Saturday 21 October 2017

Blues show heart to take place in history

City reward fans' faith and prove some things matter more than money, says Henry Winter

Manchester City joined United in winning silverware and, for all the criticism of their ready recourse to Croesus-like funds, City deserved this FA Cup victory.

City were the better team, creating far more chances. They adopted the more assertive, more sophisticated tactics. Stoke's fans were magnificent, staying on to applaud City, but the eye kept being drawn to the swaying light-blue mass in the home end. They did the Poznan, they chanted Blue Moon, they held up their cameras and phones as Carlos Tevez climbed to collect the Cup.

The fans revelled in this moment. They have waited so long, endured so much pain and they hardly needed reminding that Saturday was the 30th anniversary of their Cup final defeat to Ricky Villa's Spurs. Most days probably herald a grim landmark with City. The past two decades have been particularly riddled with anguish. City's fans have spent so much time in the shadow of United yet they kept the faith.

This season they have kept chanting '35 years and we're still here', signalling their masochistic streak. Not any more. For the first time since 1976, City boast a trophy in their cabinet, not moths anymore. They also have a feisty-looking fixture with United here in the Community Shield. That should start the season with a bang.

The hysteria can wait. History clung to this final like ivy to a stately home. Great names from yesteryear looked on benignly as City's present finally matched some of the deeds of the past. Mike Summerbee, Franny Lee and Tony Book smiled away as their club became reacquainted with excellence. City officials urged their life president, Bernard Halford, a hugely popular figure at the club, to follow Roberto Mancini up the stairs to get the Cup. Lovely touch.

City invited many members of their footballing family to this date with destiny. Bert Trautmann received a letter from the chairman, Garry Cook, but sadly did not realise it was an invitation. The widow of the late, great Joe Mercer was present. So was the widow of Neil Young, the scorer of their Cup final winner in 1969, who passed away in February.

Amid all the changes and cash flowing through City, it can easily be forgotten that there is a heartbeat that has kept the club going through thin and thinner. The players needed a resilience, too, as yesterday could have brought a classic City foul-up.

United's record-breaking title success had heaped pressure on City. Vincent Kompany and company emerged into the Wembley sunshine with news filtering through from Ewood, ensuring they knew the crowing from the new champions would be unbearable if they slipped up.

City had certainly started confidently enough, unleashing their threats.

Mancini is often accused of cautious tactics but his front four brimmed with movement and menace.

Carlos Tevez buzzed around like a hornet on overtime bringing a magnificent save from Stoke goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen. David Silva darted around promisingly but missed badly after 34 minutes.

Others of Mancini's attacking quartet also had their first-half chances. Mario Balotelli was often involved, withstanding Robert Huth's elbow but then being frustrated by Sorensen's right hand.

New and old Wembley have seen some exceptional saves down the years but Sorensen's stretching effort to deny Balotelli was among the finest. Yaya Toure, operating in the hole behind Tevez, shot wide. In a half that City dominated, Mancini's men also showed their steel.

Nigel de Jong returned from the World Cup final with a kitbag full of controversy. Mischievous souls in the City dressing-room pinned a photograph of the incident on the wall of the training ground at Carrington. De Jong took it well, knuckling down and enjoying a good season. The sliding interception with which De Jong robbed the flying Jermaine Pennant early on demonstrated why Mancini has such faith in him.

In goal, Joe Hart needed to be commanding in the air, dealing with deliveries from Pennant or Rory Delap's throws. Hart's talent as a shot-stopper was also seen on the hour, using his star jump to thwart Kenwyne Jones.

Mancini had to endure questions all season over his conservative approach but his first substitution after 72 minutes signalled his attacking intent: Gareth Barry departed, Adam Johnson sprinted on. Mancini rearranged his attack, pushing Balotelli up top, pulling Tevez into the hole and giving Toure a freer role, holding alongside De Jong but with a licence to attack. And so it proved. Stoke failed to pick up Toure's run and his finish was brutal, emphatically ending those 35 years of hurt.

Telegraph

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