James Lawton: Roberto Mancini will not find consolation in FA Cup triumph after poor season for Manchester City

Mancini once again wore an expression in the dugout not so much agitated as bemused

City, the broken champions, can draw what they like from their next date in North London against Wigan Athletic at Wembley Stadium but the reality of their season was written unequivocally at White Hart Lane.

It is a terrible one that would go unappeased by any number of FA Cup triumphs because sadly, but unavoidably, the old bauble can no longer be a serious measurement of the progress of any club which covets a place at the serious end of English and European football.

City have failed direly in both theatres of the game this season and when Tottenham stripped them bare in the last 15 minutes of a game in which they established early and easy control you didn't have to look either far or deeply for the reason.

Nearly a year after the melodramatic victory over Queen's Park Rangers which delivered their first title in 44 years, City still lack the defiant bearing of champions on the ropes. They are a collection of talented players – man for man the most formidable in the land – but they still lack the underpinning of authentic self-belief.

Such a working quality would almost certainly have delayed Manchester United's likely celebration of their 13th Premier League tonight and on this occasion with arguably Sir Alex Ferguson's weakest squad of his years of rampage. For City the reproaches must run wide but wherever they meander it is impossible to detach any of them from the leadership, or not, of Robert Mancini.

We know of Mancini's credentials as a football man, as a player and a coach in Serie A and of course that first title had to be won, however great his resources. However, the mark of any manager's work, and whatever his success in the past, is the growth of his team. City simply hasn't grown. The side has dwindled again in the defence of the title – and the latest foray into Europe.

If you wanted a mirror of this truth it was certainly available again yesterday when Mancini once again wore in the dugout an expression that wasn't so much agitated as bemused.

His rival, Andre Villas-Boas, brought his own pressure and it could not have been intensified more sharply when Carlos Tevez, James Milner and Samir Nasri conjured a fifth-minute goal of stunning quality. It was the kind of goal which City has scored often enough but too rarely with the conviction that it was merely the opening statement of inherent superiority.

Nasri might have scored one of even greater flair but then he may easily have received a red card when going in over the top on Kyle Walker. Yet again City did not drive on. Tevez has rarely been so waspish in his opening flourishes but the momentum ebbed swiftly enough.

It meant that the recently embattled AVB had the time to reorganise his team. It also helped that Gareth Bale returned from injury with a poise that was positively silky. There is inevitably fierce debate about the identity of the Player of the Year but it is hard to imagine anything more eloquent than Bale's beautifully measured pass for Clint Dempsey's equaliser and then his unanswerable run and touch for Tottenham's third goal.

Villas-Boas's celebrations were vivid and easy to understand because if he was borne to a vital victory by some examples of extraordinary talent, he could also claim to have exerted considerable influence of his own.

His decision to send Bale wide in pursuit of some greater operating space and his drafting in of Tom Huddlestone changed the course of the game – and when the two of them came together for the crushing last goal it was pretty much a coach's daydream. Huddlestone's pass unhinged utterly a City defence in which Vincent Kompany and Matija Nastasic had looked nothing less than imperious early on and Bale's finish would have been the pièce de résistance of a much more distinguished game than this one.

This isn't to say we didn't see some excellent football. City, hauntingly, showed us one again what they might just be in a more consistent marriage of will and ability and from Spurs, finally, there was a performance of impressive authority. What they would be without Bale, and where they would go with the minimum £50m his sale would surely bring, is possibly the most haunting question of all.

As it is, they are again most serious contenders for a top-four place, something that might not be so problematical if that ultimate pragmatist chairman Daniel Levy had invested in better cover for the injury-prone Jermain Defoe and the increasingly futile Emmanuel Adebayor.

For City there is the potential consolation of their second FA Cup win in three years. Unfortunately, come tonight the chances are it will look nothing so much as a resort for the too easily pleased.

News
people And here is why...
Arts and Entertainment
Amazon has added a cautionary warning to Tom and Jerry cartoons on its streaming service
tv
Voices
voicesBy the man who has
Sport
Arsene Wenger tried to sign Eden Hazard
footballAfter 18 years with Arsenal, here are 18 things he has still never done as the Gunners' manager
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
The new Windows 10 Start Menu
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson star in The Twilight Saga but will not be starring in the new Facebook mini-movies
tvKristen Stewart and Stephenie Meyer will choose female directrs
Arts and Entertainment
Hilary North's 'How My Life Has Changed', 2001
books(and not a Buzzfeed article in sight)
News
More than 90 years of car history are coming to an end with the abolition of the paper car-tax disc
newsThis and other facts you never knew about the paper circle - completely obsolete today
Arts and Entertainment
There has been a boom in ticket sales for female comics, according to an industry survey
comedyFirst national survey reveals Britain’s comedic tastes
Arts and Entertainment
Twerking girls: Miley Cyrus's video for 'Wrecking Ball'
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Sheeran performs at his Amazon Front Row event on Tuesday 30 September
musicHe spotted PM at private gig
News
people'I’d rather have Fred and Rose West quote my characters on childcare'
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

Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

Paris Fashion Week

Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
10 best children's nightwear

10 best children's nightwear

Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

Manchester City vs Roma

Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

Trouble on the Tyne

Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?