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.

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