The Italian side finally nail top four spot as they stutter to obstinate win that leaves Spurs facing bleak prospect of no European football next season
Manchester City stuttered to a 1-0 victory over Tottenham to finally secure the Champions League football they have made so publicly their desire, at Eastlands next season.
In what proved to be an excellent conservation of energy ahead of this weekend’s FA cup final against Stoke, City managed victory against Spurs despite never climbing out of second gear, in a match which saw the visitors dominate large parts of the game.
Peter Crouch’s first half own goal – a tragically ironic twist, baring in mind the goal he scored at Eastlands last season that brought Champions League to White Hart Lane – proved the integral moment in a game high on subplots but short on incident.
The result leaves Spurs stranded in sixth place, which, given the resurgent form of Liverpool, makes even Europa League football seem an improbability for Harry Redknapp’s men.
The duo face a crunch game this weekend, which will shine light on Redknapp’s recent denouncement of the continent’s second-level competition
With the game a season-definer for both Spurs and City, the first half aptly summed up the story of this season’s Premier League campaign for each – namely, expansive play and measured passing as a given, yet genuine incision in the final third at an absolute premium.
Edin Dzeko should really have opened the scoring on the 10 minute mark. The Bosnian’s flick-on was met by David Silva - who hit the byeline and pulled it back - only for Dzeko to connect unconvincingly and give Carlo Cudicini an unlikely save that gently eased him into his return to the first team, having deputised for the injured Heurelho Gomes.
Not to be outdone, Luka Modric then fluffed his lines with the goal at his mercy. Lennon, a regular torment down the right, motored past City’s unusually flat-footed defence and cut back to the edge of the box. He found the Croatian in acres of space, though Modric could only drill the ball wide.
In the corresponding fixture of near-on exactly one year ago, Crouch struck a terminal blow to Manchester City’s Champions League ambitions by netting from just outside the six-yard box. However, this time round, a cruel juxtaposition befell the recalled striker from an almost-identical position. As James Milner collected a short corner and fired it across goal, Crouch stuck out a leg and inadvertently stabbed the ball beyond Cudicini and into his own net.
The goal galvanised City and further jaded the visitors – with the home fans adding to the feeling after showing their delight in seeing Carlos Tevez warm up on the sidelines - and City began to flow forward with more urgency, with Silva narrowly missing out on a exploratory effort from 25 yards out.
The buoyancy at Eastlands was soon quelled, however, after some effective killing-of-time by William Gallas. Despite looking more threatening on the counter than their hosts there after, Spurs were still limited in terms of efforts on goal, the most notable of which being Van der Vaart’s hit from way out, that Hart gathered with ease, just before the half time whistle blew.
Over the Blue Moon | Crouch own goal seals top four finish for Mancini's side
Given the improbability of Champions League qualification, Spurs picked up the second half in a manner that genuinely believed they could achieve fourth place, or belied Redknapp’s claims of a lack of interest in Europa League football. Lennon was once again the livewire, darting down the right and crossing excellently for Steven Pienaar, who powered in a header that Hart had to push round the post at full stretch.
Yet, Manchester City were obstinate in their desire not to let Spurs play and their more physically-imposing unit kept their rivals at bay for prolonged periods of play, despite seeing a nominal amount of the ball. Spurs continually failed to capitalise though, with Van der Vaart and Pienaar the guilty parties - both spooning over from way outside the box - with the Dutchman also hitting a promising free-kick into the wall.
The Eastlands crowd was becoming increasingly frustrated at their teams’ inability to match Spurs flowery passing and at being securely penned into their own half. This was further compounded when attacking threat Adam Johnson was hauled off for Patrick Vieira.
The change seemed to provide the hosts with a hub though and the ex-Arsenal man got the ball rolling on his side’s first attacking impetus of the half. However, the usually-deft Spaniard let Spurs off the hook and produced an air-shot when it looked as if he was going to roll it in comfortably.
City teased on the break again straight after and Silva’s cushioned header set Dzeko free, only for Michael Dawson to snuff out any chance of a clean run of goal.
In a last roll of the dice, Redknapp sent on Jermain Defoe, the weekend’s last-gasp equaliser hero against Blackpool, yet this failed to disrupt Manchester City, who seemed to have settled into their stride.
Talisman Tevez was given a short cameo ahead of the cup final and he almost helped to put the game beyond Spurs, when he slipped through fellow substitute Vieira, though Gallas excellently cleared the chipped effort off the goal-line.
By this time, the wind was well and truly taken out of the visitors’ sails and City saw out the win in consummate ease to finally provide Sheikh Mansour the place among Europe’s elite that he so badly desires.
The result will leave Spurs wondering – yet again – how they failed to get something from a game where they utterly dominated possession.