Roberto Mancini hailed the "incredible assist" from Carlos Tevez which created Samir Nasri's late winner for Manchester City over Chelsea on the Argentinian's dramatic return to the first team last night. Tevez had been on the pitch for less than 20 minutes when he set up the goal that gave City a vital three points in the title race with nine games remaining.
City's 2-1 victory closed the gap to the leaders, Manchester United, to a point after they had gone behind to a 60th-minute deflected shot by Gary Cahill that had Mancini admitting made him feel it was "squeaky-bum time".
Tevez was introduced six minutes later for a first appearance since mid-September following his falling-out with Mancini. Sergio Agüero's 78th-minute equaliser from the penalty spot was followed by Tevez's clever pass that played in Nasri to score in the 85th minute and the manager said: "I am pleased with all the players because tonight they expended a lot of energy to win this game. Carlos is not 100%. But when he plays, he knows where he should take the ball. He knows football and it was important because he did an incredible assist for Samir.
"I spoke with Carlos every day in the last six weeks. He knew he would be on the bench in this game and probably did well to play for more than 20 minutes. He is an important player, though, and he needs another two-three weeks to get good form."
Mancini, asked about the mixed reaction to Tevez's introduction from City's fans, said: "It is important that, in the end, he made an important pass for Samir and all of the supporters were happy for this. The supporters were incredible today."
Mario Balotelli was taken off at half-time, with Mancini admitting: "I didn't like how he played, so I made a tactical sub. Only this." So will Tevez and Agüero now become his main strikers? "Carlos needs time. It is not easy for him, but it's important that, now he is here, in 10 days or two weeks he can find good form and be important to us. He was happy after the game, like all the players."
Nasri also praised the forward. "I'm really happy for him," the Frenchman said. "He showed great spirit since he's been back and showed in this match he can be really important until the end of the season. It's good that it's him that gave me this assist."
Mancini said of City's victory, which set a Premier League record of 20 straight home wins: "After their goal I felt it was squeaky-bum time. We deserved to win this game. We had three or four chances that we missed in the first 20 minutes, but when they scored their goal we didn't deserve to be 1-0 down, but we won with our desire to win."
After defeat in their previous league outing, at Swansea City, Mancini believes his team are back on track. A win at Stoke on Saturday would put them two points ahead of United, who play Fulham on Monday. "I think it is more than three points, this game. Now we are there, we want to win at Stoke and we know it's not easy," he said.
"I don't think we have played well in the last three-four weeks. I think we have played fantastic football at times, but so-so in the last month. But after tonight, maybe things can change.
"If you are not in good form, you can't win the last two games in the second half [after beating Sporting in the Europa League 3-2 after being two goals behind], so that shows our confidence is good.
"We have a problem with defenders because we only have four and at the moment, that is a problem. We hope we can recover Vinnie [Kompany] and Joleon [Lescott] so we have six defenders. I don't think Joleon [will be] back for the weekend, but Vinnie has a chance."
Nasri was also encouraged by the manner of the comeback. "It was the same type of game to Sporting – at 1-0 we showed great spirit and that is really important as we want to win the title and we know we have to win every game."
Micah Richards, who captained the side in Kompany's absence, said: "It was a massive result for us, after being 1-0 down."
Roberto Di Matteo, the Chelsea interim head coach, is hopeful that the club can finish in a Champions League berth despite being five points behind the fourth-placed Tottenham Hotspur, who were overtaken by Arsenal after drawing 1-1 at home to Stoke on a night when their north London rivals won 1-0 at Everton.
"We are going in the right direction and we showed we can match the best teams in this league," Di Matteo said.