Even on the occasions Mancini went with one up front he often favoured the natural width of Adam Johnson. Towards the end of the season Milner was called upon with increasingly less frequency, typified by him being an unused substitute in both FA Cup appearances at Wembley, which led to City ending their long trophy drought. Indeed when Mancini signed Samir Nasri from rivals Arsenal shortly into the new campaign it seemed likely Milner would have to accept a role as a squad player or perhaps seek pastures new.
However Milner, who made his Premier League debut at the age of 16, is made of sterner stuff. A player renowned for being a hard-worker with a fantastic attitude, he has seemingly used those strengths to buckle down and impress upon Mancini that he can be a key figure in this improving, title-seeking City side. After figuring sporadically in the opening fixtures, Milner scored his first Premier League goal for the blues when appearing as a late substitute in a 2-0 win over Everton and then played the full 90 minutes in an impressive 4-0 victory away at Blackburn. He again figured for the entire duration in the next game at home to his former side Aston Villa, capping a fine performance with a fantastic goal in a 4-1 win. Then to the big Derby, when City headed to face Alex Ferguson’s Champions in a game already being billed as a possible “title decider”.
Mancini, clearly wanting to select his strongest eleven to overcome their great rivals, put his trust in Milner on the back of his recent impressive outings and he rewarded the Italian with a great all-round performance. Providing two assists, including the pass back to Balotelli for the crucial opening goal, Milner looked to have gained the confidence that he could play a big part in the City revolution and he was replaced in the final minutes to a richly deserved standing ovation.
Although others took the headlines there was an appreciation of the role played by the Yorkshire lad and the signs are encouraging that it is a role he will get the opportunity to fulfil on a more regular basis. Seemingly rested for the double header against Wolves, Milner made his first Champions League start in the vital 3-0 win at Villarreal and his place in the pecking order amongst the galaxy of stars at Mancini’s disposal seems to be at it’s highest since he joined the club. With City challenging on all fronts and England qualified for Euro 2012, it promises to be an exciting season for Milner and he will hoping he can continue to show his worth to a manager with an open chequebook and endless ambition.
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