March 2014 - Reports
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Arsenal 1  Manchester City 1     Arsenal Make a Point
Saturday 29th March 2014 : Paul Robertson for GYKO at the Emirates

Ultimately, when the story comes to be told of this open and fast-changing title race, Manchester City might look back and reflect this was a particularly useful result. Yet, for now, they also know it could have been considerably better bearing in mind the rewards if they had held on to David Silva's first-half goal.

Manuel Pellegrini's team were unusually lacklustre as victory slipped away. Perhaps there were signs of weariness, too, after the exertions of the Manchester derby. All that can be said for certain is the chance to replace Chelsea at the top of the league was missed and Mathieu Flamini's equaliser threatens repercussions now Liverpool are looking at the table in a new position of strength.

For Arsenal, it was a gallant second-half performance but the draw probably confirms what most people already suspected, namely that there is only a faint chance the team in fourth can overhaul those above them.

City are in a much stronger position, two points behind Chelsea with two games in hand, but the gap to Liverpool will be four if Brendan Rodgers's team beat Spurs on Sunday today. More than ever, it looks like the pivotal game will be City's trip to Anfield on 13 April.

Pellegrini could still declare it a productive period, with four points from two challenging away games, and will have to hope his team can play more like they did here in the first half, and less like after the interval. David Silva controlled the game in the opening 45 minutes, with Chelsea's defeat earlier in the day sharpening their minds. They exposed Arsenal on the counter-attack, just as José Mourinho's team had done the previous weekend, and started pretty much from where they finished off against Manchester United.

Yet Arsenal deserve acclaim for their perseverance and left the pitch at the final whistle to rich applause. Arsène Wenger has had to make do with a considerable injury list, missing half a team's worth of first-choice players but his side showed real personality and that is worth noting when they are often accused of lacking mental strength. "We have gone through a nightmare," Wenger said, with the 6-0 defeat at Chelsea still in his mind.

"You could see against Swansea the team was on the floor and hugely disappointed. But we responded well today."

In the opening 45 minutes, Wenger's men had struggled for any real fluency in attacking positions. Yet Santi Cazorla was a prominent figure in the revival, aided and abetted by the ubiquitous Flamini and Tomas Rosicky, and gradually the tide changed. Silva, so dangerous in the first half, faded.

Jesús Navas had menaced Arsenal's defence early on but was eventually substituted and Pablo Zabaleta's overlapping runs, another early feature, were gradually curtailed. Yaya Touré has not had such an undistinguished game for a long time and Edin Dzeko was another who struggled to replicate the same level of performance that was seen against United.

Arsenal had a touch of good fortune because Rosicky could easily have been sent off on two different occasions. His early attempt to win a penalty, dangling a foot to try to initiate contact with Zabaleta, did not deceive Mike Dean and warranted a yellow card. Rosicky was booked for a challenge on Gael Clichy and scythed through Silva later in the match. Silva was also shown leniency for a challenge on Mikel Arteta at the end of the first half but the yellow card was probably correct and, out of the two, Rosicky was the more fortunate.

City went ahead after 19 minutes with a goal that provided further evidence of Arsenal's vulnerabilities. Lukas Podolski lost the ball and, in a flash, the entire home team suddenly looked susceptible to the speed with which their opponents poured forward. It was the same theme against Chelsea and, again, there were defenders – in this case, Kieran Gibbs and Bacary Sagna – hopelessly out of position.

Silva led the charge and Dzeko was running into the left-hand side of the penalty area, with the opportunity to find an angle past Wojciech Szczesny. His shot came back off the upright and Silva, following in, was rewarded for his anticipation, tucking the rebound into an exposed net.

The complexion of the game changed eight minutes into the second half.

Shortly before, Sczcesny's parry from Navas's right-wing delivery came back off Per Mertesacker and was perilously close to being an own-goal. Arsenal, however, were moving the ball with greater purpose now.

Podolski crossed from the left and Flamini was in space, close to the penalty spot, to take advantage of some obliging marking.

From that point onwards, the volume went up. Podolski, with a clear sight at goal, would have turned it even higher if his shot had not flicked off Hart's legs and ricocheted wide.

There were still sporadic moments when City threatened to get behind the home defence but they had lost their control and left the pitch knowing it was a more profitable result for Liverpool than anyone else.

