Whatever your thoughts on the current state of the Champions League, it was seen for so long as the Holy Grail for Manchester City fans. Throughout 2008-09, the year that Sheikh Mansour first invested into the club, the long-term thoughts were on the top level of European competition. The following year – 2009-10 – City were a couple of points off achieving their goal, as Tottenham won 1-0 at the Etihad, with a Peter Crouch winner late on.
It left a sense of deflation throughout the stands. The feeling around the outside of the stadium at full time was one of devastation. After what was the penultimate match of the campaign, the season was over – City couldn’t do anything other than finish fifth. It was a marked improvement on the year before, but with Spurs celebrating Champions League qualification in the away end it left a bitter taste in the mouth.
That was in May 2010. There was a sense of poetry about Tottenham’s visit to the Etihad in May 2011 – when it was a 1-0 home win that qualified the Blues for the Champions League at the expense of the away instead. In a complete role reversal, Crouch scored the decisive goal again and at the same end of the stadium. Though this time, he slotted it past his own goalkeeper.
It’s one of the few times the Etihad’s stadium announcer has told those in the stands who has put the ball through their own goal.
There was big news before the match. Tottenham had been struggling for a few weeks with their new goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes, following a number of high-profile errors that had led to Spurs conceding. Joe Hart was surprised, being caught on the club’s own Tunnel Cam turning to fellow goalkeeper Stuart Taylor and saying: “Yeah, he’s [Harry Redknapp] dropped him.” Carlo Cudicini started between the posts for the visitors.
He was quickly called into action. Joleon Lescott brought the ball forward for the home side, before lifting it up to Edin Dzeko up front. The Bosnian flicked it on to David Silva, running in behind. The Spaniard drove it back to the striker, but the goalkeeper, using his legs, blocked his first time shot.
The visitors responded through Luka Modric. He tried to take advantage of a slip by Vincent Kompany, but his first time shot – with Joe Hart completely unsighted – flashed wide of the post, as the away side broke quickly.
A short corner between James Milner and Adam Johnson then earned the home side the advantage. After a quick return from Johnson, Milner carried the ball into the box and drove in a low cross. In an attempt to force the ball clear, Crouch turned it past his own goalkeeper on the half hour.
Early in the second half, Hart produced one of the saves of the season. The visitors – clearly having had a rocket from their manager at the break – started much the brighter, and Aaron Lennon broke clear at the back post. He crossed to the far side, where Modric was completely unmarked, and the Croatian headed back across goal. Hart used his feet well, changed direction to dive and managed to flick the ball wide – with Lescott on hand to complete the clearance.
There was soon the return to action for Carlos Tevez to give the Blues a lift. The Argentine striker had been missing since leaving the 3-0 defeat at Anfield early with a hamstring problem almost a month earlier. The forward was quickly into the action, linking up with Dzeko to set Patrick Vieira through – though the veteran’s dink over Cudicini was superbly headed off the line.
The very last action of the tie saw Tevez almost return with a goal. A long clearance by Lescott bounced over the defence and the Argentine was clean through. He wasn’t quick enough to get there to shoot, but he kept possession, dodged two challenges and fired an effort away – Cudicini parried it.
It left City guaranteed to finish in the top four and Tottenham guaranteed to finish below. You can watch the highlights of the match here.
After the match, City manager Roberto Mancini was delighted:
“It was a difficult game and it was a difficult result because Tottenham is a strong team. We played very well in the first half, but the game was open until the end. We are happy because now we’ve got the fourth position and we will see in the next two games if it’s possible to get the third position. This was our target when we started the season and it was very difficult because there were five or six teams that are very, very strong – but I think we deserve to do this.”
Meanwhile, captain Vincent Kompany called it a milestone:
“Everybody’s happy. I don’t think people will imagine how far we’ve come from – it takes a lot to catch up on those Premier League teams. There are teams that have been in the top four for a long time and we’re there now. From this stage on, we can build next season and maybe even go on to challenge for the title.”
And Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp was disappointed:
“It wasn’t that tough, I thought we played very, very, very well. I thought for an away team, we controlled the game for long periods. We had an awful lot of the ball and played really well tonight. I was delighted with the players.”
City: Hart, Richards, Kompany, Lescott, Zabaleta (Kolarov 57), Milner, Johnson (Vieira 66), Silva (Tevez 83), De Jong, Y Toure, Dzeko
Unused: Given, Boyata, Wright-Phillips, Balotelli
Joe Hart in particular may have been dancing along to the Number One song this week in the dressing room, but the whole team may also have been celebrating with a shuffle. Top of the chart when this game was played was LMFAO (ft. Lauren Bennett, GoonRock) with their unforgettable hit Party Rock Anthem.
Anybody who fancied celebrating the win could have caught the fourth film in the Pirates of the Caribbean series this week – as Johnny Depp reprised his role of Captain Jack Sparrow for On Stranger Tides.
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Written by David Mooney.