City reach promised land

THEY have slummed it around Europe this season in the Europa League but at last Manchester City have a place at the top table of European football after a huge twist of fate at Eastlands.

Twelve months ago, Peter Crouch broke City’s hearts when his winner denied Roberto Mancini’s men a top-four finish.

Last night England striker Crouch put past his own keeper while trying to clear a 30th-minute cross by James Milner as City began the countdown to Saturday’s FA Cup final with Stoke at Wembley in the best possible way.

Mancini’s men are at the very least guaranteed a play-off place in the Champions League.

Yet, with two games remaining, they could yet overtake third-placed Arsenal, who they trail by two points, and qualify for the group stages.

Mancini was understandably jubilant and took the opportunity to pay tribute to his players.

“Congratulations to the players, they did a fantastic season,” he said.

“I am sure all our people are very happy as we worked very hard for this and I am happy for the supporters.”

Spurs boss Harry Redknapp praised the performance of his men, and pledged they will be looking to regain a Champions League spot next term.

He said: “We have had Champions League this year for the first time since the Premier League started but you need to keep improving and we had a bad run at the wrong time, we had too many draws.

“We had control of that game for large periods tonight and we will tweak things in the summer and try and get back in the Champions League.”

Last night was not a vintage City performance by any means.

Luka Modric should have put Tottenham ahead moments before Crouch settled the fourth-versus-sixth showdown.

And it required a stunning save by City’s England keeper Joe Hart to keep out substitute Steven Pienaar’s early in the second half. City, however, just about did enough to secure victory.

It was a night Mancini’s men finally shed the ‘Typical City’ tag.

Sure, there were moments when they left their supporters on the edge of their seats. But make no mistake, City deserved the win which finally secured their place among Europe’s elite.

Spurs have endured such a decline since their elimination from the Champions League at the hands of Real Madrid that their main priority now is to beat Liverpool to fifth spot.

Redknapp’s side had pocketed just four points from a possible 15 ahead of this game and they were grateful to Carlo Cudicini for keeping them on level terms in the early exchanges.

Italian keeper Cudicini was starting his first game for four months in place of Heurelho Gomes.

Gomes’s recent form has been suspect to say the least yet the official reason given for his absence was a back injury.

Cudicini grasped his opportunity, the former Chelsea stopper saving well from Edin Dzeko’s fiercely struck 11th-minute effort after intelligent play by David Silva had teed-up the Bosnian.

Aaron Lennon picked out a fine pass to Modric before the Croatian let fly with an effort which should have found the target but fizzed wide.

It was a costly miss as City immediately swept forward to establish the lead after a move dripping in irony.

Attempting to clear Milner’s cross into the danger area, Crouch, the player responsible for breaking City’s hearts in this fixture last season, only succeeded in deflecting the ball past Cudicini.

Yet the visitors would have been level but for a stunning one-handed save by Hart to keep out Pienaar’s powerful header in the opening moments of the second half.

City produced a nervous second half display yet they would have doubled their lead two minutes from the end had William Gallas not headed substitute Patrick Vieira’s goalbound effort off the line.

Another boost for the hosts came in the shape of Carlos Tevez, the Argentina striker playing the final seven minutes after missing the previous four games with a damaged hamstring. But when asked if Tevez would start at Wembley, Mancini replied: I don’t think so.”

That is all for Saturday. Last night was all about the Champions League.

Subs for Man City: Kolarov for Zabaleta 57, Vieira for Johnson 66, Tevez for silva 83.

Subs for Tottenham: Pienaar for Palacios 32, Defoe for Crouch 78, Kaboul for Gallas 88


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