Teams

Arsenal:
Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Gibbs, Arteta, Rosicky, Flamini, Cazorla, Podolski (Oxlade-Chamberlain 80), Giroud (Sanogo 84)  Unused subs: Fabianski, Bellerin, Jenkinson, Kallstrom, Gnabry,    Bookings: Rosicky

Manchester City: Hart, Zabaleta, Kompany, Demichelis, Clichy, Fernandinho, Toure, Navas (Milner 63), Silva, Nasri (Garcia 81), Dzeko (Negredo 84)  Unused subs: Kompany, Yaya Toure, Silva Bookings: Pantilimon, Kolarov, Lescott, Jovetic

Referee:Mike Dean    Att:60,000

Manchester United 0 Manchester City 3       Stretford No Longer a Threat
Tuesday 25th March 2014 : Leroy Obanu for GYKO at The Theatre of Broken Dreams

Manchester City were not just content with moving directly behind Chelsea at the top of the Premier League. Manuel Pellegrini's team played as though determined to make Manchester United suffer and by the time they had finished, David Moyes may have heard the first isolated shouts behind his dugout to get out of the club, and preferably through the back door.

For now it still amounted to a show of restraint considering he inherited a team, lest it be forgotten, that won the league by 11 points. The regression is nothing short of remarkable and the indignities continue to stack up. United certainly lived up to Sir Bobby Charlton's admission about having played "really, really badly" this season and Mancunian humour has a brutal edge on these occasions. "Worst champions we've ever seen" was the chant from the away end, expletive removed.

Moyes' new system, forfeiting width in an attempt to pin down City's midfield, failed within the first minute and Edin Dzeko's goal, officially clocked at 43 seconds, was followed by a performance of almost total superiority from Pellegrini's men, easing above Liverpool into second place with two games in hand on Chelsea and three points to make up.

City played like champions whereas United looked what they are these days: a team in seventh position, grubbing around for points to qualify for the Europa League, but in trouble as soon as they come up against one of the top teams. Dzeko's second goal arrived after 56 minutes and Moyes should probably be grateful the crowd did not let out more frustration after Yaya Touré completed the scoring.

United are now guaranteed their most undistinguished points total in the Premier League era and it is the first time City have beaten them three times running at this ground for more than 40 years. It is shocking to see the scale of deterioration at Old Trafford.

Pellegrini's men started like a team in a hurry, inflicted the necessary damage and coasted through the final half an hour before Touré drilled in the third goal just as the electronic board was flashing up the added time. They moved the ball quickly, with invention and clarity. There was not a flicker of trepidation and as soon as they took that early lead everyone must have sensed this could be another ordeal for the home team.

A blur of speed and movement culminated in Samir Nasri's shot ricocheting off a post for Dzeko to score from inside the six-yard area. United were all over the place and, straight away, there was the hard evidence about where these old rivals currently stand. The truth – and it is undeniable – is that the gulf in talent was evident all night.
Link to video: Manchester United's David Moyes defends players after Manchester City defeat

More than anything, City had the speed to hurt the home team. Jesús Navas was a formidable opponent for the creaking Patrice Evra. On the opposite side, Rafael da Silva looked just as vulnerable. City simply overpowered the home team. David Silva was tremendous, such an elusive and clever player. Touré demonstrated why Pellegrini had described him beforehand as "the complete midfielder" and Dzeko played with the sureness of touch that occasionally deserts him.

The irony was that Moyes had shoehorned in another central midfielder, Tom Cleverley, at the expense of a right-winger to try to cope with City's superiority in this area. Still, however, Pellegrini's men poured through the gaps. Cleverley was removed at half-time and is in danger of becoming the player the crowd trust the least. Shinji Kagawa could not make any real difference and Marouane Fellaini continues to look hopelessly out of his depth. The player Moyes signed from Everton for £27m offered little in a passing sense and, not for the first time, the crowd revelled in his substitution.

As for the elbow Fellaini delivered into Pablo Zabaleta's jaw, half an hour in, it really was a dereliction of duty from the referee, Michael Oliver, not to show a red card. Fellaini has previous for these kind of offences and this one looked premeditated.

If City had been more clinical they could have wrapped up the game in that opening half. Wayne Rooney was determined not to let the game pass him by and United did at least create a couple of chances before the break.

