointing Champions League campaign, but City carried a snowball of momentum into the league.

Blackburn Rovers were the next team in their sights as the Blues notched an astonishing 18th win in a row with another 3-0 rout – including Aguero’s 21st goal of the season.

MARCH

After seemingly right back on track, City did not just teeter on the Premier League tightrope – they almost fell off it.

A routine win against Bolton Wanderers at the start of March suggested all was well, but Sporting Lisbon avenged Portuguese counterparts Porto in the Europa League to send City crashing out.

There were far more pressing issues at home, however. The Blues came back from a trip to Swansea City empty-handed only to immediately bounce back with a victory over Chelsea.

Carlos Tevez made his first appearance after a six-month exodus from Manchester, coming on as a sub to set-up Samir Nasri’s 86th minute winner.

But it was two frustrating draws at the end of the month which cast ominous signs over the Etihad Stadium.

Peter Crouch’s wonder-goal for Stoke City was cancelled out by Yaya Toure, and City showed incredible resolve to secure a draw two goals in the last five minutes against Sunderland.

However, whether it was one point gained or two points lost, the Blues were now firmly behind United as the title pendulum swung the way of Old Trafford.

APRIL

Nails were being hammered into coffins once Mikel Arteta’s 86th minute strike sunk City in a feisty fixture at the Emirates Stadium.

A petulant showing from Mario Balotelli seemed to sum-up City’s self-destruction in the second-half of the season, the Italian finally given his marching orders for bundling over Bacary Sagna.

But perhaps playing without the pressure of top spot, the Blues ploughed on to crush West Bromwich Albion and Norwich City – 4-0 and 6-1 respectively – to maintain a flicker of hope.

An away win at Wolverhampton Wanderers built pressure on United, who, uncharacteristically, were feeling the heat as dropped points to Wigan and Everton cut their lead to three points.

Miraculously, it was all set-up for a derby showdown. A superior goal difference would mean City reclaiming first should they have overcome their neighbours on their own turf.

And so they did. The Blues breached a United side – who had set out their stall to defend – just before half-time, as captain Vincent Kompany powered home one of the most important goals in his club’s history.

MAY

City were now two victories away from their first title in nearly half a century. Newcastle United and Queens Park Rangers withstanding, dreams could be realised and decades-long nightmares vanquished.

But, in typical Blues fashion, it was never going to be that easy.

The seemingly harder of the two fixtures, a visit to the Magpies, proved the easiest as a 2-0 win lined up a City procession against a QPR side scrapping for their lives.

Champagne corks were popped when Pablo Zabaleta put his side ahead late in the first-half, but it was only a prelude to one of the most dramatic season endings football has ever witnessed.

Djibril Cisse punctured City hearts after levelling the scores soon after half-time, but a second from Jamie Mackie threatened to crush them – despite the ever-controversial Joey Barton seeing red.

The Blues needed a win as United cruised at Sunderland and, with time running out, it was looking grim.

Edin Dzeko was summoned from the bench by Roberto Mancini in an attempt to perform a rescue act and in no sooner than the 91st minute, the Bosnian came up trumps with a header.

It was still not enough and with three minutes to go, City would have to engineer the kind of late comeback which their title rivals have made common practice over many years.

We all know what happened next. Aguero, the diminutive Argentinian who had left the sunny climes of Spain for Manchester just one year prior, sealed a place in City’s history forever.

JUNE AND JULY

Some say success in the easy part – the hardest job is to maintain it. But instead of launching into another summer splurge, City sat back as Euro 2012 got underway.

A couple of Blues stars wove themselves a prominent part on the international stage – a sign of how far the club has become in the space of a few years – as David Silva and Balotelli started in the final.

Balotelli stole the headlines in Italy’s semi-final as his brace knocked out Germany, but it was Silva who set Spain on their way to another piece of silverware with his opening goal.

AUGUST

Sport is a revolving door which never stops – at least for long – and City’s first test of mettle came against Chelsea in the Community Shield, picking up where they left off with a second-half fightback.

With one trophy already under their belt for the campaign, an edgy fixture with Premier League newcomers Southampton followed.

