MANCHESTER // Roberto Mancini said Manchester City will enjoy the cup final they have craved all season when they face Tottenham on Wednesday. There will be no trophy at stake, but the prize of a place in the Champions League should more than make up for it. After ending the top four hopes of Aston Villa yesterday, City want to do the same to Spurs, who are one point ahead with two games left. "It's a final. We wanted one final this year and now we have it," said Mancini. "It will be another difficult game, Tottenham are as strong as Aston Villa. It's a big game, maybe the most important in the last year and we want to win."
City will need the same character they showed against Villa. A goal behind to John Carew's 16th-minute opener, they did not wilt under the pressure. Their fortunes changed two minutes before the break when, first, Adam Johnson was tripped by Stephen Warnock as he swept past him in the penalty area. The Villa left-back had escaped one penalty appeal when a fierce drive from Carlos Tevez struck his arm. This time there was no doubt. Tevez stepped up and his low finish crept under the dive of Brad Friedel for his 29th goal of the campaign.
Villa went immediately on to the attack and Carew struck the bar. Seconds later City went ahead. Patrick Vieira, in commanding form reminiscent of his pomp at Arsenal, found Johnson in the box who, cleverly, he back-heeled the ball to create space and waited patiently to pick out Emmanuel Adebayor, who squeezed his shot into the net. Mancini praised the providers. "Patrick played a fantastic game," he said. "For him, he deserved this. Adam Johnson is young, but next year he will be an important player for us and for the national team probably.
"But I want to say thank you to all the players. They continue to play football and this is important." Mancini again played down the suggestion that missing out on the Champions League would mean the end for him at the Eastlands helm. "It's not important for me, it's important the squad win the next game and get the fourth position," he said. "I do this job because I enjoy being a manager and enjoy football."
Martin O'Neill, the Villa manager, was also coy about his own future. He confirmed he will have talks with Randy Lerner, the chairman, before next week's final game of the season. "I will sit down with him and discuss all aspects about the season. If it's like he was telling me a couple of weeks ago, he's been immensely proud of the team." So too was O'Neill, but just disappointed Villa did not build on their great start when Carew blasted under the body of Marton Fulop.
Picking the ball out of the net was not the first impression the debutant keeper wanted to make after signing on an emergency loan deal from Sunderland. Fulop was anxious and relieved to see 20-yard drives from Stewart Downing and James Milner fly inches wide. Mancini admitted: "For Fulop it was difficult. He was so nervous in the first half, but in the second half he was very, very good. I hope the next game it will be quiet."
At the other end, Friedel made a good save from Craig Bellamy's curling effort. But the American could do nothing about the 89th-minute strike that settled a tense encounter. Fulop started the move with a long throw to Shaun Wright-Phillips on the left. He left Carlos Cuellar in his wake before feeding Bellamy for a cool finish. It set City up for Spurs, but left Villa deflated. O'Neill said they will look to follow the example of Manchester United.
"You take great delight in winning championships and then putting it aside and the season starts and you go again the next year. That has to be the attitude we follow," he added. "You have to have that desire to go back again." firstname.lastname@example.org