Yet this was not a fully coherent football team. In defence there were more lapses than they will care to remember. United's midfield was laboured. They have scored 18 league goals here all season – even in the year of the infamous "Ta-ra, Fergie" banner, they managed 26 – and it does not reflect well on Moyes that Paul Scholes' analysis, in a television role, was much clearer than the manager's.

Early in the second half the outstanding Vincent Kompany headed on a corner and Fernandinho flashed the ball over the crossbar. There was a warning there for United and it went unheeded. At the next corner, Rio Ferdinand started tracking Dzeko but ran into Fellaini. Dzeko, left alone, ran on to Nasri's cross and expertly volleyed in his shot.

Touré's goal was a low diagonal drive into the bottom corner and that was the moment City's fans celebrated the Moyes era, in schadenfreude, again. "Five more years" they sang, toasting a night that could go a long way to determining whether they are reunited with the Premier League trophy.

Teams

Manchester United:  De Gea, Rafael, Ferdinand, Jones, Evra, Carrick, Cleverley (Kagawa 46), Fellaini (Valencia 66), Mata, Welbeck (Hernandez 77), Rooney  Unused subs: Lindegaard, Büttner, Fletcher, Young   Bookings: Welbeck, Fellaini

Manchester City: Hart, Zabaleta, Clichy, Demichelis, Kompany, Fernandinho, Navas (Garcia 68), Yaya Toure, Silva, Nasri (Milner 74), Dzeko (Negredo 79)   Unused subs: Pantilimon, Kolarov, Lescott, Jovetic     Bookings: Kompany, Fernandinho

Referee: Michael Oliver    Att:75,000

Manchester City 5 Fulham 0       No Mercy from Yaya
Saturday March 22nd 2014 : GYKO at the Etihad

No slip-up, no contest and almost no sweat. Manchester City prepared for Tuesday's trip to Old Trafford with an exercise in ruthless efficiency as Yaya Touré led a rout of Fulham with his first hat-trick in English football. Felix Magath was left incensed at a lack of fight from the Premier League's bottom club. On this form, his men look condemned. Manuel Pellegrini's team look in control.

City's biggest league win since November resembled a training session for the final half hour as they prised apart Fulham without performing close to their fluent, commanding best. Their manager withdrew the outstanding Touré, who now has 20 goals for the season, David Silva and Samir Nasri in the closing stages in readiness for the Manchester derby, the first of two testing away games next week that can shape City's attempt to overhaul Chelsea at the summit, such was their comfort level.

Fernandinho and Martín Demichelis completed the scoring against a Fulham team reduced to 10 men when the hapless Fernando Amorebieta was sent off early in the second half. The range of goals was a perfectly timed illustration of City's power with their leading strikers injured, ill or, in the case of Álvaro Negredo, struggling to finish from three yards.

"At this part of the season it is important to have the balance between scoring and not conceding easy goals. Fulham is a team that defends well but we played well, we were a balanced team and we had patience. Winning is always good preparation for the next game and to win 5-0 is important, but we must forget about this now and move on because a derby is always a special match," said Pellegrini.

Negredo missed a great chance to make it six and impress in the absence of the hamstrung Sergio Agüero and under-the-weather Edin Dzeko, but played a pivotal part in turning the game by winning a soft penalty following a slight touch from Amorebieta.

Magath's team had been comfortable until the 25th minute incident, with City labouring. Once behind, however, Fulham's belief evaporated.

The Spanish forward showed good determination to beat Amorebieta to James Milner's long ball into the box but looked as though he had been slain by an assassin's bullet when he got there. The referee, Jon Moss, was unmoved but his assistant, Ian Hussin, spotted a slight touch on Negredo's backside from the Fulham defender's boot and signalled for a spot-kick. Once the protests had subsided, Touré sent David Stockdale the wrong way from 12 yards.

There was little fluency to the home side yet they could have been three goals ahead by the interval. Not a bad sign when pursuing the title. Amorebieta's one positive contribution was to clear off the line from Silva after he collected Fernandinho's pass, wriggled free inside the area and clipped over the advancing Stockdale. Aleksandar Kolarov also side-footed against the bar from Silva's lay-off down the left.

After the interval, however, the rain stopped, the sun appeared and City cruised towards victory without breaking into a sprint. There may have been doubt over the first penalty decision but Amorebieta gave Moss no alternative but to point to the spot for a second time and dismiss the already-booked Venezuelan when he sent Silva sprawling. The spot-kick routine did not change; Stockdale went low to his left as Touré converted to the goalkeeper's right.

