LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 14: Yaya Toure of Manchester City scores the opening goal during the FA Cup sponsored by E.ON Final match between Manchester City and Stoke City at Wembley Stadium on May 14, 2011 in London, England. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
A thoroughly deserved victory.
The final scoreline may have been 1-0 but but that didn't reflect the dominance of the performance that resulted in a one-sided affair. Many had predicted a tight game with Stoke expected to cause City problems (as to be fair they have done in recent encounters in both League and Cup) but in every facet of the game City were by far the better side.
In fact, David Silva alone could have wrapped up the win before Yaya Toure sealed it, reprising his winner from the semi-final with the all important goal that saw City lift the cup and bring to end the quest for that long-awaited trophy that weighed so heavily upon the club. The importance of Champions League qualification is undeniable but that City followed that up days later by winning the FA Cup cannot (and should not) be underestimated.
Stoke were very disappointing. On the large Wembley pitch they were simply overwhelmed by City, their midfield pairing completely swamped by the trio of Nigel de jong, Gareth Barry and Yaya Toure who utilised possession (dominating 65%-35%) so effectively that City were able to launch attacks time and again. The gamble on Matthew Etherington backfired badly and Jermain Pennant aside - who was double-teamed for the most part - they had litle or no creative output and rarely threatened with any direct or set-piece play; City more than a match in terms of muscle and negated any semblance of danger.
Mancini sprang a surprise with the starting line-up. Not so much in Carlos Tevez, who warranted his inclusion with a typically bustling performance, but with Mario Balotelli too preferred ahead of Adam Johnson. Balotelli, who responded well when leading the line in the semi-final victory, displayed the very traits he so frequently is lambasted for not showing. Selfless and working for the team, his quality means he can be a constant threat and he frequently caused problems for the Stoke defence, linking and drawing team mates into play extremely well.
City began brightly, wary perhaps of not allowing Stoke to settle and find a rythmn. Quick in the tackle, City regained as well as retained possession; Vincent Kompany and Nigel de Jong the catalysts in bringing the ball out from the back. The impressive aspect was that City were able to vary up their play: bringing the ball through the middle and stretching Stoke by getting the ball wide. Here, Balotelli was particularly instrumental.
The only disappointing aspect of the half was City failing to find the target with David silva's miss one he would not want to see again. But City began the second half brightly too and the feeling was that if they could get ahead, one goal would be enough for victory.
Whilst the game remained at 0-0 though, the fear of conceding was always there and this was heightened when Stoke had their one chance. Joleon Lescott misjudged the bounce of a long ball forward which allowed Kenwyn Jones the chance to bear down on goal. Fortunately, Joe Hart was alert and managed to smother the shot.
With around twenty minutes remaining Mancini shuffled the pack. With Stoke proving no threat through middle, Barry was sacrificed for Adam Johnson. This provided the additional (and direct) threat Johnson offers, also adding an extra body as City pressed for the win.
With City commanding and in control this change proved vital and whilst David Silva alone could have won the game before Yay Toure repirsed his semi-final goal by ensuring City would lift their first trophy for 35 years. Unlike other occasions where the bounce may not have been kind, this time if fell perfectly to Toure and he made no mistake.
Fifteen minutes remained on the clock but the moment the ball crashed into the net, the Cup was as good as won. The demeanour of the two sides evidence that City would not let this opportunity slip, whilst Stoke sensed the game had gone.
Whilst a top four finish would have been an achievement in itself (with third place now up for grabs), the fact that the side also added the FA Cup serves to illustrate that this has been a very good season.
There has undoubtedly been a shift in attitudes and mentality at the club the past couple of seasons. Even thinking back to just five years ago the prospect of lifting a trophy could barely be thought possible. Hope soon gave way to expectation though as the sense that very real and tangible success could be achieved. It is by no means guaranteed to happen of course and to glibly dismiss it as a natural progression because of the money spent is far too dismissive and disrespectul.
In reflecting on Saturday's, the sense is that victory marked the fulfilment of expectation, and in doing so, paves the way for much more to follow.