Man City rue legacy of misfiring match-winners
Manchester City's victory at Manchester United will have only sharpened the defending champions' sense of frustration at their failure to keep pace with Alex Ferguson's side in this season's title race.
Twelve months ago when the teams clashed at the Etihad Stadium, Vincent Kompany's first-half header propelled the league title towards the blue half of Manchester for the first time since 1968.
When the Premier League fixture computer spat out another April encounter between the sides, it seemed likely to be another title decider.
But City's inconsistency and United's ruthlessness have long since drawn any suspense from the battle for the English crown.
As a result, though it was cheered into the night by City's fans, the away side's 2-1 success at Old Trafford on Monday is likely to matter little in the final reckoning, with United still 12 points distant at the table summit.
Instead, victory merely vindicated City manager Roberto Mancini's pre-match claim that, in a head-to-head showdown, his side are at least the equals of the team on the brink of wresting the title from them.
"This win was important for us for the second position but this shows that we did not deserve to be 15 points behind," Mancini said.
"The title is finished. It does not matter how many points behind. We are not close to them. They score more than us and that is the difference."
Mancini's last point about City's relative lack of fire-power has been a recurring theme in his attempts to explain the gulf that has been allowed to open up between the teams.
City finished last season with 93 league goals -- a figure matched by only Chelsea's free-scoring 2009-10 Double-winners in the last 10 years.
This season, their ratio of goals per game has shrivelled from 2.45 to 1.84, and with only 57 goals in 31 games, they trail not only United, but also Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool in the goal-scoring stakes.
The goals have dried up throughout the team.
Sergio Aguero plundered 23 league goals last season, including the unforgettable injury-time winner against Queens Park Rangers on the final day that wrenched the title from United's disbelieving grasp. This season he has found the net only 10 times.
Laid next to United's results, City's goal-shy tendencies are telling.
Both sides have only lost four games this season but whereas United have only drawn twice, City have found themselves just a solitary goal from victory on eight separate occasions.
Had only half those draws been turned into wins, the gap between the clubs would now be just four points, rather than the chasm it actually is.
Mancini has publicly bemoaned his club's inability to prevent Robin van Persie from choosing United over City when he left Arsenal last August, even pinpointing the Dutchman as the principle difference between the two sides this season.
City would doubtless have benefited from van Persie's eye for goal -- the 29-year-old having found the target 23 times before the goals dried up in February -- but even the players that Mancini did manage to bring in have flattered to deceive.
Although Serbian youngster Matija Nastasic has excelled at centre-back, Javi Garcia has played only intermittently, and while Jack Rodwell has been hampered by injuries, Maicon and Scott Sinclair have started only six league games between them.
Midfielder James Milner insisted after Monday's game that a successful title defence was "still mathematically possible", and City also remain alive in the FA Cup ahead of Sunday's semi-final with Chelsea.
However, amid common consensus that this is a far from vintage United team, City must wonder how they ever let their rivals get so far in front.
Related Manchester City News