The midfielder completed his hat-trick in stunning fashion shortly afterwards. Nasri played a free-kick square to Touré and, from 25 yards, he curled an exquisite shot beyond the despairing dive of Stockdale. City's fourth also impressed as Milner found Fernandinho with a clever corner and the Brazilian hit an unstoppable shot into the roof of the net. The onslaught was not over for the sorry visitors as Demichelis tapped into an open net after Stockdale parried the substitute Stevan Jovetic's shot into his path.

"Until the first penalty it was not bad," said Magath, the Fulham manager. "In my opinion it was not a penalty and it gifts power to City. It was a bad moment for us but that is no reason to stop playing. The team did not seem to believe we could win after the first goal. The penalty changed the whole atmosphere and the players didn't have the confidence to change the situation."

Teams

Manchester City:
Hart, Zabaleta, Kolarov, Demichelis, Lescott, Fernandinho, Milner, Yaya Toure (Navas 68), Nasri (Jovetic 81), Silva (Rodwell 76), Negredo    Unused subs: Pantilimon, Clichy, Boyata, Garcia

Fulham: Stockdale, Riise, Heitinga, Hangeland, Kvist, Sidwell, Kacaniklic (Roberts 55), Richardson (Holtby 54), Woodrow (Kasami 82), Riether, Amorebeta

Unused subs: Stekelenburg, Karagounis, Zverotic, Bent   Bookings: Amorebieta (sent off), Sidwell, Roberts, Holtby

Referee:  Jonathan Moss                Att:47,262
 

Hull City 0 Manchester City 2            One Hull of a Game
Saturday 15th March 2014 : David Weeks for GYKO at the Kingston Com Stadium

Manuel Pellegrini acclaimed this victory as Manchester City's best performance of the season but it was another headbutt incident on a tempestuous afternoon that demanded most attention. The City goalkeeper, Joe Hart, was at the centre of it, shoving his head towards the face of Hull's George Boyd after his opponent went down under his challenge in the penalty area. All this just a fortnight after Alan Pardew was heavily reprimanded for an altercation with David Meyler at the same ground.

Both teams played down the heated exchange in the 69th-minute, the video evidence also hinted at Boyd spitting – proving intent would be difficult. Pellegrini insisted he could not see the fracas clearly from his touchline position while the Hull manager, Steve Bruce, dismissed comparisons to Pardew and praised Lee Mason's handling of things. "He was on the spot and made the right decision," said Bruce. "We've all seen handbags before and as far as I could see he deserved the yellow card, and that was enough punishment. Certainly I didn't see him [Hart] put a head in there, I saw them go head to head but not any action like that."

Hart, incensed by Boyd hitting the turf after minimal contact with his trailing leg, squared up to his opponent and the pair were separated by team-mates. The blood was still up on both sides when, with the visitors still 1-0 ahead, Fernandinho's muscular challenge on Boyd in the area went unpunished by Mason.
Vincent Kompany is later sent off. Vincent Kompany is later sent off. Photograph: Jason Cairnduff/Action Images

Earlier, the official dismissed Vincent Kompany, the City captain, for denying Nikica Jelavic a goal-scoring opportunity in a week that included elimination from the Champions League and FA Cup appeared to be taking another turn for the worse. However, City's tendency to make it difficult for themselves– this was their third red card in the past fortnight – did not prove critical as David Silva scored an exquisite opener and crafted the late second for Edin Dzeko.

Asked if this was the best display his team had given this season, Pellegrini said: "I think so. It was a very good response in a very difficult week. We lost against Wigan and Barcelona and we needed to win. Playing with one player less for 80 minutes is very difficult, but I trust in the team and we did very well with the ball and without it."

The lunchtime kick-off provided an opportunity to transfer some of the pressure in the title race back on Chelsea, who began nine points clear but having played three matches more. But their prospects nosedived when Kompany, grappling for possession with Jelavic deep into the visitors' territory, lost his footing and had crucially conceded a yard by the time he regained it.

Fuming that Mason had failed to penalise Jelavic for what he saw as the original infringement, the Belgian kicked the wall on his way down the tunnel.

