When City skipper Mike Doyle proudly lifted the League Cup at Wembley on the last day of February in 1976, it meant so much to Tony Book’s Sky Blue Army.
Little did they know it would take another 35 years before they celebrated any Cup success of any significance.
If Vincent Kompany were to follow the example of the sadly-departed ‘Doyley’ on March 2nd , it will doubtless be rapturously received by the City fans… but only as an hors d’oeuvre.
The ‘mains’ of the Premier League title and – if we allow ourselves an excursion into la-la land – the Champions League, should still be on the menu if Manuel Pellegrini lands his first piece of English silverware before spring is sprung.
The bitter irony of City’s 2-1 win over Newcastle, when the League Cup was the League Cup before sponsorship intervention, was that it was so nearly a pre-cursor of greater things – a case of so near yet so far.
Had Manchester United’s Martin Buchan not effectively ended Colin Bell’s glittering career as City walloped the Reds 4-0 en-route to Wembley, ‘Colin The King’ would have been central to a First Division winning Manchester City side in 1976-77.
Without their talisman, City were edged out by a vintage Liverpool team who edged the title by a point, before Bob Paisley’s team went on to win the European Cup with the likes of Kevin Keegan, Tommy Smith and Steve Heighway.
A fully fit Colin Bell would have been worth a bundle of points and City’s history would have taken a totally different direction.
If the modern day City side can navigate their way past Sam Allardyce’s presently hapless Hammers, they would be hot favourites to reclaim a trophy that has a nostalgic place in the hearts of older supporters of the club.
The clumsily re-titled Capital One Cup, is now a poor fourth on the season’s shopping list, but Pellegrini made it clear at the outset last August, he wants to win everything.
It’s to be hoped it’s a case of third time lucky after City’s recent flirtations with League Cup glory, before succumbing to aggregate semi-final defeats of 4-3 against Manure in 2009/10 and, more latterly, 3-2 against Liverpool in 2011/12.
On face value City should hammer the Hammers at Fortress Etihad and put the tie beyond West Ham’s reach in the return leg on January 21st. Of course, City and ‘cup certainties’ don’t exactly go hand in glove.
Saturday’s disappointing draw at Blackburn is but a tame example when compared with City’s last sortie down Wembley Way – the nigh on unbelievable FA Cup Final defeat to Wigan in May.
Team selection will be the main pre-match talking points for both sides. In the face of chronic fixture congestion, Manuel Pellegrini’s astute and measured rotation policy, is perfectly logical and understandable to the vast majority of City’s support.
The same cannot be said of Allardyce’s lamentable selection of a virtual youth team, who were unceremoniously dumped out of the FA Cup 5-0, by Nottingham Forest’s ‘tree-fellers’ – well, more like 13 or 14 if you include the subs!
So that’s sorted, City will win 12-0 and the second leg will be a total non-event…I wish!
Even with a team boasting some of the finest players in the world and an impeccable home record, City cannot afford to be complacent – not for a second.
West Ham have already pulled off two unexpected away wins at Spurs this season – never City’s happiest of hunting grounds – and Allardyce is not the benighted buffoon some of the media would have you believe at present.
Yes, City should win and by a decent margin, but it would be foolish in the extreme to under estimate a fellow Premier League team branded as clear underdogs…just ask 3G – David Moyes – over at Old Trafford, or as it is now known, the ‘Theatre of Screams’.
Both teams will show substantial changes in personnel to the teams fielded in the FA Cup ties against Championship opposition, the difference being City still have a chance to progress.
Welcome news for City is that Martin Demichelis is definitely back in the squad but the tie has come too early for back-in-training duo Micah Richards and Sergio Aguero.
A noticeable absentee will be Jesus Navas with a knock to his knee.The diminutive Spanish winger has grown in stature as the season has progressed and his speed, directness and energy will be a loss.
Stevan Jovetic – a man seemingly with a lot to prove in the eyes of his manager, as well as the City fans, is still absent but believed to be on the verge of a return to first team contention. His will be a welcome return as he tries to give City some positive return on the £22m outlay to Fiorentina last summer.
West Ham are tentatively pencilling in a January return for injured striker Andy Carroll, who has yet to kick a ball in anger since making his £15m permanent switch to Upton Park. He will be absent at the Etihad but could figure in the 2nd Leg.
The Hammers will be trying to become only the second team to ever beat City at home in a League Cup semi-final, Liverpool having achieved the feat in both 1981 and 2012.
With City ready to field their big guns of Hart, Zabaleta, Kompany, Yaya and Nasri from kick-off, in addition to Silva and Negredo who started at Ewood Park, Pellegrini will be looking to effectively render the return a ‘dead rubber’ by running up a three or four goal advantage.
It’s well within City’s free-scoring capabilities and would be a big bonus in light of the vital Premier League fixtures against Cardiff and Newcastle, as well as one, potentially two, FA Cup ties this month.
Hopefully it’ll be ‘Hammer time’ and City’s superiority will be such that Pellegrini will turn to Allardyce at the final whistle and simply say ‘You can’t touch this!’
By David Walker