A second-half Soton sucker punch, however, only gave City the opportunity to emulate last season’s dramatics with another 3-2 victory.

The run of late turnarounds came to an end at Anfield in a two-all draw, but Tevez managed to snag a point after a Martin Skrtel horror-show presented the striker with easy pickings.

City, unusually quiet in the transfer market during the summer, engaged in a spot of deadline day wheeling and dealing to round off August.

Having already drafted in Jack Rodwell from Everton for £12 million earlier in the month, Inter Milan full-back Maicon, along with central-midfielder Javi Garcia, were ushered into Eastlands.

Promising centre-back Matija Nastasic and Swansea’s star man Scott Sinclair also signed on the dotted line before the clock struck midnight.

SEPTEMBER

The Blues welcomed QPR back to the Etihad Stadium for the first time following the final day title-clincher, but the 3-1 scoreline did not reproduce any moments of madness.

Unfortunately for City, another victory would not come until the very end of the month – 2-1 against Fulham – as they struggled for form on multiple fronts.

A smash-and-grab Champions League win against Real Madrid was on the cards until Karim Benzema and then ex-United man Cristiano Ronaldo struck at the death.

A resilient Aston Villa side also forced the Blues out of the Capital One Cup after extra time – despite City leading 2-0 courtesy of goals from Balotelli and Aleksandar Kolarov.

Frustrating Premier League draws against Stoke – who City have not beaten at the Britannia Stadium since 1999 – and Arsenal capped off a similarly frustrating month.

OCTOBER

German champions Borussia Dortmund were held to a draw at the Etihad as City rallied from behind thanks to a Balotelli penalty and a goalkeeping clinic by Joe Hart.

But the Blues reasserted their claim for another league title as they coasted past Sunderland 3-0, and super-sub Dzeko clinched victory from the jaws of defeat against West Bromwich Albion.

In Europe, however, a shock defeat away to Ajax would throw City’s Champions League ambitions into disarray.

Nasri got Mancini’s men off to a perfect start within the half hour, but they would have no reply to a Dutch salvo from Siem De Jong, Niklas Moisander and Christian Eriksen.

An end-of-month beating of Swansea provided some tonic as Tevez bagged the game’s solitary goal.

NOVEMBER

City opened November with a goalless stalemate – their first since Boxing Day 2011 – against West Ham United.

And a 2-2 draw against Ajax all but took the Champions League knockout stages out of their reach.

The Blues responded to European disappointment by grabbing a last-minute win against Spurs – with Dzeko to thank once again – and then putting Aston Villa to the sword in a five-goal performance.

Pride was restored after equalling Real Madrid at the Etihad, but a draw meant dreams of a Champions League trophy were definitely put on hold for another year.

In a game of few chances, Mancini next pitted his wits against interim Chelsea manager Rafa Benitez, but neither side could fashion an opening.

However, a mid-week meeting with Wigan garnered all three points for City as Balotelli’s first goal of the Premier League campaign was doubled by James Milner.

DECEMBER

At the start of December, the champions were held to their third draw in four Premier League games as Marouane Fellaini and a Tevez penalty left honours even.

Europa League football was also not to be for City as they were beaten 1-0 in Germany by Borussia Dortmund – needing a win and an Ajax loss to qualify in third.

But perhaps the biggest disappointment in the Blues’ season so far would be a defeat at the hands of Manchester United.

The Reds raced into a 2-0 lead through a Rooney double, but City mounted pressure in the second half and levelled the game up through Yaya Toure and Zabaleta.

It would be a bitter finale for the Blues as a deflected Robin van Persie free-kick found the back of the net in stoppage time.

Though the loss meant a six-point deficit to league leaders United, Mancini’s side responded in the way only champions can with a fluid 3-1 triumph at Newcastle.

And, further showing their title credentials under adversity, City struck late through Gareth Barry against relegation-threatened Reading to stay in touch with United into Christmas.

While the Blues have some way to go in picking up back-to-back titles, a host of stubborn comebacks stand them in good stead for 2013.

Image courtesy of Sky Sports, via YouTube, with thanks.

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