Ian Herbert: Mancini given a taste of what still needs to be done at Eastlands

You can spend £200m and talk about winning, but you won't purge a City fan's pessimism

The most fitting part of it all was the match programme cover, adorned with the names of a sample of the club's 9,000 season card holders. These are the ones who have travelled the full, unexpurgated journey with Manchester City and who are so inured to the pain that accompanies every significant football occasion that you couldn't tell one of them before kick off last night that everything was going to be all right.

"That's what all the non City fans say," said one of the few City senior executives who has lived through relegation at Luton in 1983 and the Paul Dickov moment against Gillingham at Wembley in 1999, when offered some pre-match reassurance. You can spend £200m and talk about a "winning mentality" all night but you won't purge this pessimism from a City fan. They know there is a comedy moment or defensive mishap around every corner, waiting to happen on a night like this. One of the more bizarre items in the programme quoted Stephen Ireland denying rumours he was intending to build a shark tank at his house: that's the kind of surreal place the club can be at times.That link to the past is inexorable.

The question for last night was enshrined in the message on an advertising hoarding for Etihad, the Abu Dhabi airline. "Time to change to the best," it declares . But there has been a suspicion around this stadium for some time that "the best" is still some way off, despite Roberto Mancini's inclination – curious in a man whose tactical acuity is so well established – to say that City are the persistent victims of poor fortune, rather than purveyors of poor football.

Their arrival so close to the riches of the Champions League had given rise to observations on all that money can buy, but it had actually obscured the miracle of their being in the self-styled Champions League play-off at all.

Those with a rose tinted view of what Sheikh Mansour has delivered this season remember Shay Given's heroics in the home win over Chelsea, Craig Bellamy running riot at Stamford Bridge, Alan Wiley's "Fergietime" at Old Trafford . But these moments have been exceptions to the rule. Viewed in full focus, Mancini's five months have included some dark days for a side who have spent so heavily – £223m since the Abu Dhabis arrived in September 2008. The desperate goalless draw at home to Liverpool was perhaps the worst Premier League fixture of the season; there was something similar at Arsenal; defeat at home to Everton, successive games in league and FA Cup against Stoke City without a win.

Last night's game began as football in its purest form: a full-blooded exhibition of wing play which blew away all the pre-match hysteria and the accusations of City's transfer market bullying and distilled everything into winger versus full back: football the way it was played before the wealthy owners intervened. But there could be no illusion about the defensive weaknesses which have been there all along the road. Wayne Bridge was second in the contest with Aaron Lennon. Kolo Touré was a shadow of the presence Ledley King provided for Tottenham. The only headers Touré won were in the Tottenham box, where he diverted two Bellamy corners – supreme goalscoring chances – wide of goal.

Carlos Tevez might have started the match by making a mockery of the fatigue which brought his training session to a premature close on Tuesday, but when City attacked, they did so in insufficient numbers, rarely delivering enough bodies to the box when Adam Johnson was opening up a flank. This caution on the counter attack – the Mancini way – makes his side less vulnerable to the high-scoring draws which were a characteristic of the Mark Hughes era but it breeds a tentative approach. Spurs, starting a point ahead of City with only Burnley to play on Sunday, were the side who could have opted for a defensive set-up, but instead delivered all the attacking intent. They were justly rewarded for their valour.

Mancini also needs some guile and powers of creation in midfield; skills which will be harder to find now. The diminution of Ireland and Shaun Wright-Phillips is one of the aspects of his era which should give Abu Dhabi genuine cause for concern. City's preparations for defeat were so complete that they had The Smiths' Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now ready to play at the end. Typically sharp marketing. Now for another difficult summer of reconstructive surgery.

Arts and Entertainment
books
Voices
Caustic she may be, but Joan Rivers is a feminist hero, whether she likes it or not
voicesShe's an inspiration, whether she likes it or not, says Ellen E Jones
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Sport
Diego Costa
footballEverton 3 Chelsea 6: Diego Costa double has manager purring
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
3D printed bump keys can access almost any lock
techSoftware needs photo of lock and not much more
Arts and Entertainment
The 'three chords and the truth gal' performing at the Cornbury Music Festival, Oxford, earlier this summer
music... so how did she become country music's hottest new star?
Life and Style
The spy mistress-general: A lecturer in nutritional therapy in her modern life, Heather Rosa favours a Byzantine look topped off with a squid and a schooner
fashionEurope's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln
News
Dr Alice Roberts in front of a
peopleAlice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
News
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Arts and Entertainment
Unsettling perspective: Iraq gave Turner a subject and a voice (stock photo)
booksBrian Turner's new book goes back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
News
The Digicub app, for young fans
advertisingNSPCC 'extremely concerned'
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Some of the key words and phrases to remember
booksA user's guide to weasel words
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution