Mancini's steady hand key in title race

There has been an inevitability about Manchester City's journey to the Premier League title since Abu Dhabi petro-dollars began flooding into the club in 2008 but they still required a steady hand at the tiller to navigate them to glory through one of the most unpredictable seasons for decades.

Roberto Mancini was appointed in December 2009 as the man to make realise the dream, knocking cross-town rivals Manchester United off their perch, and the former Inter Milan coach proved himself equal to whatever the job threw his way.

Since taking over from the sacked Mark Hughes, Italian Mancini has endured the initial disappointment of failing to qualify for the Champions League in 2010, suffered criticism over his style of football and even quelled mutiny within the ranks.

Importantly, however, even when making a disappointing group stage exit on their Champions League debut this season, there has been no sense of panic at the top.

More than 400 million pounds has been spent on players since Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan bought City as, first under Hughes, they began assembling a squad that is the envy of almost every club in world football.

There is a price to pay, though, for the man in charge of such a shopping list and caressing the egos of enormously well-paid footballers week in and week out has often proved the undoing of many high-calibre managers in the Premier League.

Initially, City's detractors said they were a bunch of individuals, lacking the required team bond that has been the hallmark of United and Chelsea in the past decade.

ALARM BELLS

When Carlos Tevez refused to warm-up as a substitute in a Champions League clash with Bayern Munich last September, an act which sparked a high-profile stand-off between striker and manager, the alarm bells were ringing again.

Mario Balotelli's volatile behaviour on and off the field, including an incident in which his apartment caught light after fireworks were set off inside, also tested Mancini's resolve, as did a post-Christmas dip in away form that let United back in the hunt.

Mancini never took his eye off the ball, however, and his biggest success has been instilling a togetherness and harmony while also managing the expectations of the fans, many of whom still appear giddy at their club's recent rise from the shadows rather than arrogantly expecting silverware.

Despite setting a hot pace for the first half of the season, when they thrashed United 6-1 at Old Trafford, City's age old ability to shoot themselves in the foot appeared to have returned and they trailed United by eight points with six matches to go after a 1-0 defeat at Arsenal on April 8.

Ironically it was that loss that galvanised the squad and at the same time released the pressure that had been building.

Since then City have been ruthless.

As United wobbled badly, City's five-match winning streak, including a 1-0 home victory over their title rivals, put them on the brink of winning the championship.

On Sunday they claimed their first English title in 44 years in barely believable circumstances as stoppage time goals from Edin Dzeko and Sergio Aguero snatched a 3-2 home victory over Queens Park Rangers.

Thro