MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - MARCH 15: Rui Patricio of Sporting Lisbon celebrates during the UEFA Europa League round of 16 second leg match between Manchester City FC and Sporting Lisbon at Etihad Stadium on March 15, 2012 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Too little, too late and in many ways a familiar ending to European ties in recent times.
A stirring comeback over the final thirty minutes of the tie was not enough to save City from a European exit. Ultimately they were a couple of inches(from the unlikely source of Joe Hart's head) away from a last gasp winner but on the whole - and taking both legs into context - deserved their fate.
City at least avoided a third successive defeat and the comeback after falling 3-0 down at aggregate provided signs of life within the side that over the past week had appeared to be fading fast. To this extent the side deserve a deal of credit for the resilience and fortitude shown, but it would be foolish to simply gloss over the fact that for more than three-quarters of the tie City were lethargic and lacked purpose. The fact that they dug themselves out of a whole is to be commended but undoubtedly deserve criticism for putting themselves in the whole in the first place.
The tone, you could argue, was set last week in Portugal where - aided by the team selection - it appeared Roberto Mancini had more than one eye on the weekend game at Swansea. His selection last night was a bold one: for only the second time this season (the other being the Carling Cup tie against Birmingham) he sent out a side without one of Gareth Barry, Nigel de Jong and James Milner. An attacking trio of Mario Balotelli, Adam Johnson and Sergio Aguero was deployed with David Silva heading a midfield three alongside Yaya Toure and David Pizarro; so much for holding midfielders.
The attacking looking line up failed to translate itself on the pitch however as it was as lacklustre a showing as seen this season, with both Roberto Mancini and Kolo toure vying with each other to opportion the blame for this. A concern during the first half was the lack of involvement of David Silva with both Pizarro and Yaya Toure over reliant on long balls, in the main unsuccessful. The introduction of Edin Dzeko, however, sparked City and helped witness a welcome performance from Sergio Aguero - who of late has spent too long on the periphery - and their play over that final period full of the inventiveness and drive that has been too often absent.
Defeat though brings to an end the final chance of silverware (in terms of the Cups) in a season that in terms of the knock-out competitions has been a disappointment. After lifting the FA Cup in 2010/11, expectations were high each of the four Cup exits have brought with him a sense of under-achievement but perhaps do highlight the difficulties in trying to compete across the board no matter the resources available.
City now though have a clear path in terms of the Premier League without outside distractions. Having now ceded the advantage to United they can ill-afford to slip up over the coming weeks and will hope that the final stages of yesterday's game can be the basis rather than it merely papering over recent cracks.