Sunday, 15 May 2011

City High - FA Cup Final 2011

Yaya Toure. Transfer Fee: 24 million quid; Reported salary: 200 thousand English pounds a week; Scoring the winning goal to deliver your new club's first piece of silverware for 35 years: Priceless!

After their win over Manchester United in the semi final, Blue Moon was belted out in full voice at Wembley again yesterday as Manchester City delighted their fans with a 1-0 win over Stoke City securing the final domestic trophy of the season. This follows Birmingham's Carling Cup win in February and City's arch rivals United confirming their 19th league title just two hours prior.

On that note, how daft a decision was it by the authorities to schedule league fixtures on the same day as the cup final? The double success for the City of Manchester has been lauded in some quarters but you can't help but feel each achievement manages to overshadow that of the other. Still I imagine it would have been a great night out around Castlefield, Deansgate and the like...

The Eastlands club have been ridiculed for a number of years by their more blinged up crosstown neighbours with reds fans going so far as to display a banner at old Trafford taking the piss out of City's long barren spell. Toure's rocket couldn't have done any more to make sure that banner comes down if he marched over to Salford and yanked it down himself.

Having also secured Champions League qualification for the first time ever just last week, you'd have to say there have been worse weeks for the Blues. Even if they lost yesterday, the season could still be considered a success. Commiserations go out to their vanquished opponents in Stoke City who clearly went to Wembley as underdogs and probably had the backing of many so-called 'neutrals' beforehand (Can you really be neutral if you are wanting one of the two teams to win?).

The game itself was not a classic but with rare exceptions, it was par for the course in an FA Cup final. The sense of occasion and the build up almost always outweighs the quality of the game. A fact summed up by Tony Pulis' transformation from a smart dignified suit beforehand to his cheap, comical tracksuit and baseball cap combo by kick off.

Of course, the lack of excitement was to be expected given the reputations of both teams. It has been suggested that at times this season Man City's tactics couldn't have been more conservative if they were managed by Margret Thatcher and it's generally accepted that pretty football is about as out of place at The Britannia Stadium as Malcolm X at a Ku Klux Klan rally. If this were a fairy tale, it wouldn't be so much Beauty and the Beast, more Beast and the Beast.

In fairness, City have had their moments this season and with Carlos Tevez back in their line up, they were always likely to play with a greater sense of attacking urgency. Even the much maligned Stoke had recently starting playing a more expansive game deploying explosive wingers Matthew Ethrington and Jermaine Pennant with great effect.

City quite clearly lined up with a far superior team and for 45 minutes it showed. They controlled possession and created the better... sorry, ONLY real chances in the first half. For all the above criticism, Tevez injects life into their play and it will be a shame if rumours of him leaving are true.

Stoke, after recent good performances - in the semi final rout of Bolton and the win over Arsenal last week to name but two - unfortunately reverted to type and took a life-sappingly negative approach. At no point before half time did they have less than 9 men behind the ball. Pulis' men played the long game and seemed content to wait for set-pieces and throws as their only means of actually trying to win the game. All of which the City defence were able to absorb.

That said, Ethrington was clearly struggling after his recent injury and once Pennant picked up an ankle knock their chances became slimmer than Kate Middleton on a hunger strike.

For all their possession, City found themselves unable to break down Stoke. The red and white wall was standing firmer than a man asked to partake in a threesome with Eva Mendes and Mila Kunis. They did manage to force their way through once or twice but were limited. Super Mario Balotelli's great strike was denied by an even better Thomas Sorensen save and later, David Silva volleyed into the ground and the ball bounced up over the bar. The Potters were dire but managed to keep it level til the break.

The Second half saw Stoke improve. They began to keep the ball better and actually make the game something of a contest. Kenwyne Jones had a great chance to give them the lead following a fine pass from Ethrington but Jo Hart in the City goal was equal to it. This was Ethrington's only significant contribution before being subbed and only makes you wonder how different things might have been if he was fully fit.

City were still being frustrated by Andy Wilkinson and Ryan Shawcross in particular but kept plugging away until they were rewarded on 74 minutes when that man Yaya Toure continued the theme of Africans scoring at the new Wembley (Brappp!).

Manchester City v Stoke City by geuzehead

In five FA Cup finals since the ground was reopened four years ago, Didier Drogba (2007, 2009, 2010), Kanu (2008) and now Toure have all found the net.

All three have also scored in semi finals and if you add Obafemi Martins and Drogba's exploits in Carling Cup finals this year and in 2008 respectively then you have to say Northwest London is becoming a home away from home for brothers from the motherland - take THAT France!

The Blues then retained possession until a few hairy moments at the end when Stoke won a succession of corners but held on for richly deserved win.

There's a lot of animosity directed at City for the way their rich Arab owners have been flashing the cash. Of course, jealously and hypocrisy have played a part. They aren't the only club with rich owners who have 'bought' success and let's face it, whoever you support, you wouldn't be remotely outraged if it were your team in a similar position.

City have always been a likable team and have had many sympathisers due in part to the vast shared dislike of United but also because they were seen as 'loveable losers'. Now that they are serious contenders, the bitterness has spread like Californian wildfires. Was there so much hate when were scraping around in the old Division Two a little over a decade ago?

Personally, I'm indifferent to the club but glad to see a 'new' team win a trophy. Moreso, I'm pleased for Roberto Mancini. The press have undermined him with all too frequent speculation about his job as well as unfairly criticising him and his tactics at every turn. You couldn't open a newspaper or click on a sport website this season without another name being touted for the Eastlands dugout. Credit to him for getting on with his job and succeeding in both reaching the top four and winning a trophy as a kicker. Well done, sir.

What of Stoke? In truth, does anyone outside Staffordshire really care? Harsh maybe but it's almost better to give such a frank assessment than to go with the patronising line that they should have enjoyed their 'big day out'. The better side won on the day so there is no room for sympathy or sentiment although it is lazy to say that it was some sort of victory against Stoke's 'attrition' football given how City themselves have played on occasion this campaign. Besides there is no 'right' way to play and Stoke's methods have established them as a Premier League side after their own previous 'lows'.

What next for the upwardly mobile Mancs though? More big money, big name summer signings? Title push next season? The Champion's League? World domination??? Now that they've got that winning feeling, you'd think they will only go from strength to strength. Ominous signs for the rest of us...

Man of the Match: Yaya Toure

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