It’s been 35 long, painful years, but Manchester City fans can finally trade in tears of anguish for tears of joy. The Citizens won the FA Cup with a 1-0 win over Stoke City, providing the first bit of silverware in Roberto Mancini’s career in England as well as the first trophy under the lavish and free-spending ownership of Sheikh Mansour. Yaya Toure more than earned his £200,000 a week salary by slamming home the lone goal in the 75th minute.
The game was about as one-sided as a 1-0 match can be. Man City dominated possession (60%) and chances, putting 14 shots on frame to Stoke’s one. That shot – a glancing toepoke by Kenwyne Jones – and a penalty claim on a Vincent Kompany handball aside, Joe Hart had very little to worry him. Even Stoke’s famed set piece abilities were neutered by flawless defending and flat deliveries.
The first half was particularly lopsided. Thomas Sorensen, his side’s best player, needed every shred of fingernail to tip a looping Mario Balotelli shot just the other side of the far post. And later Balotelli caused havoc again, nearly latching onto a Carlos Tevez chip before Sorensen somehow blundered the ball away. On the rebound, David Silva somehow construed to scuff his half-volley into the dirt, rather than the net, and Stoke limped into the half even at goose eggs.
The halftime team talk by Tony Pulis helped, because Stoke finally showed some desire in the opening minutes of the second stanza. Jermaine Pennant, shaking off a twisted ankle suffered in injury time of the first half, in particular looked lively.
But with set pieces failing them and Nigel De Jong clanging shut any moves which progressed through the middle, Man City always looked the likelier of the sides to break through. And so they did, with only a quarter hour remaining in the match.
Balotelli had kept his cool, even when Robert Huth elbowed him in the face, and he showed exactly why he cost so much money and is so highly rated. A genius backheel at the top of the box found David Silva streaking in towards goal. The tiny Spaniard returned the pass, and Balotelli’s shot while falling was blocked. The ball spurted back out to Yaya Toure, who slammed the ball home with enough venom to take Sorensen into the goal had the keeper managed to get in the way.
From there, the game opened right up. Pulis threw on all his attacking substitutes, including John Carew, and both sets of forwards camped out in the opposition half, with defenses booting the ball up to them. Still, Man City shaded the chances, with David Silva in particular testing Sorensen with a smart low shot.
But no more goals arrived, and the trophy went to Manchester, rather than Stoke, City. Stoke, who have never played in the FA Cup final before, can be proud of a strong season which will likely include a top half finish in the EPL. But it’s Man City, on the day Manchester United won a record 19 first division titles, which will celebrate.
The win will likely ensure the continued employment of Roborto Mancini. The Italian has won an impressive 11 trophies with four clubs, including domestic knock-out competitions at each team he’s managed (Sampdoria, Lazio, Inter, and now Manchester City). However, the future of Tevez is still in doubt. The captain angled rather publicly for a move away last summer, and may do so again this time around, after taking off the scarf given him before lifting the trophy. Instead, he tied an Argentina flag around his neck.
Those concerns are for another day, however. Today is all about celebrating. Man City fans will forever treasure the lasting images from this Wembley match: Balotelli’s infectious grin and childish shenanigans with Toure, Liam Gallagher raising a champagne glass as his own song blared through the speakers, and Tevez trotting up to the stage wearing the lid of the FA Cup as a hat.