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Feb 17, 2013

Mancini rewarded for trusting big names

Roberto Mancini is not the new Arsene Wenger. Not yet, anyway, and probably not at all. In a competition where the favourites have reasons to be fearful, seeming an endangered species picked off by rabid underdogs, Manchester City are the exception to the rule, their manager a man who takes precautions against early, embarrassing exits by naming strong sides.

Perhaps it is an insurance policy to protect his position and quieten his critics, but Mancini's total haul of 11 domestic cups shows he is a serial winner of knockout competitions. The pursuit of a second FA Cup, to add to his 10 Coppa Italias, goes on. Leeds, conquerors of Everton and Southampton in this season's Capital One Cup and Tottenham in the FA Cup, could not claim a fourth victim.

Mancini is not the next Neil Warnock either. In a game of two managers whose futures have been the subject of speculation, one accepted the end is nigh. It wasn't the title winner. Rather than claiming Mancini's scalp, Warnock found himself under attack.

"I don't think I deserve that," the Leeds manager said but, for the second successive game, chants of "Warnock, time to go," came from the United support and, while he disputed their analysis, there was an air of resignation about the veteran. Meanwhile, and as usual at the Etihad Stadium, loud choruses of "Mancini" infiltrated the airwaves. Having succeeded where the previous 17 City managers had failed by bringing major silverware to the club, the Italian retains both popularity and credibility.

The only rendition of "Mancini out" was a mocking taunt towards the watching Danny Mills, whose assertion that the 48-year-old could be gone by Thursday, now appears all the more ludicrous. Mancini's argument - that if he is sacked, so should his counterparts at the other 19 Premier League clubs - will not be put to the test just yet.

Stopping a slump is a trick the finest managers perfect and Mancini was presented with obliging opponents in Leeds. City's first win in four games was cemented after a quarter of an hour. "We started very well, we scored two goals and after it was easier," he said. Rather than the fragility Arsenal exhibited 24 hours earlier, there was the sense that this was business as normal. "The FA Cup is difficult," Mancini said. "Arsenal showed this yesterday." City made it appear simple, however.

Theirs was a performance reminiscent of last season, Sergio Aguero's in particular. The Argentine was at his razor-sharp best. Twice a scorer, once a provider, he now has three goals in as many games. "I hope Sergio will be like this from now until the end [of the season]," Mancini said. He often laments the shortfall in goals compared to their title-winning campaign. For only the third time this season, they mustered four in a game.

The opener was testament to City's capacity to combine in close quarters, to find a hole where there appeared to be none. Yaya Toure exchanged passes with first David Silva and then Carlos Tevez before rounding Jamie Ashdown to score.

Their third, too, was proof of the joy City find in the one-two. Silva's contribution was sandwiched by Aguero's, receiving a pass from, and giving one to the Argentine as he sped to the byline to cross. Tevez had the simplest of tasks to finish.

Before then, Aguero had his 12th of the season, taken expertly from the penalty spot after Tom Lees tugged him back. "Crikey, I don't think it is a foul anywhere else on the pitch," Warnock said. If that was contentious, Aguero's second of the game was classy, a perfectly placed finish after Silva split the defence with his pass.

The identities of the contributors - Aguero, Silva, Tevez, Toure - was a sign City's pivotal players were performing. It equated to a fine response from the entire team after their lame display last week. "I am happy because it was important to win after Southampton," Mancini added.

For Leeds, it is vital to return to winning ways in the Championship or, eight points off the play-offs, their season will be over. "They are so desperate to get back in the big time," Warnock said. "When they see the opportunity fading, the manager has got to be the scapegoat."

And with his contract expiring in the summer, the curtain is falling on the managerial career of a charismatic, quotable figure. There have been seven promotions; there will not be an eighth. "If we don't go up, I won't be there," Warnock added. "I think the fans knew that all along." So do new owners GFH Capital.

"Someone said they wanted a younger manager," said the 64-year-old. "So that rules [Sir Alex] Ferguson out. He won't be coming over the Pennines."

MAN OF THE MATCH: Sergio Aguero. With his son Benjamin the City mascot, the striker made it a memorable day for another reason. This was Aguero at his peak, tormenting inferior defenders.

MANCHESTER CITY VERDICT: It was a professional job. Joe Hart was the only automatic choice rested, with Costel Pantilimon barely tested as his deputy. The lesser-spotted pair of Jack Rodwell and Maicon made appearances as substitutes, with the Englishman hitting the woodwork, but it was significant that Samir Nasri remained an unused replacement and Scott Sinclair did not even make the bench.

LEEDS VERDICT: Warnock gave his side credit for not folding after the loss of two early goals but, so resilient and competitive against Premier League opponents at Elland Road, Leeds were timid and insipid at the Etihad Stadium. Even the ageing agent provocateur Michael Brown had no joy and was removed at half-time. As Warnock said, they are missing "a Snodgrass-type player; the icing on the cake." The sales of Robert Snodgrass, Jonny Howson and Luciano Becchio in recent transfer windows have robbed them of their premier talents.

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