Early Crouch blunder helps City secure last Champions League slot
Manchester City 1
Published 11/05/2011 | 05:00
Never mind Oasis, this was Nirvana. On a night of high anxiety, Manchester City eventually enjoyed the sweetest of moments when the final whistle confirmed their place in next season's Champions League.
City demonstrated the defensive substance to Roberto Mancini's team, but not enough attacking style. Only when Carlos Tevez arrived late on did they look a genuine attacking force.
In fact, they even required a Peter Crouch own goal to progress and a fantastic save from Joe Hart to deny Steven Pienaar.
City fans, who have suffered for so long, revelled in this result and lauded Mancini for guiding them Europe's premier cup competition. Mancini knew this season has been all about ending up in the top four. Mission accomplished.
Spurs competed hard, particularly Luka Modric and Sandro, but their season has been in decline for a couple of weeks and now they face a fight with their next opponents, Liverpool, for a place in the Europa League.
When Crouch scored here last season, Spurs had their passport into the Champions League, while City were forced to endure Thursday night football.When he scored after half an hour here, most within Eastlands felt the roles being inexorably reversed.
Poor Crouch. There was little the tall striker could do, the ball hitting him and flying past Carlo Cudicini. A few eyebrows had been raised before kick-off when Spurs revealed that Heurelho Gomes had failed to travel, having injured his back in training on Monday, meaning a rare start for Cudicini.
The Italian was soon called into action, following a quick City break down the inside-left channel after 10 minutes. Joleon Lescott lifted the ball forward and Edin Dzeko flicked on to David Silva.
The Spanish international cut back perfectly to Dzeko, who shot straight at Cudicini. The Spurs fans, behind the goal, applauded Cudicini's save, but it was a disappointing effort by Dzeko. It was a real waste of intelligent work by Silva, who was always looking to release team-mates and always willing to cover back on the left to keep an eye on Aaron Lennon.
City sought to exploit Spurs' changes, particularly down the visitors' left where Danny Rose was full-back and Luka Modric had shuffled across in the left-wing slot in the absence of the injured Gareth Bale. Adam Johnson played a great early pass behind Rose, sending Micah Richards hurtling towards the by-line until Michael Dawson came across to block.
The game was slow to spring to life. There was a hesitancy staining the efforts of both teams.
For a while it seemed that City were distracted by Wembley, by the thought of Saturday's FA Cup final against Stoke, whose manager Tony Pulis was there last night. Until Crouch gave City the lead, the hosts were hardly convincing. Eastlands was hardly full either, indicating that Wembley, and the substantial cost, was on many minds.
Spurs threatened occasionally. Sandro worked hard through the middle, shuttling back and forth.
Within seconds, City were charging upfield, winning a corner, which Milner took short to Johnson, who immediately played it back. Milner's cross was hard and low, bringing instant misery to Crouch as it bounced off the England striker and diverted past Cudicini. City had one foot in the promised land.
Dzeko's first touch was not quite assured enough, while Mario Balotelli remains an enigma.
Spurs attempted to revive their season, pushing forward, enjoying plenty of possession, but they lacked conviction. Wilson Palacios limped off to be replaced by Steven Penaar. William Gallas needed attention, but managed to continue.
Mancini tweaked his tactics, pushing Milner on from his anchoring role alongside Nigel de Jong. Johnson went left, while Silva pushed into the centre, linking with Yaya Toure, but there was no addit-ion to the score before the break.
Spurs began the second half showing more urgency in the final third. From one Lennon cross, Pienaar headed strongly goalwards, but Hart brilliantly stretched out his left hand to paw the danger. City's defence was under pressure, and Zabaleta was withdrawn, blood pouring from his nose after an aerial challenge with Crouch.
Patrick Vieira arrived after 66 minutes, replacing Johnson as Mancini built another line of defence.
Tevez looked to be coming on but was then stood down.
City should have soothed any nerves with 14 minutes remaining when Silva sent Dzeko through the middle, but he paused and the moment was lost.
The need for Tevez was confirmed when Dzeko missed horribly eight minutes from time. Well-placed in the box, with a yard of space, Dzeko fired wildly into the stands. Yet it was Silva taken off for Tevez, who smiled broadly, clearly enjoying the fans' reception.
City will need the Argentinian at Wembley. (© Daily Telegraph, London) l Cristiano Ronaldo scored a hat-trick to lead Real Madrid to a 4-0 home win over Getafe last night, denying leaders Barcelona the chance to win the La Liga title without kicking a ball.
Real cut the lead on their arch-rivals back to five points with two games left to play, which means Pep Guardiola's Barca side can wrap up their third consecutive league crown with a draw in their game in hand at Levante tonight. Karem Benzema scored Real's other goal last night.