So much for the tactical "shadow play"sessions which Roberto Mancini put his players through in specific preparation for Stoke City. They all came to nothing last night when the most foreseeable threat imaginable – a long-range missile thrown by a man with the name "Delap" on his shirt – was nodded home to extend Manchester City's painful 34-year search for silverware by another year at least.
Ryan Shawcross, formerly of the Old Trafford parish, got the essential touch on Rory Delap's throw-in five minutes into extra time and, though Mancini's beloved tactical scenarios did not account for the controversial dismissal of Emmanuel Adebayor on 82 minutes for throwing an arm back at Shawcross, the defeat leaves the Italian in the midst of some bad wreckage with just two wins in eight.
Mancini retained his usual optimistic countenance, declaring "it could have been 3-1 to us, not Stoke," but we saw for the first time last night a ruffled, indignant Mancini, bitterly disappointed with the sending-off and unhappy also with his opposite number Tony Pulis's conduct in the Stoke dugout. "It was not so dangerous. When a striker opens his arms it can happen," Mancini said. And of Pulis: "Next time I'll bring a whistle for Tony. He was trying to referee the match."
Shawcross certainly made a huge meal of Adebayor's hustle and the dismissal seemed harsh. But beyond the managerial spats, which summed up a bad-tempered match during which Shay Given was also almost hit by a cigarette lighter, the unvarnished truth for the City manager is that his side have had three games with Stoke in the space of 12 days and barely threatened them. They failed to take four good first-half chances last night and their spirit evaporated into the bitter night air after the half-time break. No one can deny they are currently a long way from the effervescence of the Mark Hughes era.
On the plus side, Adebayor, whom Mancini seems resigned to being without for at least three games, foraged well for possession in the first half and saw a sublime 35-yard strike clawed away; substitute Shaun Wright-Phillips showed energy; and City's defence repelled Stoke's aerial threat fairly well for 80 minutes or so. But Stoke are not as invincible as their unbeaten run this year and their fourth-round defeat of Arsenal would suggest.
The game would have been wrapped up within 20 minutes, had not City's early opportunities been spurned – the most gilt-edged arriving after Adebayor span around Glenn Whelan, raced on goal and delivered a ball into Craig Bellamy's path. The Welshman's first touch was heavy and his shot easily smothered.
City's game – the entire game – died after the break until an extraordinary five-minute spell which delivered two goals and the dismissal. One substitute, David Kitson, exchanged passes with another, Tuncay, and raced past Wayne Bridge to score on 79 minutes. Then Adebayor chested back a lofted Bridge cross for Bellamy to smash an equaliser. The Togolese was gone within seconds and the road back for City looked long then. Given flapped at Delap's throw five minutes into extra time and after another five minutes Tuncay threaded a path beyond Pablo Zabaleta and Wright-Phillips, and placed a shot beyond Joleon Lescott on the goal-line.
"No, no; no pressure," declared the City manager, whose striker Carlos Tevez is expected to fly out of Argentina to rejoin City today. "This is football." He had just been introduced by a press-room steward as "Carlo Mancini". Time will tell whether City will be forgetting him quite so soon.
Stoke City (4-4-2): Sorensen; Whitehead, Shawcross, Huth, Collins; Lawrence (Pugh 72), Whelan, Diao (Tuncay 54), Delap; Sidibe (Kitson 74), Fuller. Substitutes not used: Simonsen, Beattie, Amdy Faye, Davies
Manchester City (4-2-3-1): Given; Richards, Onuoha, Lescott, Bridge (Santa Cruz 86); Kompany, Barry; Zabaleta, Ireland (Wright-Phillips 61), Bellamy; Adebayor. Substitutes not used: Taylor, Garrido, Sylvinho, De Jong, Boyata.
Referee: S Bennett (Kent)Reuse content