The portents for an away win were not good: City's previous victory in a league encounter in Hull came on their first visit back in 1909. But having not been given a moment's peace by Hull when it was 11 versus 11, City took the lead four minutes into their numerical disadvantage as Silva exchanged passes with Yaya Touré and clipped a delicious left-foot effort in off the post from 25 yards.

Content to sit back and hit the home team on the break, City were close to doubling their advantage with their only other notable effort of the opening period, when Pablo Zabaleta accepted a deflection into his path and watched as his dipping volley crashed down off the crossbar. Television technology revealed some – but crucially not all – of the ball had crossed the line.

Despite their best endeavours – abetted by Bruce's offensive alterations –Hull could not find their way back into the match. This was the 15th time they had gone behind this season, and their 14th defeat in such circumstances.

Fernandinho and Dzeko squandered opportunities to settle things in the final quarter of the match when through one on one with Allan McGregor. However, Dzeko made no mistake when sent beyond the home backline by a delicate flick of Silva's boot in the final minute.

"Will we ever have a better opportunity to beat them? In the end it became one of those frustrating afternoons," said Bruce.

"Our game plan was out of the window after 10 minutes. We thought we would be playing Manchester City on the counter-attack rather than having the lion's share of possession and them camped in their own half, and we didn't have the quality to break them down."
Teams

Hull City:
McGregor, Rosenior (Fryatt 79mins), Elmohamady, Figueroa (Aluko 45mins), Chester, Davies, Huddlestone, Meyler (Boyd 57mins), Livermore, Jelavic, Long  

Unused subs: Harper, Bruce, Koren, Sagbo   Bookings: Elmohamady 32mins, Boyd 69mins, Rosenior 70mins

Manchester City: Hart, Zabaleta, Kompany (C), Demichelis, Clichy, Garcia, Fernandinho, Toure (Lescott 70mins), Nasri (Navas 80mins), Silva (Kolarov 90mins), Dzeko

Unused subs: Pantilimon, Milner, Rodwell, Negredo    Bookings: Kompany (sent off) 10mins, Zabaleta 54mins, Hart 68mins

Referee: Lee Mason        Att:24,895

FC Barcelona 2  Manchester City 1   Exit Champions League
Wednesday 12th March 2014 : Alan Bremner for GYKO at the Camp Nou

The Champions League is a tough, unforgiving competition and Manchester City, once again, have been consigned to the role of jealous onlooker. This may not be the devastating, pass-the-opposition-to-death Barcelona that bewitched everyone in the Pep Guardiola years – not at the moment anyway – but this game was still a reminder about the brutalities of football at the highest level, and particularly when the opposition includes Lionel Messi.

He tormented City at times. He was everywhere, always wanting the ball, and always knowing the right thing to do with it. Messi chose a good moment to remind everyone there really is no more electrifying sight in football than the four-times Ballon d'Or winner with the ball at his feet, picking up speed and hurdling challenges likes a series of invisible tripwires. It was a blur of speed and movement and the unfortunate truth for Manuel Pellegrini is that, in this company, Joleon Lescott is always likely to give his opponents something.

Lescott was starting to look bewildered by the time he unwittingly played his part in the one goal that really mattered out of the three. It was delivered, off the outside of Messi's left boot, midway through the second half and an air of inevitability descended as soon as the ball reached Joe Hart's net. With City already 2-0 down from the first leg, that was the moment everybody knew the challenge was beyond them.

It was an eccentric finale and the goal Vincent Kompany turned in from close range with a couple of minutes to go was never going to carry any real significance at such a late stage. Even then, however, there was one more indignity for City. Andrés Iniesta set up Dani Alves to fire his shot through a congested penalty area and that was the point virtually half the City team could be seen on their knees or lying flat-out on the turf.

By that stage they were down to 10 men after another refereeing decision that will convince Pellegrini his team suffered badly over the two ties because of poor officiating. City were convinced they should have been awarded a penalty for Gerard Piqué's 78th-minute challenge on the substitute Edin Dzeko but the French referee, Stéphane Lannoy, waved play on and Pablo Zabaleta took his protests so far that he was shown a second yellow card.

City had a reasonable grievance on a night when Pellegrini was already barred from the dugout because of his lacerating post-match comments about the Swedish referee Jonas Eriksson after the first leg. Yet there was more to City's defeat than trying to pin the blame elsewhere.

