Roberto Mancini's Manchester City may be some way off the finished article but they stood toe-to-toewith Newcastle United on Boxing Day for 90 simmering minutes.
Led by Vincent Kompany and Carlos Tevez, City won three hard-fought points that leaves them in second place in the Barclays Premier League, two points behind neighbours United. It is getting quite loud in Manchester.
Breakthrough: Barry holds his nerve to beat Krul and get Manchester City off to a flyer at St James' Park
This was the anniversary of Mancini's first game in charge, against Stoke. Only four who started that game began Sunday's match.
Tevez was one and he signalled possible increased contentment at the club with a typically lively performance that included two goals. He celebrated by producing a dummy from a sock in tribute to his daughters in South America and departed with a smile and a handshake for Mancini when hewas substituted late on.
If that was a harmonious moment for the manager, the fact that he sent on the dropped Mario Balotelli for Tevez was a lesson for the younger Italian.
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There was another when Mancini forcedBalotelli to acknowledge City's fans on the final whistle by coercing the sulking 20-year-old to go into the middle of the pitch although Balotelli threw down his gloves with unsurprising petulance.
That was where the rest of the City team were and their unified joy was visible. Last Monday's home defeat by Everton was out of their system. So was Kolo Toure, suspended. Judging by the way Joleon Lescott settled in alongside Kompany in central defence, Toure may struggle to get back in.
Mancini singled out James Milner for praise but Lescott looked like the player he was at Goodison Park, he and Kompany rising time and again to repel the numerous Newcastle passesaimed at Andy Carroll.
Tussle: Magpies defender Enrique and City striker Tevez get stuck in during an entertaining first half
City now host Aston Villa on Tuesday having won six away games, four at home. 'We have to improve at home,' said Mancini. 'We got the reaction we wanted after the defeat to Everton, now we must perform like this again against Aston Villa.
'It was important to start with a winafter not going top of the table before Christmas. Newcastle made it very difficult for us. They are a strong side and they look for Andy Carroll a lot. I thought we defended him well.'
Carroll gave as good as he got. City had raced ahead with two goals in the opening five minutes but whenthe Newcastle No 9 scored his 11th goal of the season with 20 minutes remaining, a home equaliser looked more likely than a City third. It wasnot to be and Tevez scored with a deflected shot in the 81st minute to drain the hosts.
Alan Pardew, experiencing his first Newcastle loss in his second game in charge, was entitled to feel the same sense of injustice that Chris Hughton did at Eastlands in October. It was not City's 2-1 win that day which made for some meaty challenges here, however.
Nigel de Jong had added injury to insult by leaving Hatem Ben Arfa on a stretcher two months ago and the feeling was evident in a series of running skirmishes involving Gareth Barry, Joey Barton, Cheik Tiote and De Jong himself.
Even David Silva took part. Silva wasin the midst of some pretty tight City passing moves as well and if theSpaniard can maintain that influence, Mancini's chance of moulding a title-chasing team this season or next are much brighter.
Fortunately for City, Newcastle's young Dutch keeper Tim Krul helped them erase the memory of defeat at home to Everton with a poor clearance that Tevezseized ahead of Barton. Newcastle went into panic mode as Tevez pouncedand found Silva. He fed Barry, who was able to steer in his first goal since August and second of the season. Only 72 seconds had gone.
It got worse for Pardew when Tevez, a player he knows well from West Ham in 2006, caught Tiotedawdling.Milner, sold by Newcastle when Kevin Keegan was manager, was freed and his low centre from the right was met with skill and speed by Tevez.
Newcastle did not lose their composure. Barton, Tiote and Jonas Gutierrez took the game to City,and Lescott and Kompany were constantly required to keep a check on Carroll and Kevin Nolan.
Newcastle merited getting a goal back before half-time such was their effort, but the ball never quite fell for Carroll.
After the interval Newcastle came again with City pinned back. Again Gutierrez was prominent and City goalkeeper Joe Hart, now more exposed, was beaten when Carroll rose to meet a Barton corner and power in a trademark header.
Hart was so incensed by the intimidating presence of Nolan that he received a yellow card for his complaints.
City could have wobbled but, much to Mancini's satisfaction, continued to threaten on the break. On one such foray, substitute Adam Johnson burst upfield and found the ever-willing Tevez.
At first the striker appeared stymied, but he jinked into space and struck a shot that clipped Fabricio Coloccini to leave Krul helpless.
Tevez and City have their smile back.
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