The directness of the Ivorian midfielder, currently in South Africa, was needed to fire City's attack, not their departing striker
A run of wins, they said. That's what Queens Park Rangers need to stay up. After a feverishly-fought 0-0 draw against Manchester City on a night of swirling rain at Loftus Road Harry Redknapp, in his role of emergency managerial defibrillator, was at least on the verge of delivering the next best thing: a run of draws. A third consecutive draw inches Rangers along at the bottom.
For City this was a night of much possession, some fine interplay and a slight lack of incision that comes at a most inopportune time. Two points dropped here represents a stilling of the momentum that had kept Manchester United's lead at the top of the Premier League to five points. Separately this is a blank that coincides – yes always him: even now – with the departure of a £17m striker. City's attacks did lack a telling variation, although the absent ingredient was not Mario Balotelli but Yaya Touré, missed for the first time since his departure for South Africa. Touré's direct running would have provided an ideal attacking counterpoint to the embroidery of City's midfield as Rangers dropped deep and the pitch grew heavier.
Not that it seem likely to be an issue in the opening half hour. With Javi García providing a seamless stop-gap in central defence, Carlos Tevez, Sergio Agüero, and David Silva all seemed to fancy this wet Tuesday night from the off, arranging themselves in a rotating forward three of gnome-like industry. If this match was always likely to be in part Viking funeral for Balotelli's City career, the early stages threatened to emphasise the well-grooved striking riches that remain.
As the half wore on though Rangers' defenders accustomed themselves admirably to City's scurrying threat. City still have Edin Dzeko to provide a more direct route to goal, the Bosnian not only out-scoring Balotelli – provider of 20 goals in the Premier League over two and half years – but also providing a more adhesive presence. Dzeko duly arrived just before the hour, with the match at that stage resembling not so much champions against bottom club as a meeting of rough equivalents.
For the past couple of seasons this fixture has seemed to provide instead a poignant reflection of contrasting approaches to the billionaire's burden. City 2.0, for all the £930.4m total spend, somehow still manage to convey a sense of managed revolution. Rangers on the other hand are a lesson in how not to do it. Since Tony Fernandes bought the club in 2011 19 players have been recruited, many on embarrassingly overblown wages, the club resembling a footballing equivalent of the kind of lottery millionaire who blows it all on helicopters and model race tracks and ends up forgetting to buy a roof to sleep under.
The appointment of Redknapp at such a late stage resembled at first glance the managerial equivalent of tossing aside the empty ammo drums and charging over the top with bayonets fixed. Not so this evening. Rangers were solid at the back and disciplined in midfield, while throughout this rackety old shed of an urban football stadium resounded to chants of "Tony Fernandes".
Rangers' early midfield scuffles were applauded wildly and, Pablo Zabaleta's header on to the bar aside, Rangers had the most clearcut chance of the first half. Adel Taarabt, breaking from inside his own half, did everything right, stepping past Gaël Clichy and attempting a dinked finish. Joe Hart's sprint from his line to save at his feet was electrifying stuff.
With Redknapp putting his faith in Rangers' receding core of promotion‑season survivors, Shaun Derry was immensely busy in midfield, shuttling left to right in search of balls to snaffle, colleagues to upbraid. At one point, in danger of being bypassed, he simply sat on Samir Nasri. Along with Clint Hill, restored to the captaincy in place of the bafflingly ineffectual Park Ji-Sung, Derry provided the main sense of resistance while Júlio Cesar produced some outstanding saves throughout: one leaping, firm-wristed palm away from Gareth Barry's shot was the defining image of the night. A result that might yet provide a renewed shift of momentum at the top of the table depended in large part on the Brazilian's decisiveness at vital moments.
With Tevez removed on 73 minutes in favour of Jack Rodwell there was at last a sense City may have been briefly regretting the departure of a man who did, for all his flaws, provide the odd – albeit increasingly unexpected – moment of the unexpected. More than this though, they seemed to miss Touré's thrust on a night that was a reminder, towards the end, not of the fragile charms of the season's grandest striking disappointment, but instead of where the genuine strengths of City still lie.