x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

City end long trophy drought with FA Cup final triumph

The Abu Dhabi-owned club win their first piece of silverware in 35 years by beating Stoke City 1-0 in the FA Cup final.

Yaya Toure of Manchester City, right, celebrates with Mario Balotelli after scoring the match-winner in the FA Cup final.
Yaya Toure of Manchester City, right, celebrates with Mario Balotelli after scoring the match-winner in the FA Cup final.

Manchester City defender Micah Richards insists his side's FA Cup final victory over Stoke City will herald the start of a glorious era at Eastlands.

While Manchester United's Premier League title triumph at Blackburn a few hours earlier stole some of the spotlight from City's first major trophy in 35 years, Richards is convinced Roberto Mancini's side are on the verge of emulating the dominance of their bitter local rivals.

With the financial backing of Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed, Richards believes City will sign more star players before next season to build on a Cup final success secured by Yaya Toure's 74th minute winner at Wembley.

"It's unbelievable. Words can't describe it. We've worked hard all season and we've won it. I can't believe it," Richards said.

"This is just the start. This is the first trophy and this is the most important one. We will build from this. We will buy in the summer. These are exciting times."

City's victory also provided a tantalising glimpse of better things to come from Mario Balotelli, who delivered a hard-working display and then admitted he has finally realised he has to be less selfish after a troubled first season in English football.

After several tantrums and tear-ups over the last nine months, Balotelli's mature performance will encourage Mancini to believe his substantial investment in the young Italian striker can still pay off.

"I feel good. I said before the game that we are better than them. We have to respect them because they are a good team but if we give everything we will win," Balotelli said. "I said all the time that my season wasn't good. I played not very good. Today I played more for the team, this is important. Every player at this club has quality and I want to give my quality for the team."

Mancini's expensively-assembled side had dominated the first half without reward, with Thomas Sorensen saving brilliantly from Balotelli and David Silva missing the target from close range.

Stoke's best chance fell to Kenwyne Jones in the 61st minute but the striker was denied by City goalkeeper Joe Hart.

Tony Pulis's side piled forward in the closing minutes, but City's defence held firm and the final whistle was greeted by a roar of relief from the blue half of Wembley Stadium.

City's triumph came on the same day as cross-city rival Manchester United won their 19th English league title, but that was far from the minds of the City fans, some of whom shed tears as they celebrated a first trophy since the 1976 League Cup, and a fifth FA Cup win.

Stoke was playing in the FA Cup final for the first time in their 148-year history and the team's supporters were in fine voice as they sang the club's unofficial anthem, Tom Jones' Delilah, ahead of kick-off.

Earlier Carlos Tevez gave City a lift by returning to the starting line-up. The Argentina striker proved his fitness in midweek after a hamstring injury by stepping off the bench in the win over Tottenham.

There was also good news for Stoke, with both Matthew Etherington and Robert Huth in the team after hamstring and knee injuries respectively.

Stoke manager Tony Pulis decided to stick with Sorensen, who has been a regular in cup games under the bar. Asmir Begovic, recognised as the number one, was not on the bench with Carlo Nash acting as back-up.

Sorensen was called into action after five minutes and reacted superbly to beat away a shot from Tevez after the ball after come off Stoke full-back Andy Wilkinson.

City maintained the momentum and Balotelli found space, only to see his effort blocked by Ryan Shawcross.

There was a scare for Stoke in the 10th minute when club skipper Shawcross almost deflected a cross from Aleksandar Kolarov into his own net.

A minute later a 30-yard thunderbolt from Yaya Toure whistled inches past the post.

Then Balotelli was left grounded after a challenge from Huth with the defender appearing to throw an elbow.

It was lively start by Roberto Mancini's side but Stoke launched a swift counter attack in the 22nd minute only for Vincent Kompany to block a shot from Kenwyne Jones.

Two minutes later Sorensen kept his side on level terms by somehow palming away Balotelli's effort after he was set up by Toure.

Stoke found themselves on the back foot in the 31st minute when Kompany surged forward and tested Sorensen from distance.

Manchester City should have taken the lead four minutes later after Tevez released Balotelli with a wonderful ball over the top.

Balotelli got only the slightest of touches and Sorensen cleared, but only as far as David Silva and it seemed he must score.

However, the Spanish forward hit the ball down into the ground and over the bar.

It was a clear chance and Stoke responded with Jermaine Pennant finding Jones but he failed to test goalkeeper Joe Hart, his effort going nearer the corner flag than the goal.

Huth was then booked for a shuddering challenge on Micah Richards, who was left wincing on the floor.

This was a difficult spell for Stoke, who were finding themselves continually pegged back.

Nigel de Jong blasted a shot wide and then Kolarov was wasteful as Manchester City tried to turn the screw before half-time but without success.