As the final whistle approached and they could taste the revenge, the blue wall of Manchester City's supporters began chanting: "We're Not Really Here." It is a song with a history that commemorates their descent to the third tier of English football when, as Manchester United faced Barcelona and Bayern Munich, their cousins encountered York and Mansfield.
This was not the end of what at Eastlands they once called "The Project" but it was an arrival of sorts, played out in front of Khaldoon al-Mubarak, representing the oil men from Abu Dhabi who funded it all. The £200,000 they are supposed to pay Yaya Touré every week has regularly been described as exorbitant, but it buys the kind of sublime finish that decided this match and brought Manchester City their first FA Cup final in 30 years.
Asked if this victory might be a stepping stone to their first championship since 1968, Roberto Mancini said yes. "It is a turning point for the club because we beat Manchester United in a very important game," said the Manchester City manager. "If we win the FA Cup, perhaps we can look at the League next year.
"It is difficult to play against United; they are some team. They play this kind of game every year; this is our first big game for a long time. I am very happy for our supporters because they deserve a day like this afternoon but it is important to tell them that we still have to play another game. We have only won a semi-final."
It was not the biggest semi-final of the year; the old blood-grudge between Madrid and Barcelona for a place in a European Cup final at Wembley will eclipse even this contest for edge and fervour, although as the teams trouped off on the final whistle there were flashes of nastiness centring on Mario Balotelli, who had unsubtly bared his badge to the United fans.
It inflamed Anderson and Rio Ferdinand, who had spent the wee small hours in Cheshire as his wife went into labour and may have been in no mood to exchange pleasantries. Not since George Best and Mike Summerbee drank together in the Brown Bull in Salford have the two halves on Manchester been so close in footballing terms, although socially they are rather further apart.
There had been plenty of talk that Balotelli would mark his first major set-piece occasion in English football by getting himself sent off. Instead that honour fell to Paul Scholes for a typical piece of rustic tackling.
Nevertheless, Mancini found himself in a familiar position, having to defend his 20-year-old protégé in front of a bank of microphones. "I want to wait and see the incident," he said. "Because every time I am asked it always Balotelli's fault. What do you want me to do, put him in jail for this?"
Sir Alex Ferguson thought about sharing his views of the game with the press but seeing Mancini enveloped by journalists, thought better of it, turned on his heels and headed for the airport.
Whatever the reasons for taking a Manchester semi-final to London, it reinvigorated the FA Cup as a competition. This semi-final mattered in a way few had since 1999 when Ryan Giggs slalomed through the Arsenal defence to set up a final with Newcastle that was so dull that Ferguson could sit back and watch it like a fan.
Suddenly the old pot mattered in a way it hadn't since Stuart Hall was presenting Cup Final It's a Knockout and the black chair was brought out for Cup Final Mastermind. Sample question: "What is Alan Hudson's favourite food?" Answer: scampi. Specialist Subject: "The life and times of Alan Hudson."
Naturally, it mattered more to City. In Kenny Dalglish's autobiography, Wembley is referred to as "Anfield South". Ferguson might feel the same. United may be back next month for a European Cup final. The last time Manchester City came to English football's great cathedral was for a third-division playoff with Gillingham. This time, they are really here.Reuse content