Samir Nasri celebrated his return from injury by capping Manchester City’s fightback in a 2-1 win over West Bromwich Albion on Saturday that provided the perfect boost ahead of their crunch Champions League quarterfinal.
Manuel Pellegrini’s side are slight favourites to go through after drawing 2-2 in the first leg at Paris Saint Germain, but they will not want to rely on winning the competition for the first time to guarantee playing in the Champions League again next season.
They therefore need to secure a top-four finish in the Premier League and thanks to Nasri’s close-range effort on his first start since September, City pulled four points clear of Manchester United before they play at title-chasing Tottenham on Saturday and to within two points of third-placed Arsenal.
However, the sight of Argentina striker Sergio Aguero limping off in the second half at Eastlands after being caught on the back of his foot was a concern for Pellegrini with the PSG clash looming on Tuesday.
City started with five changes to the side that drew in Paris as Pellegrini rested a number of players ahead of the second leg in Manchester.
But despite the shuffling of resources, City would not have expected to go behind after just five minutes to a West Brom side with only one win in their last 10 away Premier League games.
They had put together a solid run of just one defeat in six games to pull away from relegation danger but Stephane Sessegnon’s goal was only the 12th Tony Pulis’ side had managed away from home in the league all season.
Sessegnon’s second of the campaign was perfectly struck on the half-volley past Joe Hart from 20 yards following a James McClean cross after an impressive West Brom break-away, sparked after referee Michael Jones had blocked an attempted pass from Pablo Zabaleta to gift possession to the visitors.
With City desperate not to drop more points after losing three of their last four home league games they needed an instant response and got it via the penalty spot just 13 minutes later.
Aleksandar Kolarov was a constant threat going forward and after he was tripped in the box by Sessegnon, Aguero drilled home his 18th league goal of the season from the penalty spot.
But that didn’t trigger a major shift in power as West Brom defended in numbers to frustrate a City side again looking short of inspiration and substitute Craig Gardner dragging a shot wide in the nearest either side came to adding a second goal before half time.
Aguero tested Ben Foster nine minutes into the second half but City might have given away a penalty of their own when Eliaquim Mangala clumsily jumped into Sandro and with an hour gone Pellegrini reached for his big guns to try and force the issue.
Kevin De Bruyne and the fit again Yaya Toure were sent on and De Bruyne immediately made his presence felt, stretching the West Brom defence and playing a part as City went ahead as he played in Jesus Navas to set up Aguero.
Aguero’s effort was blocked but French midfielder Nasri was on hand to cap his comeback from a serious thigh injury by tapping in his second goal of the season.
Aguero could have secured further breathing space with a chance saved by Foster.
But City were almost denied the victory they badly needed ahead of their big European night when McClean was inches away with a stoppage-time effort.