A team cannot come to the Camp Nou and expect to win unless everyone is at their peak and the unfortunate truth is that this was probably Sergio Agüero's most undistinguished performance in City's colours. While Messi dazzled, Agüero faded away. He tried three passes in the first half and the only one that reached a team-mate was from the kick-off. He did not reappear after half-time and the club said later that he had a hamstring injury. City were much more forceful in attack once Dzeko had replaced him.

Messi versus Lescott was a lop-sided contest. Early in the second half, Messi waltzed past the defender and put his shot against an upright. There had already been other warnings and the next time Lescott showed his vulnerability, unable to intercept Cesc Fábregas's through ball and inadvertently playing the final touch to Messi, it was a gift a player of this quality was not going to pass up.

Barcelona had come into this game after slipping to third in La Liga, on the back of three defeats in their past six games. They had been facing intense criticism in the Catalan media and it was always going to be a case of whether City could score first and bring out any underlying sense of nervousness inside the Camp Nou.

Yet Messi, slaloming past defenders, was a constant menace. Neymar, though a few grades down on his colleague, was another elusive opponent while Xavi Hernández and Iniesta orchestrated proceedings in their midfield positions. Hart had to produce a string of saves to keep the score down.

City could reflect on reasonable chances for David Silva and Samir Nasri in the first half but it was not until Dzeko replaced Agüero that they started to be emboldened, playing with greater adventure. At 0-0, Dzeko's header brought a sprawling one-handed save from Víctor Valdés. Soon afterwards, Pique's saving tackle denied Fernandinho at close range.

Messi, however, always shimmered with danger and his goal snuffed out any worries. Kompany's equaliser came from a corner, applying the final touch to Dzeko's header, despite Barça's protests that at least one player had been offside. The home team had other complaints about a disallowed goal for Neymar in the first half but by the end of the night that was a mere subplot. The real story was of Messi, in full flow, demonstrating to City that they still have some way to go before all that hard ambition and financial power brings them what they want.

Teams                        UEFA Champions League

FC Barcelona:
Valdes, Alves, Alba, Pique, Mascherano, Xavi, Iniesta, Busquets, Fabregas (Roberto 86), Messi, Neymar (Sanchez 80)

Unused subs: Pinto, Song, Pedro, Adriano, Bartra   Bookings: Fabregas

Manchester City: Hart, Zabaleta, Kolarov, Lescott, Kompany, Milner, Fernandinho, Yaya Toure, Silva (Negredo 71), Nasri (Navas 74), Aguero (Dzeko 46)

Unused subs: Pantilimon, Boyata, Garcia, Clichy   Bookings: Fernandinho, Kolarov, Zabaleta (sent off), Kompany

Referee:
Stephane Lannoy           Att:65,000

Manchester City 1 Wigan Athletic 2  Out-fought, Out-thought, and Out
Sunday 9th March 2014 : GYKO suffering at the Etihad

All the billions in the world and Manchester City still cannot rid themselves of the most persistent thorn in their side. Once again, against all the odds, against all available logic, Wigan Athletic have stunned City in the FA Cup. A Wembley semi-final against Arsenal is theirs and the trophy is still theirs. The holders are still standing. How do they do it? Wigan, bloody hell.

Last year it was the final and Ben Watson's crazy last-minute winner. That was the greatest day in their history, but this was just as remarkable. This time it was a quarter-final at Fortress Etihad where no one, probably not even Wigan, truly expected lightning to strike twice. Yet goals in either half from Jordi Gómez and James Perch inspired them and then, in the face of a relentless City onslaught, they simply would not budge, throwing heart, body and soul in the way of a ball which seemed destined for their net on several occasions. For their manager, Uwe Rösler, a former City striker, it is undoubtedly the greatest result of his career.

As for City, a domestic treble is off the cards and they must haul themselves off the floor quickly with the second leg of their last-16 Champions League tie against Barcelona on Wednesday. Although they believe they can overhaul their 2-0 deficit, they cannot afford to be as lethargic as this at Camp Nou, and the time is surely approaching when Manuel Pellegrini's faith in Martín Demichelis wavers. The Argentinian remains a danger to his own team, clumsily conceding the penalty which allowed Gómez to put Wigan ahead, and it was clear that City's audibly frustrated fans do not trust him.

