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.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
The Queen and the letter sent to Charlie
football
Arts and Entertainment
Eurovision Song Contest 2015
EurovisionGoogle marks the 2015 show
News
Two lesbians hold hands at a gay pride parade.
peopleIrish journalist shares moving story on day of referendum
Arts and Entertainment
<p>
<b>Kathryn Williams</b>
</p>
<p>
When I was supporting Ray La Montagne I was six months pregnant. He had been touring for a year and he was exhausted and full of the cold. I was feeling motherly, so I would leave presents for him and his band: Tunnock's Tea Cakes, cold remedies and proper tea. Ray seemed painfully shy. He hardly spoke, hardly looked at you in the face. I felt like a dick speaking to him, but said "hi" every day. </p>
<p>
He was being courted by the same record company who had signed me and subsequently let me go, and I wanted him to know that there were people around who didn't want anything from him. At the Shepherds Bush Empire in London, on the last night of the tour, Ray stopped in his set to thank me for doing the support. He said I was a really good songwriter and people should buy my stuff. I was taken aback and felt emotionally overwhelmed. Later that year, just before I had my boy Louis, I was l asleep in bed with Radio 4 on when Louis moved around in my belly and woke me up. Ray was doing a session on the World Service. </p>
<p>
I really believe that Louis recognised the music from the tour, and when I gave birth to him at home I played Ray's record as something that he would recognise to come into the world with. </p>
booksKathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
News
Liz Kendall played a key role in the introduction of the smoking ban
newsLiz Kendall: profile
Life and Style
techPatent specifies 'anthropomorphic device' to control media devices
Voices
The PM proposed 'commonsense restrictions' on migrant benefits
voicesAndrew Grice: Prime Minister can talk 'one nation Conservatism' but putting it into action will be tougher
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

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?