MANCHESTER CITY boss Roberto Mancini told his players to ignore the table after beating Chelsea to keep their faint Premier League title hopes alive.
City took advantage of a rare missed penalty from Frank Lampard to claim a 2-0 win at the Etihad Stadium and reduce Manchester United’s lead at the top to 12 points.
Superb goals from Yaya Toure and substitute Carlos Tevez in the last half-hour also strengthened City’s grip on second place ahead of the third-placed Londoners.
But with just 11 games remaining it seems unlikely City will retain their title, even though Mancini has vowed to fight on.
Mancini said: ‘‘I think for us now it is not important to look at the table.
“Only to continue to work like today, to play well, to improve and to look at the table in one month, 40 days.
“In football, it is finished when it is finished, the last minute of the last game.
“If we arrive at four games to go with United 12 points ahead, it is finished but I think our job is to continue to work.’’ Mancini, who began his post-match press conference by thanking outgoing pope Benedict XVI for his eight years’ service, recognised Lampard’s penalty as the game’s pivotal point.
After being outplayed for the first half, Chelsea could have gone ahead in the 51st minute after Joe Hart brought down Demba Ba.
Lampard had scored his previous ten spot-kicks but Hart redeemed himself to save superbly and deny his England colleague his 200th Chelsea goal.
Mancini, who criticised Hart this week in light of recent mistakes, praised his goalkeeper for recovering from his error.
Mancini said: “I say to him everything when he did a fault. I think we can’t concede a penalty like this with a kick long ball from 45 metres – he and Kolo (Toure) both did a mistake.
“But after, it was fantastic.
I think it was important.
Maybe the game could have changed, but also if they scored, we would have had another 40 minutes.
“We were playing really well and we could have a chance to score other goals.’’ When asked if Hart could have been sent off, Mancini, perhaps referring to a red card for Vincent Kompany which was rescinded last month, said: “With our players it is possible.
“I joke – I don’t think it was a red card. The ball went out.’’ Victory was City’s first in the Premier League in over a month and restored confidence after the damaging loss at Southampton a fortnight ago, when Hart was at fault for one of the goals.
Hart was pleased with his response after another potentially costly error.
He said: “Lamps is a big hero of mine and it was nice to save it, but I gave it away so I had to.
“Demba Ba was clever and left his knee in on me, so hopefully the save helped in the victory.
“It’s something I practise a lot with England with him, and he’s a great penalty-taker.
I just had an idea that was what was going to happen.’’ Chelsea’s loss saw the pressure increase on interim manager Rafael Benitez, who was again the target for abuse from supporters.
The Blues now trail City by seven points and Benitez accepted it was a damaging result.
He said: “Always when you lose, you have to be disappointed.
This game was important for us, so I am more disappointed.
“We have to carry on to try to win our games and fight for the top four.’’ Benitez rued the penalty miss but was unsure whether Hart should have been sent off.
He said: “I haven’t seen the replay, but at least yellow card.
“You can argue he is going in this direction but it is still a clear chance.
“I think it was a turning point. We didn’t do well in the first half but we went to halftime at 0-0.
“We were talking about keeping the ball, doing better and showing more character.
Then we had the penalty. It was a crucial moment in the game.’’ Benitez, who is also challenging in the Europa League and FA Cup, made two big selection decisions by leaving heavyweights John Terry and Fernando Torres on the bench.
The Spaniard said: “We are playing too many games, games each three days. You have to manage your squad.”