Modern history was always going to be made here yesterday, and right from the start it was a blue pen writing it. At last Manchester City have their trophy and it will bother them not a jot if few people outside their own expanding patch remember the manner of the success for very long.
As they cavorted on the pitch, it hardly seemed to matter either that Manchester United were well into the celebration drinks afterconfirming the Premier League title two hours earlier. Even Sir Alex Ferguson believes that his noisy neighbours will have even more to say for themselves in future, and the supporters chanting "City are back" are not going to disagree.
Yaya Touré, scorer of the goal that beat United in the semi-final, did the trick again. His team's domination against desperately disappointing opposition, unable to play either their own game or anybody else's, had produced only a couple of real chances, bothdenied expertly by Thomas Sorensen in goal. They remained patient, however, and were rewarded after some interplay involving three of the more creative players – Carlos Tevez, David Silva and Mario Balotelli.
When it was time to add Adam Johnson to the mix half an hour from the finish, Balotelli was a candidate for removal, but the manager to his credit took off one of the two defensive midfielders, Gareth Barry, pulled Tevez deeper and sent Balotelli further forward. Silva had earlier committed the worst miss of the day but in the main he and Balotelli were sufficiently disciplined to stay wide in the knowledge that Barry and the combative Nigel de Jong were untroubled behind them.
Stoke, 39 years on from winning their one significant honour, were nothing like the team who had demolished Bolton 5-0 in their semi-final. Three-nil up after half an hour that day, they took almost that length of time to mount a threatening attack here. Kenwyne Jones was left isolated,only once losing Joleon Lescott, who along with Vincent Kompany did much sterling work in defending the crosses and set-pieces that came their way. Rory Delap's throw-ins were therefore no threat, even with Stoke's captain, Ryan Shawcross, placing himself right in front of the goalkeeper.
Sensitive to his side's image as a long-ball, set-piece team, Tony Pulis saved any harsh words he may have had for the dressing room, choosing instead to pour praise on a season in which they have reached Europe and will finish higher than at any time since 1975. Of the two Stoke players whose fitness had been in doubt, Matthew Etherington lasted only for an anonymous hour and Robert Huth could have been off long before that if any of the officials had seen his forearm to Balotelli's throat. Jermaine Pennant, on the opposite flank to Etherington, was the one initially bright light, dimmed by a series of heavy tackles.
In contrast Tevez, whose participation had also been in doubt, worked as hard as ever. By the time he was replaced, blue ribbon was ready to be attached to the trophy he would shortly hold up. "We deserved to win," Mancini said, which brooked no argument. "It was important to start to win. [Reaching] the Champions' League was our priority and we won the FA Cup. Many times we dominated games and should have scored three or four times but lost."
That would have been the one worry for his team's followers as they sought half-time refreshment. After winning the toss City sensibly decided to defend the end with its penalty area in the shade, although Joe Hart could have stood at the sunny end without a cap for 45 minutes and got a tan. In contrast, his opposite number Sorensen was required to pull off outstanding saves from curling shots by Tevez and Balotelli.
Pushed back, Stoke took 12 minutes to win a throw-in and almost as long again to muster a shot. There was one moment of promise, when Jones played a one-two with Jonathan Walters before Kompany, excellent as ever, stifled his shot. Apart from a woeful free-kick by Marc Wilson, that was that from the red shirts until half-time, when Pulis must have torn into them.
For 20 minutes there was a response of sorts, culminating in a ball forward for Jones, who managed to bustle Lescott aside but found Hart rushingsmartly at him to block. Pennant, when not limping, put over a cross or two but the turning point proved to be Mancini's first substitution. Within two minutes Tevez, now deeper, moved the ball to the left, where Silva and Balotelli had two touches each, the latter's shot being deflected to Touré for a thumping left-footed half-volley through a crowd of players.
Had Silva slid in Johnson's low cross, City could have relaxed and enjoyed themselves. Given their reputation for making a lost cause from a winning one, that would havebeen unwise.
There was one tense moment in added time, when another Pennant cross was diverted for a corner by the substitute Patrick Vieira, but City held on to cement Madchester's day of celebration. There will be anotherone at Eastlands on Tuesday, when Stoke, of all teams, must provide the opposition for the League game due to be played this weekend.
Referee: Martin Atkinson
Man of the match: Y Touré
Match rating: 6/10Reuse content