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.

Arts and Entertainment
filmPoldark production team claims innocence of viewers' ab frenzy
Life and Style
Google marks the 81st anniversary of the Loch Ness Monster's most famous photograph
techIt's the 81st anniversary of THAT iconic photograph
News
Katie Hopkins makes a living out of courting controversy
people
News
General Election
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
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

Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders