A draw was a reasonable expectation, a win was beyond our wildest dreams. At the end there were grown men kissing, hugging and crying; the relief, tension and emotionÂ released by Stephen Bennettâ€™s final whistle was palpable. As we stood outside after the game, cordoned in, waiting for Manchesterâ€™s finest to chase back into their holes any locals looking for someone to take out their frustrations on, it all seemed slightly surreal. We watched mounted coppers clear the area as amidst celebratory singing and chanting, pylon climbing and flag waving, we sent and received joyous texts and calls and discussedÂ Madrid and Barcelona and the venue for next seasonâ€™s Champions League final. (Wembley apparently. Weâ€™ll settle for that for our annual visit I suppose.)
Eastlands was booming with confidence before the game, quite literally as at bleeding ear volume we were treated to a bit of sing-along-a-opera.Â The sort of pre-match entertainment thatâ€™s just so good when it stops, especially when thereâ€™s film of Paul Dickov being shown to accompany it.
The whipped up home crowd inspired City early on as Tevez and Bellamy tore holes in the right hand side of our defence with worrying ease but it was just a case of our back four getting their bearings as the early pressure was soon repelled and never maintained again to any concerning degree. The home crowd took the lead from their team and also became quickly subdued. Itâ€™s probably still a bit too early to mention to them the unintended irony of their â€˜Weâ€™re not really hereâ€™ motto.
The whole defence can look back on performances they can feel chuffed about. Until last weekend weâ€™d not had a 1-0 win all season, now we get two come along at once and thatâ€™s because of the fine form of the back four and the keeper. Dawson, Gomes, Assou-Ekotto and even the unlikely goal provider Kaboul had terrific games but the standout player was Ledley King whose third game in eleven days was everything weâ€™ve come to expect from him over the years. Positioning, intelligence, skill, composure. Everything. By the end Johnson and Bellamy had both been subbed and Santa Cruz was on at left wing so desperate and confused were Manciniâ€™s Attack of all the Stars.
Our record at the City of Manchester stadium is terrific, it was five wins in eight visits and Peter Crouchâ€™s headerÂ cranked it up to six in nine. Ever since the 56th minute when Barry had gone off to be replaced by the well past it Vieira weâ€™d been finding more space in midfield and making good use of it. After 82 minutes an attack from the left was weakly cleared and as Younes Kaboul collected the ball (in a position where Lennon would have been if heâ€™d still been on the pitch) and headed towards Bellamy the bloke behind me yelled â€œheâ€™s a dribbler, heâ€™s gonna have a goâ€ and have a go he did. The welsh tattooed poseur (thank God we missed out on him if this was his version of rising to the big occasion) was shrugged aside and Kaboul ambled towards the touchline. Everyone will have seen it by now but his drive into the six yard box was deflected goalwards by Bridge. The rebound from Fulopâ€™s reflex save was smartly nodded in by Crouch from six yards. The tall lad had had an outstanding game, holding the ball up and causing a real nuisance and thoroughly deserved to be the one to decide the evening.Â
(Wayne Bridgeâ€™s part in Spursâ€™ recent history shouldnâ€™t go unnoticed by the way. As well as helping our progress to the Moneybags League he also quite literally lent a hand when he gave away the penalty in the Carling Cup final a couple of years ago to begin our ultimately successful comeback.)
One of the most impressive aspects of our win was the general nervelessness of it. This was personified by the performances of Huddlestone and Modric in midfield who were the most comfortable in possession players on the pitch. They set the tempo of the game as far as we were concerned. But it wasnâ€™t just the composure that got us through, it was also the hard work. Crouch was non-stop and Defoe a step up from where heâ€™s been at recently. If Bale looked knackered for most of the game then Lennon definitely was when he was replaced by Bentley â€“ and he also played his part.
Around Eastlands are large areas of empty waste land. The home fans started disappearing in droves after Crouchâ€™s goal and the sense of desolation outside the ground was certainly matched inside as the end of season celebratory plans were quickly abandoned when it was clear there would be no-one there to witness them. On reflection our showing makes it difficult to believe that it couldâ€™ve been us, but it could. That it wasnâ€™t was due to all our big players turning up on the night and putting on quality displays. Displays that they & us can be proud of and ones for which theyâ€™ve received the reward they richly deserve.
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