x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Tottenham's Crouch ushers Man City into Champions League

An own goal means a passage to Europe's premier club competition has been secured foe the first time in 43 years and now the FA Cup final beckons.

Manchester City's Joleon Lescott wins the aerial battle from Peter Crouch.
Manchester City's Joleon Lescott wins the aerial battle from Peter Crouch.

Manchester City 1 // Tottenham Hotspur 0

One down, one to go.

Roberto Mancini described yesterday as the beginning of an incredible five days for Manchester City, and this goes down as an auspicious start.

The FA Cup final beckons for City and they travel to Wembley safe in the knowledge that the season’s premier objective has been accomplished. For the first time in 43 years, they will compete in Europe’s premier club competition.

Fourth place, at the least, will be theirs and a play-off to reach the group stages of the Champions League will be avoided if they can overhaul Arsenal and finish third.

As it is, they have put paid to the ambitions of one side from North London.

Twelve months ago, Tottenham won at Eastlands to seal a fourth-place finish that led, indirectly, to famous meetings with Inter, AC Milan and Real Madrid.

If this constituted revenge for City, it was more than that: it was their ticket to that privileged party.

A year has made a difference for them; for one man, in particular, it is a stark reversal of fortunes.

By an uncanny coincidence, Peter Crouch scored Spurs’ winner at Eastlands in May 2010 and, rather less deliberately, City’s decider in the corresponding fixture last night.

His own goal was sufficient for Mancini’s men. They have had bigger wins, but none with such significance. It was determined in unusual fashion.

After a well-worked short corner, James Milner drove towards the by-line and delivered a low cross. Sticking out a gangly leg, Crouch touched it past Carlo Cudicini.

In the process the England international did what the City striker couldn’t quite and scored. His chance involved two surprise selections.

Edin Dzeko was preferred to Mario Balotelli in the City attack while Cudicini replaced an increasingly error-prone Heurelho Gomes in the Spurs goal, a back problem the official explanation of the Brazilian’s absence.  His deputy began promisingly, flinging himself to his left to block Dzeko’s shot after the Bosnian had linked up with David Silva.

The Spaniard remains an imperious influence and he nearly scored with a rising drive.

Fittingly for the occasion, Tottenham’s gameplan was one many an away side deploys in the Champions League, defended in depth and springing a counter-attack of almost deadly menace.

Aaron Lennon advanced swiftly to cut the ball back for Luka Modric, timing his arrival in the penalty area to perfection but placing his shot inches wide.

A couple of minutes later, however, that approach was rendered redundant when Crouch struck and Spurs trailed.

They had a terrific chance to level in a second half where they enjoyed the majority of both possession and pressure.

Joe Hart’s season began with a series of saves to thwart Tottenham on the opening day.

He frustrated them a second time with a terrific diving stop to deny Steven Pienaar, who had met Aaron Lennon’s cross with a downward header.

With William Gallas clearing Patrick Vieira’s chip off the line, City could have had a second goal.

As it was, they lost Pablo Zabaleta, with a suspected broken nose, but not their lead, while the replacement Carlos Tevez made his first appearance for 29 days after hamstring trouble. He, now, is ready for Wembley.

So are a side on a historic high. No City outfit had finished in the top four since Tony Book’s team in 1978.

It carried less cachet then, and not least because it was the fourth time in 11 seasons when they scaled such heights. If it becomes a regular feature of future campaigns, as City hope it will, this side will go down as the group who broke through the glass ceiling.