One fan thought it was all over 30 seconds too soon and was arrested for his premature embrace of James Milner and Nigel de Jong. He could be forgiven: Manchester City have, after all, been pursuing Champions League football for the 983 days that the Abu Dhabi ownership has so far lasted.
But the target which signals the end of the first phase of City's plans to become a world force was attained last night, after over £350m outlay on players, so securing Roberto Mancini's job for next season, even as it raised new doubts about Carlos Tevez's future at the club.
Tevez was clearly screaming abuse at his manager after he had been sent off down the touchline as his wait to run on from the bench ticked towards 80 minutes. Mancini said late last night that he had not seen Tevez's actions. "I don't know. I was concentrating on the game. I really don't know. I didn't hear anything. I said go to warm up because you go on in two minutes," said the manager, who offered no sense that Tevez would start in Saturday's FA Cup final against Stoke City, despite creating a clear goalscoring opportunity after only six minutes on the pitch. When first asked if Tevez would start, Mancini replied: "No. I don't think [so]," later modifying his reply to: "He has four days and I want to take all the time to decide this."
Tevez's frustration built when Mancini appeared to have decided to send him on after 64 minutes but opted for Patrick Vieira instead as Spurs entered their most forceful spell of the game. The Argentine had returned from the touchline to the bench on 79 minutes, only for Mancini to express surprise and signal him back into his warm-up. It was then that he delivered the abuse.
But not even the renewed rancour between the two could take away from City's qualification for the Champions League, courtesy of an own goal scored by Peter Crouch in the same penalty area where he had sent Spurs through to the elite competition at City's expense 370 days ago. "I'm happy because this was our [prime] target," declared Mancini, who said he believed Saturday's defeat at Everton had made the task of supplanting Arsenal in third place "difficult." He added: "When I arrived here, I said that City will become one of the top two or three teams in Europe. We got this because the players wanted to play in the Champions League."
Joe Hart said he believed City could make up the two-point gap on Arsenal, whose goal difference is eight better. "This means the absolute world," said the goalkeeper, whose left-handed save from Steve Pienaar in the first minute of the second half was the finest of three he made. "With two games left we're going to hunt down that third spot now. With all the pressure on us, we've got big you-know-whats and we really proved it. We couldn't care less what the club has spent, we're the players. We need to get performances and get results and that's what we've done tonight."
Mancini also warned his side not to underestimate Stoke, who are in the Europa League thanks to last night's result. "If we think it will be easy, we make a big mistake," he said.
Harry Redknapp said his side were as good as City, despite collecting nine points in ten matches. "It's sad isn't it, nine points ... I'm suicidal," he joked. "It's been a great season, the best Tottenham have had in God knows how many years. People who know football know that we've played well but haven't had the luck.
"We have been in good form, but things have gone against us. If you look last year we finished three points above Manchester City and they went out and spent £130m to get above us, and yet there is not much between the teams."
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