Yaya Toure fires home the winning goal, past Thomas Sorensen
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Manchester City ended their 35-year wait for a trophy with a well-earned 1-0 victory over Stoke City in the FA Cup final at Wembley.
Yaya Toure was again the hero, the gangly Ivorian replicating his decisive goal in the semi-final against Manchester United at the same stadium with a powerfully-struck shot from 12 yards that left Thomas Sorensen with no chance.
The opportunity came after good build-up work from David Silva and Mario Balotelli – whose deflected shot ultimately fell perfectly into Toure’s path for the defining moment of the match midway through the second half.
Stoke, meanwhile, failed to replicate the dominant performance they conjured against Bolton in the semi-final, as they were generally out-fought and out-thought by Roberto Mancini’s side, who in truth had a number of opportunities to win the game before they made the crucial breakthrough.
On the same day rivals Manchester United clinched their 19th league title, City reached their own milestone after an entertaining game in North London, ensuring the 1976 League Cup is no longer their most recent piece of silverware.
There were some surprises even before kick-off, as Man City manager Roberto Mancini opted to start both Carlos Tevez and Mario Balotelli, while Tony Pulis selected Matthew Etherington and Robert Huth despite their own injury doubts.
They were decisions that paid off for one manager more than the other – as Etherington looked off the pace throughout, while Huth was perhaps lucky to avoid punishment from the referee after some dubious challenges.
It was Man City who started the game the brighter, with Tevez testing Sorensen after barely five minutes – cutting inside his defender and firing a powerful effort from 25 yards that the unsighted ‘keeper did well to deal with.
Mancini’s side continued to press, helped in that respect as Stoke’s wingers were pegged back by full-backs Alexandr Kolarov and Micah Richards – who both bombed forward with regularity. Kolarov nearly made an impact after just ten minutes, as his low cross was almost poked home at the near post by Ryan Shawcross, before Toure swerved a rasping shot only inches wide from all of 35 yards.
Then there was a moment of controversy, as Robert Huth appeared to elbow Mario Balotelli across the face as the Italian attempted to run into the box. Fortunately for the German the referee did not see the incident, although Huth would eventually pick up a yellow card before half-time after a mis-timed challenge on Richards.
City had an escape of their own shortly after, as Vincent Kompany accidently handled the ball inside his own box after a flick from Kenwyne Jones, but overcame that stumble quickly to continue their dominance.
Balotelli soon had Sorensen at full stretch with a beautifully curled right-footer that the Dane did exceptionally well to tip wide, before running onto a clipped through ball from Tevez that he miscontrolled into the path of Silva – who volleyed into the ground and over the bar from six yards, with Sorensen drawn agonisingly out of position.
David Silva was frustrated on a number of occasions
The second half saw a slight shift in momentum, with Stoke playing with a bit more poise and purpose. But City again created the greater openings, with Silva squandering a glorious opportunity after Tevez had drawn two defenders and played the Spaniard clean through.
Stoke didn’t have to wait long to create their own gilt-edged chance, however, after Jones used his strength to bundle Joleon Lescott out of the way. But goalkeeper Joe Hart came to the rescue, rushing out and deflecting Jones’ prodded shot away off his thigh to ensure they didn’t concede a goal against the run of play.
That save would prove even more important 10 minutes later, as City finally broke the deadlock. It was Balotelli and Silva at the heart of the move, the two combining with a one-two inside the box to give the Italian space to get a shot off.
That muffled effort only deflected off Shawcross into the path of fellow defender Marc Wilson, who could not scramble it away – leaving Toure to run on and lash home as emphatic a finish as you could ever hope to see.
Stoke made changes in pursuit of the equaliser they needed – with John Carew the main attacking option introduced – but City still had the better of the chances, with Silva seeing one attempt blocked and another well parried by Sorensen.
In the end all there was for City to do was see out the match – and that they did, albeit with a few nervous moments as Stoke pumped in a couple of late corners.
The final whistle was greated with delight from the club’s travelling support, as well it might. After all, it signified so much – ending the club’s long wait for a trophy, ensuring rivals United will have to pull down the banner that hangs at Old Trafford and perhaps, just perhaps, ushering in a new era of success for a club most certainly on the up.