Monday 11 December 2017

City refuse to be eclipsed on day of glory for Manchester

Manchester United players celebrate winning the Premier League at Ewood Park yesterday afternoon
Manchester United players celebrate winning the Premier League at Ewood Park yesterday afternoon


Shortly before kick-off at Wembley yesterday, the crowd was entertained by a rendition of We Are the Champions. It seemed that Manchester United's attempt to overshadow Manchester City was complete.

City might have finished the day as FA Cup winners after their 1-0 win over Stoke City, but Manchester United were the only champions in England and they were champions for the 19th time.

By the end, it didn't matter. City weren't overshadowed, Roberto Mancini insisted, as the Cup and the league were two great competitions. More importantly, City had their first trophy in 35 years.

"Will we have to tear it down? It was time," Roberto Mancini said when asked if United should now take down the banner at Old Trafford which reminds them of their failure. City paraded a banner on the pitch afterwards that read '00 Years'. By the end of the Cup final, some were joking that United had gone three hours without a trophy.

"All of Manchester is happy tonight," Mancini said. The city might not have united in celebration, but one thing was made clear in a day of drama: while there are now different ways of achieving success, the great forces of English football remain in its traditional northern territories.

Early in the afternoon, Alex Ferguson had achieved the remarkable when his side won their 19th title, the 12th of his career at United which has changed everything about English football.

City, as was demonstrated over the season, cannot compete but they have had a week in which they made it clear that they intend to. "We can try and play for the top with the other teams now," Mancini said as he explained how City fell away this season when they had the resources to challenge for first, not fourth.

They may have considered it more important to finish in the top four than to win at Wembley in the places where Garry Cook is considered strategic genius, but among City fans at Wembley, there was no contest.

When Yaya Toure drilled in the game's only goal in the 75th minute, Manchester City were not going to blow their chance.

They were aided by a desperate performance from Stoke City who could do very little right. They had named four Irishmen in their side, the first time so many had appeared in an FA Cup final since 1989, but none could make an impact.

City swamped them in midfield with Toure and Nigel de Jong doing what Stoke do, only better, and their creative players trying to play. With Etherington struggling with injury, Stoke turned to Jermaine Pennant for inspiration with predictable results. City had to wait but in the end, it didn't look like they felt overshadowed.

Earlier at Ewood Park, United had waited too. The weaknesses of the champions were made clear in their failure to beat Blackburn Rovers, but they showed their strengths too.

The anticipation of the 19th title looked hubristic for a while but if one thing has categorised this United side, it has been a belief that they will always get there.

In the end, a controversial, if correct, penalty which was superbly converted by Wayne Rooney gave United the point they needed. Rooney has been the driving force of this United side, an astonishing recovery given that there was a point in the season when their supporters wondered if they could ever forgive him.

"It wasn't an easy game but we kept going and that is one quality they have got, they never give in," Ferguson said afterwards. He has a European Cup final on the horizon. If United win that, it would make sense for Ferguson to head towards retirement. But nothing Alex Ferguson has done has ever made sense. That is the secret of the man's unrelenting genius and the challenge Manchester City now have to overcome.

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