A moment of magic from Carlos Tevez late on gave Manchester City a hard-fought 1-0 win over Wigan in their Premier League encounter at the Etihad Stadium.
Arouna Kone and Franco Di Santo each squandered glorious first-half chances to put the Latics in front, and City were on the back foot for much of what was a largely limp showing from Roberto Mancini’s men.
Wigan pressed incessantly in search of a vital three points, but it was a fine individual goal from Tevez – his eighth goal in nine games – that separated the sides as he weaved his way between three defenders and slammed an emphatic finish into the top corner of the net seven minutes from time.
The result sees City close the gap on league leaders Manchester United to 13 points, while at the other end of the table Wigan failed to put further pressure on their relegation rivals as they remain three points adrift from safety in 18th place.
Micah Richards made his long-awaited first appearance since he was injured in the 1-0 win over Swansea on October 27 as Mancini made four changes with goalkeeper Joe Hart, Aleksandar Kolarov, Joleon Lescott and Javi Garcia all given starting berths; Wigan also changed their keeper with Joel Robles returning, while Callum McManaman made way for Di Santo.
In a clash which was billed as a ‘dress rehearsal’ for the FA Cup on May 11, Wigan, who had failed to score in their last five visits to face City, started very brightly with a very promising spell of early possession in their hosts’ half with Roberto Martinez having clearly set his side out to go for all three points.
Both sides came into the match in fine form: Manchester City had won seven and lost one of their last eight matches in all competitions, while Wigan had won six and lost just one of their last eight, but the quality of the first half did not reflect that as a desperately slow tempo appeared to infuriate both managers on the touchline.
A sluggish opening period of play was notable only for a free kick from Kolarov which flashed just wide of Robles’s near post, and the first real chance came in the 21st minute as Sergio Aguero jinked inside Emmerson Boyce and opened up his body in an attempt to curl a precise shot into the far corner of the net, only for the ball to drift just wide.
In what was a largely-lethargic first half, Kone was presented with a glorious opportunity to score as he failed to control a through ball with just Hart to beat, while seconds later Di Santo saw a tame shot saved by the City keeper as he raced through on goal.
Mancini’s response to his side’s insipid first-half showing was to introduce Edin Dzeko at the expense of Aguero at the break, but it was Wigan who created the first chance after the restart.
The ever-dangerous Maloney twisted and turned on the edge of the City box before driving a low shot beyond Hart and towards the far corner of the net, with Lescott on hand to make a crucial clearance off the line.
The champions continued to find themselves under the cosh, and this time it was Di Santo who caused havoc around the hosts' box as he raced down the right and squared the ball to Kone, but the City captain made an impeccable challenge inside the penalty area with the forward poised to shoot.
The play lurched from one end to the other with Vincent Kompany, a colossal presence for the hosts at the back, making three crucial interceptions to thwart threatening counter-attacks from the enterprising visitors.
Wigan pressed in search of an elusive potential winner, but it arrived at the other end as Tevez picked up the ball just outside the visitors’ box and beat three defenders before driving a fierce strike into the top corner.
It was a goal worthy of clinching the three points for the hosts, and it saw City slow United’s charge to the title while further consolidating second spot.
For the Latics, however, it was an ill-timed defeat with Aston Villa still three points ahead in 17th place as they remain in the relegation zone.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Carlos Tevez – Manchester City: In a match otherwise devoid of quality in the final third, it was an inspired goal from the Argentine that eventually broke the deadlock, capping a typical all-action performance.
MANCHESTER CITY: Hart 7, Richards 7, Kolarov 6, Lescott 7, Kompany 7, Barry 6, Garcia 5, Yaya Toure 6, Nasri 6, Aguero 6, Tevez 8. Subs: Milner 6, Dzeko 6, Sinclair 6.
WIGAN: Robles 6, Alcaraz 6, Boyce 7, Beausejour 6, Figueroa 6, Scharner 6, McCarthy 7, Gomez 7, Di Santo 6, Maloney 7, Kone 6. Subs: McManaman 6, McArthur 6, Espinoza 6.