A Manchester City fan goes up the bar of The Green Man pub at Wembley on 11th May 2013. The barman greets him with a welcoming smile and asks: “The usual sir?”
It’s typical City humour, but borne of substance, with five Wembley outings in 24 months come FA Cup Final day. And, if all goes to plan, it’ll be half-a-dozen trips by August for the traditional new season Community Shield curtain-raiser.
City booked their second final in three years in a sizzling, high octane display of all that is right about English football.
Less than 24-hours after so called Millwall ‘fans’ tried to propel our national game back into the dark ages, City and Chelsea served up a sumptuous feast of finest football fare.
The game of champions – England’s versus Europe’s – set off at a giddying pace and never eased off the accelerator, until referee Chris Foy called time in the 95th minute.
For the neutrals it was end-to-end thrill-a-minute entertainment. For the followers of the Blues – be they Sky or Royal – it was a riveting rollercoaster of twists and turns, exhilarating and exasperating in equal measure.
City began the match where they’d left off at The Swamp on Monday night, save for two high profile changes to the starting line-up. Merlin Silva had failed to conjure up full fitness and Roberto Mancini made the brave, laudable, but nonetheless, slightly worrying choice of Costel Pantilimon over Joe Hart in goal.
The giant Romanian keeper had kept clean sheets in the previous four rounds of the Cup, but was it right to play a man, acknowledged by all and sundry as City’s second string keeper?
You bet it was. The slim, 6ft 8” reserve played a blinder in the second half to help secure City’s, and presumably his, place in the Final.
Sergio Aguero started in place of Silva and added to his immaculate MCFC CV in front of the adoring City fans.
Mancini went head-to-head with a very tactically astute Rafa Benitez – just days after outwitting the ageing Glaswegian Knight of the Realm at Swampsville Towers – and won the day…again.
And yet it was Samir Nasri – the polar opposite of the City support’s affections after the 3-2 Manchester derby reversal last December – who got the party started.
Nasri has undergone a metamorphosis in recent weeks and is now a classy creative force in the attacking midfield stakes. He dug out City’s 35th minute lead after the juggernaut that is Yaya Toure, careered down the field, using Aguero as a conduit to the Frenchman.
The ball bobbled and ricocheted to Nasri who finished off the move with aplomb, scooping the ball over Cech into the net.
Thoroughly merited, City took a 1-0 lead in at half time. Within two minutes of the restart, City had doubled their deserved advantage.
Unsung hero, Gareth Barry slung in a cross from 30 yards outside the Chelsea box, Aguero peeled off away from Ivanovic and put a perfect arcing header beyond Petr Cech. The ball seemed to hang for an eternity in mid air before politely entering the Czech keeper’s gaping goal.
Hungry for more, Yaya bulldozed forward with great spectacle but to no avail. Kompany sent a sizzling Belgian ballistic missile fizzing over the bar as Chelsea wobbled, but didn’t wilt.
City were running the show until a flash of acrobatic Demba Ba brilliance brought the Londoners back into the reckoning. The Senegal hitman connected with a long David Luiz punt into the penalty area, swivelling on his left peg and firing a superb shot past a flaying Pantilimon.
Seconds later it was panic stations in the City defence with Juan Mata thwarted by the rangy Romanian keeper. Pantilimon then produced a wonderful instinctive block from the ever dangerous Ba as City’s defence began to rock.
As Chelsea upped their game, substitute Fernando Torres – masquerading as Zoro or The Phantom of the Opera in a natty little mask – couldn’t find a way past the Transylvanian shot stopper.
Javi Garcia came on in place of Carlos Tevez and soon helped plug the gap that had seen wave after wave of Chelsea attacks since the hour mark.
There was a tasty coming together of Belgians – both hard and soft centres – as Kompany clattered the less than troublesome Hazard with a not so subtle bodycheck.
City were now reduced to hitting Chelsea on the break and,with the pressure mounting, Kompany leading his braves in stoical resistance.
The all action 81st Airborne Aguero Assault Team were present, crashing down on the despicable David Luiz in a two-footed lunge – but Sergio subsequently cleared of all crimes
In the 85th minute later Fernando Torres exacted revenge for Luiz, running his studs down the back of Sergio’s ankle, in a painful episode with malice aplenty. Once again Referee Foy saw nothing untoward! With time running down Lescott came on to shore up the backline and it was au revoir Nasri.
Kompany was a shade fortunate to get away with a sneaky pull of Torres’ shirt and a potential penalty in the dying seconds, but City were there – a third win over Chelsea this season.
Yaya was awarded Man of the Match laurels, but they should have been shared in equal measure with the gut-busting efforts of Gareth Barry.
Blue Moon echoed around Wembley, inflatable bananas quivered in a sea of sky blue scarves and City were installed as 1/7 odds on to beat Wigan in the FA Cup Final.
Putting aside that glorious Division Two Play-Off Final of 1999, you have to go back to 1981 for City’s last meaningful Wembley appearance, prior to the arrival of Mancini.
If City play to their potential it will be Mancini’s third major domestic trophy in three seasons…and yet his job remains the focus of massive media conjecture – WHY?
Has anyone heard a crescendo of miscontent at the Etihad calling for Roberto to go? Does the vociferous ‘hardcore’ away support hurl abuse at the City boss at Premier League venues up and down the country? Do City fanzines and forums make snide remarks or perpetuate pernicious rants against the manager?
The answers are NO, NO and NO. So why doesn’t the press and the pundits (most of who don’t know if they’re having a sh*t, shave or a haircut at the best of times) just shut the *#@! up!
In the last seven days Mancini has deployed the personnel and the game plans to defeat the Champions Elect on their own patch and the European Champions in their home city.
Read But Never Red readers will know of the fulsome backing for Mancini via this website, and that’s not changing anytime soon. However, another failure to stay in the Champions League beyond Christmas next season and the picture could be totally different.
As it stands, it’s very much FORZA MANCINI.