City can have no excuses. The visit of a Championship side would not normally send a shiver down their spine but they knew that Wigan were underdogs who would snap at their heels and that they possessed a potent bite if they were not kept on a firm leash. It is 10 months since they lost to the Latics in last season's final, something that the visiting supporters were intent on reminding everyone. That said, they could not be too afraid of Wigan given that they beat them 5-0 in the third round of the Capital One Cup in September; yet City played with the sluggishness of a side that was still recovering from beating Sunderland in the final of that competition last Sunday.

Not to take anything away from Wigan. This was an emotional afternoon for Rösler, who replaced Owen Coyle in December. The German spent four years at City in the mid-90s, named one of his sons Colin after Colin Bell and was inducted into the club's Hall of Fame by supporters. Rösler's challenge was not only to drag every last drop of sweat out of a team that was playing their 52nd match of the season because of their Europa League commitments but also not to be overcome by the emotion of the occasion.

Judging by the fearless way Wigan went about their task, there was no danger of that happening. Rösler caught City by surprise by setting Wigan up in a 5-3-2 formation that allowed them to squeeze space and dominate Yaya Touré in midfield.

For a club of City's vast resources, it is staggering that they are forced to rely on a player who always looks to be on the verge of calamity and it was hardly a surprise that Demichelis was at fault when Wigan took the lead after 28 minutes. Rolled far too easily by Marc-Antoine Fortuné, Demichelis compounded his error by standing on the striker's foot. In the absence of the injured Watson, Gómez converted the penalty.

It was happening again, but surely Wigan could not have dreamt that they would double their lead a minute into the second half. Once again, City's defending was clownish. James McArthur drove into the area on the left and pulled a low cross towards the far post, where the horribly timid Gaël Clichy allowed Perch to bundle the ball past Costel Pantilimon.

City had been woeful, their anger at their own inertia summed up when Samir Nasri received a booking for dissent, and they did not have a shot on target until the 66th minute.

However, Pellegrini, who made six changes from the win over Sunderland, responded by making three substitutions after 53 minutes and Nasri restored hope when his belting shot from the edge of the area went through the bodies and into the bottom left corner after 67 minutes. The goal stood even though Joleon Lescott was offside and arguably blocking Scott Carson's view.

Nonetheless there were 23 minutes left for Wigan to hold on and soon Micah Richards was curling a shot inches wide. Then, with 10 minutes left, Emmerson Boyce extraordinarily turned James Milner's cross over his own bar with Edin Dzeko waiting to tap home. A minute later, Carson saved from Sergio Agüero. Then, as Carson stood still, Dzeko headed wide.

Surely Wigan could not hold on. Surely City would score a second, then a third. But that's what we thought last May.

 Att:46,824
FA Cup with Budweiser

Referee:
Anthony Taylor
Teams
Manchester City:

Pantilimon, Richards, Demichelis, Lescott, Clichy, Navas (Milner 53), Yaya Toure (Silva 53), Garcia, Nasri, Negredo (Dzeko 53), Aguero

Unused subs:
Hart, Kompany, Kolarov, Rodwell

Bookings:
Nasri, Yaya Toure, Milner
Wigan Athletic:

Carson, Perch, Crainey, McEachran Espinoza 67), Ramis, McCann, McManaman (McClean 58), McArthur, Boyce, Gomez, Fortune

Unused subs:
Al-Habsi, Rogne, Holgersson, Maynard, Barnett

Bookings:
Barnett, Boyce

Manchester City 3 Sunderland 1     Wembley Wonder Strikes
Sunday 2nd March 2014 : GYKO at Wembley          Capital One Cup Final

You've got to hand it to English football. As superheated, financially-stupefied spectacles go, it can still pull off a grand sense of cup final occasion. On the face of it the story of Manchester City's triumph here in the Capital One Cup final – team spends inconceivable amounts of money: team wins minor domestic trophy – might look like another routine exercise in the over-dog domination of English football's gold rush years. Just as in outline it might be hard to detect the romance in a disjointed but still somehow inevitable victory for a club not so much bankrolled as gullet-fed by the fossil fuel illuminati of Abu Dhabi. But then, this is a sport and a sporting culture that refuses to be suffocated. Days like these, for all the broader hierarchy of interests, are still about the fans, and City's boisterous, full-throated Wembley support celebrated here like an island full of shipwrecked men who have just spied a sail on the horizon.

