Manchester City's failure to fill their stadium for the game which would finally take them to the place they have craved for so long seemed inexplicable. Maybe the club's epic two-year tussle with Tottenham for the hallowed fourth spot in the Premier League has taught them to appreciate how steeply Harry Redknapp's side have fallen away since their exit from the Champions League and to know that this night was one they could enjoy with a radio and no fear.
The symbolism of Peter Crouch poking out a foot to divert James Milner's low, sharp cross into his own net on virtually the same piece of turf where he rose to head Tottenham into a place among the European elite and City into purgatory 370 days ago, was certainly most hugely resonant. It screamed at you so much so, in fact, that you almost missed the ensuing spectacle of Redknapp's assistant, Kevin Bond, yelling at William Gallas as City wheeled away and the Frenchman spread wide his arms.
This was as far removed as you could have got from the Spurs side we saw last May, who lived up to the old club motto of "To dare is to do"as they tore into City on an occasion which their hunger turned it into a cup tie. The memories of that evening are still raw in this part of Manchester: Gareth Bale placing ball after ball into the City box; captain Ledley King shutting Carlos Tevez out of the game; Crouch causing chaos for Kolo Touré.
But last Saturday Bale headed the same way as King, Tom Huddlestone and Benoît Assou-Ekotto – into the treatment room. Crouch has scored two goals since February, Jermain Defoe can't make the starting XI and Rafael van der Vaart – for whom this was an especially dreadful night – has become a shadow of the player who looked to be the summer's standout acquisition last autumn.
There was also a dismal fatalism about the timing of the goal – a minute after Wilson Palacios had limped out of the game to join the injury list and be replaced by a Steven Pienaar was who so unprepared that he spent half of the interval out on the pitch doing stretching exercises. Pienaar: the player Redknapp signed instead of Luis Suarez. He didn't fancy the Uruguayan but will get a closer look at him on Sunday when he takes his side to Liverpool, now comfortably favourites for fifth.
City looked liked they might conspire to mess it up in some fairly desperate final minutes during which their play bore the nerviness of a side who had read their manager's programme notes. "We have arrived at an five incredible days in the life of Manchester City, " Roberto Mancini wrote. The danger was always Luka Modric, whose same sublimity against City on the opening Saturday of the season suggested Redknapp would be rubbing their noses in it again come the spring. It is a miracle that his gifts remained undamaged by the unravelling.
But Crouch's departure to abuse 12 minutes from time was a pale shadow of his triumphal departure last May and came after Van der Vaart and Aaron Lennon had both joined the ranks who had ballooned the ball over the bar from distance.
As the final whistle was sounded and Spurs' points tally since progressing past Milan into the Champions League quarter-finals stood at 10 from nine games, Sir Alex Ferguson's pre-season prophecy that a season waging league battles on domestic and European fronts would prove too much was ringing in Redknapp's ears. Now it is City's turn – and Mancini's task – to prevent Tottenham's history repeating itself.Reuse content