City here to stay after cup glory
Manchester, so much to celebrate. After their Old Trafford rivals had sealed 19 titles over a Lancashire lunchtime, Manchester City are now able to open their trophy cabinet after a wait of 35 years, 18 managers and countless false starts. Try telling their fans that this achievement has been overshadowed. "We're not really here," they may sing, but they have now arrived as a force in English football.
Yaya Toure, with his left foot, drilled home a goal to end the barren years, and end a week where City's 'project' delivered on its first set of objectives. The Champions League beckons, and Carlos Tevez emulated the likes of Tony Book and Mike Doyle to hold aloft the FA Cup to complete a full set of English honours before he takes his expected leave of these shores. His customary two-year cycle may be complete but his current club expect to begin a spell where they will compete for the big honours on a regular basis. A curse has been broken, and though Toure is no local hero in the fashion of Neil Young in 1969, the Ivorian is now etched into club history. His goal was the type of big-match clutch play that half-a-billion of Abu Dhabian oil riches is supposed to deliver.
It was tough on Stoke City. Their own trophy drought will now reach 40 years. A manful effort was denied by a lack of quality, and the inability of their gameplan to get started. Their physicality could not overpower their opponents, who are even more possessive of height and physique. It was clear from early on that a single act would most likely win this occasion, and the team in blue possessed the more likely personnel to deliver it. Indeed, they should have been out of sight by half-time.
Stoke's sing-song accents, opposed to the guttural whine of Mancunian voices, were much the louder until tension took hold, and their team crawled to half-time lucky to be intact both in terms of the scoreline and personnel. Robert Huth's elbow on Balotelli was uncalled for, an inexplicable act but one that went unpunished by referee Martin Atkinson, whose display here was often of the type that has won him few friends in the other half of Manchester.
David Silva's touch, so sure all season, deserted him just past the half-hour with goal gaping after Balotelli's shot had squirted into his path, yet he somehow managed to direct the ball over the bar off the turf, a move he may struggle to replicate. As ever, he gleamed brightest of Manchester City's millionaires but Roberto Mancini turned and headed for the sanctity of his seat in open disgust.
The other side of half-time saw Silva similarly wasteful as Tevez played him in with the goal beckoning. City have spent big to sign stars to deliver on the big occasion but their Spanish schemer looked grasped by the 'City-itis' that has affected many a lesser talent. However, the other City bore the more obvious signs of the occasion getting to them. They just did not get going. Rory Delap's long throws were meat and drink to Vincent Kompany and Joleon Lescott, the Irishman never getting his optimum trajectory. Wembley did not offer the towelling service he is used to at the Brittania Stadium.
Potters boss Tony Pulis was crestfallen in defeat but offered hearty praise to the victors. "We were beaten very convincingly," he said. "I have nothing but full congratulations, the better team fully deserved to win and it's difficult for me to stand here and say that."
Positives were soon offered by Pulis after what has been a fine season for a club still re-establishing themselves. "The big picture is very good," he reflected. "It was just a desperately disappointing day."
Having abandoned his pre-match Wembley suit, Pulis had prowled the touchline in requisite cap and tracksuit, choosing as ever to dress like a Sunday afternoon drinker in a council estate boozer as compared to the exquisitely tailored number that Roberto Mancini would not be seen dead without. The Italian later donned the scarf which was once his trademark in celebration, as he hailed Toure, Mario Balotelli and the outstanding Vincent Kompany for their leading roles before setting sights on next season and a possible challenge to that team in red's primacy.
"We want to try," Mancini said. "The Champions League was our first target and then we want the FA Cup. In England, there are three competitions and we won the FA Cup and it's an important trophy. We went through a lot this season, we need to improve more. Then we start to win."
His players had shown off a banner with a ticker set to '0-0' in riposte to the infamous mockery that has been on display on the Stretford End for many a year and must now be taken down. "It was time," Mancini said. It was perhaps a shame that City saw fit to define themselves through the jibes of supporters from another club, but aiming for United's perch is the end game of 'the project'.
"All the people in Manchester are happy," said Mancini the diplomat. "Next year we will see. We can play for the top with the other teams." Manchester, for the first time since 1968, has two teams able to boast of silverware. Mancunian red and blue looks a rivalry that can only intensify.
MANCHESTER CITY VERDICT: This was a highly professional and powerful display. As ever, it lacked stardust but getting the job done was the focus here. Understandable nerves seemed to have gripped Silva in particular but the strength of their performance is best represented by the fact that Stoke never looked likely to equalise once they had gone behind.
STOKE CITY VERDICT: They gave much, but came away with only disappointment. Matthew Etherington's rush to play with a clearly still-damaged hamstring was a severe handicap, and he never got into the game. Kenwyne Jones blew their best chance but Stoke were never able to create enough to go in front, or later equalise.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Mario Balotelli was the official choice, but the plaudits here go to the goalscorer, a hard-running threat throughout, and a man whose fitness levels have lifted to allow him to become a 90-minute box-to-box man on Wembley's draining turf. His will be the name remembered from this game.
CIVIC PRIDE: Manchester United's title win could not dim the spirits of City's fans, and they celebrated glory with backs to their heroes via the famed 'Poznan' dance. This should be a day for Manchester to remember but it is difficult to see too much grace extended in either direction. 'Purples' - those who follow both blue and red - are in very short supply these days.