Mancini savours ugly win
Roberto Mancini - with fruit pastilles in one hand and Mario Balotelli in the other - savoured the taste of knowing Manchester City can win ugly as well as with beauty.
Sharing his favourite sweets with right-hand man Brian Kidd was just about the only pleasure Mancini enjoyed against obdurate Everton until Balotelli showed the other side of this peculiar footballing beast by proving the catalyst for victory.
Such was the relief around Etihad Stadium when Balotelli finally broke through Everton's royal blue wall of resistance shortly after emerging as a substitute that Mario, whose loved ones might even accept he can be a bit moody, ran into the waiting arms of a manager who has wanted to embrace him warmly by the throat on several occasions since his signing.
City have taken accolades for the finesse of performances such as the 5-1 win at Tottenham, but title challenges are not built on style alone. Mancini's side also needed to prove, to themselves as much as outsiders, that they could demonstrate persistence when faced with stubborn opponents intent on stifling their skills.
And that occasion arrived on Saturday. If Mancini has released the handbrake on City's attacking instincts, David Moyes was happy to try and park several buses in the way of Sergio Aguero and company.
Everton may have won on their last four visits to City but a point was clearly the prime objective this time as Moyes once again used Tim Cahill as an auxiliary attacker and devised a less than subtle ploy - sometimes legal, sometimes not - to subdue David Silva by detailing Jack Rodwell to shadow his every move.
Has Balotelli turned a corner with his mature performance after coming on against Everton? Photo: Getty
It was not an unqualified success despite Moyes' claim that Everton had "done a job" on the Spaniard. The close attention resulted in bookings for Rodwell and Phil Neville, while Silva hit a post before creating a late second for James Milner.
Of course the sums do not add up when you put the value of City's team against Everton's, so only the romantics would have expected Everton to stand toe to toe with City. They massed ranks around goalkeeper Tim Howard and set City a test of patience.
It took City 67 minutes to solve the puzzle. And while it was not the sort of show that destroyed Spurs, it was the type of result and performances that adds weight to the argument that City will mount a serious title challenge this season.
There are greater dimensions as well as greater talents in City's team this season. They overcame the frustrations Everton foisted upon them, along with the worries of the home support, to prevail.
Aguero has been the star performer for City this season, but on a day when he only flickered, someone else stepped forward to win the game. And it was thanks to a creative substitution from Mancini.
The sages - yes that would be plenty of us in the media area - raised our eyebrows knowingly when Balotelli was chosen ahead of Carlos Tevez to replace Edin Dzeko on the hour. What was Mancini doing? Well, he was making the move that would win the game as it turned out.
The manner of their win, a slow burner rather than spectacular, may be the template for many games at Etihad Stadium this season. Everton set out to spoil and subdue - but could not survive.
It was reminiscent of many games Everton have played at Old Trafford in recent years, when Manchester United have had to wait to win but win they did, and City can take heart from copying the way of many of the champions' victories.
And as a realist rather than a romantic, Mancini may just take as much pleasure from the grind of these three points as he might from a triumph laced with goals.
I asked Mancini if this was the case and he said: "Of course it is better to win and score lots of goals but this was difficult. We played very well and Everton defended behind the ball for the whole game.
"They are so strong, and it was not easy for us to find space or a solution, but we pushed for 90 minutes. In the end we deserved to win the game and I'm very happy with my players. They played a fantastic game."
For Everton manager Moyes the taste was more sour. He was angry at the award of a throw-in to City in the build up to Balotelli's goal and felt referee Howard Webb was swayed too easily by the crowd.
He had a case but in the end his tactics were shaped by the limitations of his squad, which persuaded him to start without a recognised striker and meant Everton barely tested City keeper Joe Hart in the entire 90 minutes.
Everton did not show the ambition of a team that has won at City on such a regular basis and once "Plan A" - defend at all costs and hope for a goal on the break - was rendered redundant by Balotelli's goal it was far too late to revert to any sort of "Plan B".
Moyes defiantly, and correctly, stated he was not "going to come here for the enjoyment of Manchester City" - but ultimately this was a joyless experience for Everton rather than their opponents.
City's cash has afforded them the luxury of a variety of game plans. And you suspect they will face many similar games to this at Etihad Stadium. Mancini will be heartened by this success as City start the season with a body of work that suggests they will give Manchester United and Chelsea a real run for their money this season.