City were always likely to win this final, the cutting edge in that stellar attacking midfield just too much even in a patchy performance against opponents who were for long periods the better team. And yet despite the sense of inevitability about the result this was still a brilliantly entertaining final, an occasion memorable for the sense of unaffected excitement among both sets of fans.

Football has done its best to suck the joy out of these occasions both in terms of staging and broader priorities. But as Vincent Kompany lifted the trophy to the strains of a wretchedly intrusive PA system, the air filled with sky blue streamers in a further nod to the usual nannied euphoria, there was still something unbound and gloriously incredulous in the reaction of City's fans and players who, for all their pedigree, honoured this competition by giving everything on the pitch and celebrating wildly in victory.

It seems safe to say City's owners have not invested £1bn in the club's redevelopment in order to see their team edge past Sunderland on a drizzly afternoon in early March. Given the choice the club's hierarchy would no doubt swap a cup win here for victory in the Champions League last-16 tie against Barcelona and the promise of a more worldly kind of progress. Not City's fans, though, for whom, as for all supporters, football is a game marked out by moments such as these, and for whom this was a day of almost rather subversive old-school glory.

Hours before kick-off Wembley had been transformed into a crush of fevered blue, red and white. Such is the magic of the cup, any cup, even one subjected as here to a slightly bizarre pre-match routine featuring giant flag-carrying zeppelins – "Ladeeezzz and gentleman pleazzz show your appreciation for … your club's crest!" – and a strange interlude with a floating spandex-clad gymnast performing an overwrought modern dance routine with the trophy itself, as though overcome by its wondrous mystical powers. Have a little faith, Wembley, you felt like saying. It's football. We're already excited.

As the match kicked off to an ear-tingling crackle of noise around this refurbished steel and concrete megadome Lee Cattermole and Jack Colback set about the task of stifling City's midfield, which they did with some success. In fact Sunderland were excellent throughout, with Cattermole, Colback and Ki Sung-yueng uncowed in midfield against a dauntingly strong City team.

Sunderland's opening goal after 10 minutes was exhilarating, Fabio Borini's finish with the outside of his right foot a superbly executed moment of craft. And so the match settled into an unexpected rhythm of energetic Sunderland pressing and some strangely meandering City possession, matched in the Wembley stands by a peculiar sense of foreboding among their supporters.

On the touchline Manuel Pellegrini mooched and pointed vaguely, while Gus Poyet was his usual frantic air-throttling self, a man who has to fold his arms across his chest simply to stop them jangling about like the wings of a particularly agitated carved wooden woodpecker.

And yet football is a game where enough thickly ladled talent will always make the difference. Yaya Touré had barely figured in the opening 55 minutes but it took a single perfectly calibrated swing of his right foot to alter completely the gravity of this match, the ball dipping perfectly into the far top corner. Moments later a goal kick, three touches by Sergio Agüero, a cross from Aleksandar Kolarov and Samir Nasri had sent the ball whiffling first time into the far corner. And suddenly the stadium had been tipped on its side, the noise and ceaseless movement of the red half now sloshed down decisively into the blue end as victory was capped by Jesús Navas's late third goal.

Afterwards Pellegrini, for whom this was a first piece of silverware since Intertoto Cup glory with Villarreal in 2004, was his usual inscrutable self, confirming his belief above all in the wider project and all the rest of it. Somehow it wasn't quite the moment for that. For all the broader textural changes in English football, you really can't – try as you might – kill the spirit, and this felt like a significant moment both for City's fans who saw their team win this trophy for the first time since 1976, and for the broader sense of undampened life in a genuinely stirring domestic occasion.

Teams

Manchester City: Pantilimon, Zabaleta, Kompany (C), Demichelis, Kolarov, Nasri, Toure, Fernandinho, Silva (Garcia 76), Aguero (Navas 57), Dzeko (Negredo 87)   Unused subs:  Hart, Clichy, Lescott, Milner

Sunderland: Mannone, Bardsley, Alonso, O'Shea (c), Brown, Cattermole (Giaccherini 76), Colback, Ki, Larsson (Fletcher 60), Johnson (Gardner 60), Borini    Unused subs: Ustari, Gardner, Fletcher, Celustka, Vergini, Scocco   Bookings: Alonso 81

Referee: Martin Atkinson          Att:84,697

 

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