Wednesday 21 March 2018

Toure on the money to end City's 35-year wait

Right now, Manchester City fans probably think Yaya Toure is underpaid. The man whose wages of £200,000 a week were said to represent all that was wrong and brash about Manchester City ended their 35-year wait for a trophy at Wembley yesterday.

His second-half goal was enough to give City their first trophy since 1976 and, in a week in which they ensured they can, at the very least, play in a Champions League qualifier next season, assure Sheikh Mansour that his money has been well spent.

Toure scored the goal that beat Manchester United in the semi-final and he has been among the successes for City in a season that has been turbulent but never uneventful.

He was among the dominant personalities yesterday. Stoke had none, apart from Robert Huth who caught the eye with an elbow to Mario Balotelli's throat. The four Irishmen in the Stoke line-up contributed little to the game, but they were not alone among a disappointing Tony Pulis side.

"I'd hoped you'd all left," Pulis said when he walked into the press room nearly 90 minutes after the final whistle. "I have nothing but full congratulations for Manchester City, they were the better team and deserved to win the game."

Stoke had talked up their footballing ability in recent months but they appeared to revert to first principles, if they can be called principles, in an opening half in which they were utterly dominated by a Manchester City side unaccustomed to utter domination. This had been a Cup final that had captured the imagination, but it was hard to see why.

Manchester City were able to dominate without being particularly expansive, a trend summed up by Nigel de Jong's role as the source of everything good.

De Jong would have had grudging admiration for the way Stoke went about things. Huth was lucky to make half-time after elbowing Balotelli in the neck as he ran by him. Later in the half, he clattered into Micah Richards and picked up a yellow card.

Huth was part of a creaking Stoke back-line, stretched by the failure of the midfield to compete. Huth's fitness was also in question as was Matthew Etherington's, but they both started and were both ineffective.

Carlos Tevez was also risked but he didn't look like a gamble as he roamed across the front-line, baffling Stoke's defenders and creating the environment in which the panicked elbow to the neck was the only option.

Tevez had been the first to test Thomas Sorensen with a curling shot which Stoke's 'keeper tipped wide.

Huth seemed to be limping early on but of as much concern was the failure for Stoke to do anything to enhance their reputation, not even their bad reputation.

Rory Delap's long throws didn't cause City problems. With Etherington clearly a passenger for the hour he was on the field, one of the main sources of creativity was absent.

Kenwyne Jones and Jonathan Walters were struggling to hold the ball up or use their physical presence in a meaningful way. Jones attempted one shoulder charge on Joe Hart, summoning the traditions of the Cup but even that was ineffective.

Sorensen was Stoke's best player, saving brilliantly from Balotelli who had shot even more viciously than Tevez from a similar angle.

There was little else to encourage Stoke. As the first half went on, they came forward a little. Delap had a succession of throws and Walters and Jones linked well before Vincent Kompany threw himself in the way of Jones's shot.

City didn't have to do much to re-establish their superiority and they should have had the lead when Tevez played a wonderful ball to Balotelli, Sorensen blocked and somehow David Silva shot the ball into the ground and watched it bounce over the net.

Stoke needed to change personnel or attitude but the second half began with Aleksander Kolarov wasting possession 45 seconds in when he tried to shoot from a tight angle with men in the box.

The game was set up for a sucker punch and Stoke had one chance but squandered it. Just after the hour, Stoke got behind the Manchester City defence with a long ball forward that was badly defended. Jones had his moment but flicked the ball weakly into Hart's legs.

This was Stoke's spell and, as City emerged from it without conceding, their confidence grew although, as ever with Mancini's side, there was always a worry they would put defence first.

Sixteen minutes from the end, the players brought to the club to provide the magic did that.

Silva and Balotelli combined, with Balotelli providing a deft flick to Silva. The ball bounced around the box, deflected off Marc Wilson and bounced up to Toure. On a day of uncertainty, his left-foot shot was emphatic and bore into the Stoke goal.

City now had something to defend and men like Kompany like something to defend.

Stoke's attempts grew desperate as they sent on John Carew and abandoned whatever reticence remained about lumping the ball forward. This was no longer a day to win friends, it was a day for desperate measures.

But with every wasted cross from Pennant, who had been kicked a few times, and every misplaced hoof, Manchester City grew in confidence.

The final minutes brought a run of Stoke corners. Sorensen went forward but just became one more body lunging forlornly at hopeless, hopeful balls. City could defend those. Now, for the first time in a generation, they have a trophy to defend.

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