MANCHESTER, England (AP) — Mario Balotelli settled Manchester City’s thrilling five-goal encounter with title rival Tottenham on Sunday and provided the moment of controversy by appearing to stamp on an opponent.
Having thrown away a two-goal advantage, Premier League leader City was being held 2-2 deep in stoppage time when Balotelli was tripped by Ledley King in the penalty area.
Referee Howard Webb pointed to the spot and Balotelli clinched the 3-2 triumph that kept City top of the standings with an 11th straight home league win.
“I was calm, like every time I take a penalty,” Balotelli said.
During City’s 6-1 rout of Manchester United in October, Balotelli raised his jersey to reveal a T-shirt reading “Why always me?” and once again he was the center of attention — despite only being a 65th-minute substitute.
Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp was furious that Balotelli escaped unpunished 10 minutes before his matchwinner, accusing the volatile Italy striker of deliberately kicking Scott Parker.
Having just been booked for a sliding challenge on Benoit Assou-Ekotto, even a second yellow card would have led to Balotelli’s dismissal.
While City assistant manager David Platt had no comment on the incident because he had not seen it, Redknapp was adamant that it should have seen Balotelli sent off.
“He kicked Scott Parker in the head,” Redknapp said “He does it a lot, he backheeled him in the face and cut his head. No one can make excuses that he didn’t do it, anyone can see he did do it.”
Parker ended up on the ground after tangling with teammate Luka Modric while trying to block a strike from Balotelli. Slow motion replays showed Balotelli first catching Parker’s hands with his left boot and then following through with the studs of his right boot, which landed on the midfielder’s head.
“What reason did he have to backheel Scott in the head when he’s lying on the floor,” Redknapp said.
But the match ended with Tottenham now eight points behind City although still third only separated by Manchester United.
Tottenham had been on course to become the first team to take points off City in the league at the Etihad Stadium this season after staging a rapid comeback from conceding two quick-fire goals.
“We should have controlled the game better than we did,” City midfielder James Milner said.
David Silva, who had been pulling the strings of City’s midfield, provided the opening that saw City break the deadlock in the 56th minute.
Samir Nasri evaded Tottenham defenders Kyle Walker and Younes Kaboul to latch onto Silva’s throughball and shoot past Brad Friedel to net for the first time since Dec. 3.
Nasri played a part in City’s second, three minutes later, sending in the cross that Edin Dzeko flicked toward the far post.
While Parker initially blocked the ball he failed to keep hold and clear, allowing Lescott to scramble it over the line.
City appeared to be on course to match its crushing 5-1 rout of Tottenham in August, only for the visitors to be gifted a route back into the game inside a minute.
Younes Kaboul launched the ball forward and Stefan Savic’s attempt to make a headed clearance only directed it back into the path of the onrushing Defoe.
The England striker met the ball and rounded keeper Joe Hart on the edge of the penalty area before coolly slotting home.
The comeback was on, with the equalizer coming five minutes later.
Aaron Lennon broke free on the left flank before squaring to Bale, who lifted the ball beyond the reach of Hart into the top corner.
“We were well on top, scored the two goals and probably should have controlled the game better than we did,” Milner said.
“We took our foot off the gas, gave them one sloppy goal,” he added. “They’re a good team, if you give them a sniff it gives them the momentum to go on.”
And Tottenham could have snatched a stoppage time winner itself had Defoe connected with Bale’s cross after being picked out at the far post.
But then came a rare blip for King in the Tottenham defense, having not been on a losing side since August 2010, and Balotelli’s winner.
“It looked like a penalty,” Redknapp said. “But the boy who scored the penalty shouldn’t have been on the pitch.”
Redknapp’s attention now shifts to Southwark Crown Court, where his trial on two counts of tax evasion starts on Monday. The charges emanate from his time in charge of Portsmouth, which he left in 2008 to join Tottenham.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.