MANCHESTER // Dropped and chastised, Adam Johnson has become the latest to experience Roberto Mancini's fondness for imposing his brand of discipline. Unlike some of the others to attract the Manchester City manager's attention, his has been a gratifying response.
A second goal in four days from the winger secured three points for City and lifted them, albeit temporarily, to second place in the Premier League.
As the Newcastle United supporter defeated the club from north-east England, it was reward for a bold piece of management from Mancini. Abandoning his preference for three defensive midfielders, he introduced first Emmanuel Adebayor, the Togolese striker, and then Johnson. For once, he unleashed the attacking armoury at his disposal.
It brought a reward. Because, three minutes after his introduction, Johnson skipped inside two defenders before drilling a low shot into the bottom corner. As Adebayor had already had a shot cleared off the line, it was proof that City possess an enviable array of reserves. All-out attack was the back-up plan, but it worked.
Newcastle's Jonas Gutierrez had cancelled out Carlos Tevez's penalty - one Argentine taking away the lead another had given - but despite the City captain's latest impression of a human dynamo and a forceful display by James Milner, the away team were subduing City until Mancini acted. "You have got to give great credit to the boss," said assistant manager Brian Kidd, speaking because Mancini was headed to Italy to visit his sick father. "He wasn't prepared to settle for the draw. Tactically, I thought he was excellent."
Fiercely competitive as the game was, it was not City's classiest display, as Kidd conceded: "You have got be able to play, to be able to fight and win ugly." Yet while City could enjoy their adaptability, Newcastle were left to lament their misfortune. In a rather erratic performance, referee Martin Atkinson twice favoured City. On both occasions, there were grounds to doubt him.
"The referee has made two horrendous decisions," said Chris Hughton, the Newcastle manager.
The first came when Jerome Boateng's diagonal pass was angled beyond the Newcastle back four and into Tevez's path. A back-tracking Mike Williamson slid in, taking the ball but felling Tevez. The sanction was a yellow card and a penalty, thumped in via goalkeeper Tim Krul's knee. "Mike Williamson played the ball and it was outside the box," Hughton argued. Nevertheless, his side responded positively. Vincent Kompany acrobatically cut Gutierrez's cross out, but the winger had continued his run, bursting into the box to collect the rebound. Taking one touch to control the ball, he dispatched it past Joe Hart with abandon.
After Johnson's goal, Newcastle felt they merited the opportunity to equalise from 12 yards when Joleon Lescott tangled with Shola Ameobi. "Shola had his standing foot taken away," said his manager, but Atkinson ignored appeals for a penalty. Atkinson had not halted the game, either, when a scything challenge from Nigel de Jong left Hatem Ben Arfa with a broken tibia and fibia in his left leg in only his fourth game for Newcastle. He is likely to be out for the season.
"A challenge that didn't need to be made," said Hughton. "Nigel is honest as the day is long," added Kidd.
"It's so sad when you see that happen. We hope it's not too severe. There was no malice in it. Nigel's not that type of lad." Perhaps not, but the repercussions meant that being condemned to defeat by a boyhood Newcastle fan was far from the most painful part of their day.