Manchester City holds off Newcastle
Yaya Toure helped Manchester City stay in touch with Premier League leader Manchester United by sealing a hard-fought 3-1 win at Newcastle on Saturday.
The reigning champions looked to be coasting to victory at St. James' Park after Sergio Aguero and Javi Garcia gave them a 2-0 lead before the break.
However, the Magpies launched a concerted comeback after Demba Ba dragged them back into the game with a 51st-minute header, his 11th goal of the season.
Papiss Cisse came agonizingly close to rescuing a point in front of a raucous crowd of 49,579, but City -- which did not have striker Mario Balotelli among its ranks after manager Roberto Mancini left him out of the squad -- eased over the line when Toure restored their two-goal advantage 12 minutes from time.
Asked if Balotelli still had a future at City, Mancini said: "Yes. Why not? He was at home only because he needs to work."
Newcastle boss Alan Pardew was left to reflect upon a sixth defeat in seven league matches, but buoyed by a performance of real character against a team which at times threatened to rip them apart.
However, roused from its slumber, City responded to assume the appearance of a team assembled on a budget of hundreds of millions of pounds playing against another assembled on a budget.
The pace and movement of Samir Nasri, David Silva, Carlos Tevez and Aguero, coupled with the vision of the imperious Toure, was simply too much for Newcastle to handle at times and had it not been for the efforts of goalkeeper Tim Krul and some less than effective finishing, the game could have been out of reach long before the halftime whistle sounded.
City took the lead in breathtakingly simple, but magnificently constructed style after 10 minutes when a Toure pass split the home defense and Nasri unselfishly squared for Aguero to slide the ball into the empty net.
In an instant, the flow of the game had changed and Pardew's men found themselves chasing shadows.
Tevez was denied a second three minutes later by Krul's point-blank save and Nasri fired against the foot of the post after 20 minutes before Mike Williamson blocked Aguero's follow-up on the line.
Newcastle rallied with Williamson forcing another good save from Hart with a left-foot volley after central defensive partner Fabricio Coloccini had headed upfield, before Cisse fired over from long range 13 minutes before the break.
City doubled its lead with six minutes of the half remaining. This time, City adopted a far more prosaic approach as Garcia met Silva's left-wing corner with a header that full back Davide Santon perhaps should have cleared at the far post, but could only hack into his own net.
"It was a soft second goal," Pardew said. "But we looked like we had got goals in us, unfortunately we look like we'll concede goals. I was happy with a lot of things we did. We opened them up on a lot of occasions. But they are a good side. Their best players played well today. I was proud of my players in the second half. We came out with intent."
To its credit, Newcastle returned determined not to capitulate, and went close twice within four minutes of the restart with Ba heading over at the far post and Santon drilling a low drive into the side-netting.
The Magpies got their reward with 51 minutes gone when, after Vurnon Anita's corner had been half-cleared, Coloccini hooked the ball back into the penalty area where Ba beat the offside trap to head firmly past Hart.
The Magpies came within inches of levelling two minutes later when Cisse jumped on Anita's pass and fired inches over, but it took another crucial save by Krul to keep their hopes alive after Tevez had been played in over the top with 57 minutes gone.
Ba stabbed the ball into the side-netting from the last of a series of right-wing Anita corners with City's composure eluding it for once, and then prompted Hart to make a solid save with a rasping drive from distance.
However, City made sure 12 minutes from time when Pablo Zabaleta got in down the left and crossed for Toure to make it 3-1.
"We needed a result today," Toure told Sky Sports. "I think we deserved to win because we played well."
Aguero might have extended City's lead considerably as time ran down, curling a shot just wide and then chipping harmlessly across goal after racing from halfway, but the damage had already been done.
"I think all the players played very well -- if not it's difficult to beat Newcastle," Mancini said. "It could have finished six or seven."
Police are investigating an allegation of racist abuse following an altercation between Manchester City defender Aleksandar Kolarov and a Newcastle fan during the match.
Kolarov, who is Serbian, was warming up as a substitute when he is believed to have become involved in a lengthy exchange with a fan who was carrying an Albanian flag.
Northumbria Police say they have "received a report of racist language having been used at the St James' Park stadium," adding that "enquiries are ongoing into the incident."
There is a long history of tension between Serbia and Albania, particularly over the disputed region of Kosovo.
Information from Press Association and The Associated Press was used in this report.