Sunday, 15 May 2011

The hallowed turf reached, the albatross awaits...

It was an edgy performance, but Tuesday’s 1-0 win over Spurs was enough to see us into next season’s Champions League qualifiers. It was a magnificent night for the club, a landmark night that will go down in our history.

The table doesn’t lie, and this season no-one can argue that we don’t deserve it. Looking back, perhaps qualifying for the CL last season may have been a season too early for us. Perhaps it is better to do things this way, with our better signings bedded in, ready to do battle for next season.

In fairness, Spurs dominated this affair, in many ways a re-hash of last season’s encounter late on in the season, where a Peter Crouch header sealed the CL deal for Spurs. But this was a different City to the one that took on Redknapp’s men at Eastlands last season. Spurs huffed and they puffed, had plenty of possession, but had only two major chances to show for it. When it came to the crunch, City’s defensive qualities showed as they smothered Spurs’ cutting edge. Hart once again proved to be the tormentor of Spurs when he produced a fantastic reflex save from Pienaar’s header.

I felt we were always the more likely to score. Dzeko had a massive chance to make it 1-0 but Cudicini saved at point blank range. Silva’s long range effort would have been one of the goals of our season had it dipped slightly. Vieira’s effort was cleared off the line. Tevez’s break away at the end of the game should have sealed the deal but for another excellent save by the Spurs keeper.

In the end it didn’t matter. An own goal by Peter Crouch was enough to get us the three points and send us into the hallowed turf of the Champions League. Not since September 1968 have we been able to compete on this level. Back then – in the old European Cup - we were knocked out in the first round against Fenerbahce. Now, we must ensure that we do not have a repeat performance of that debacle. We must do all in our power to really go on and make some headway into Europe’s elite competition. With the players we have, this is the place where we must now belong.

We have accomplished the ‘bread and butter’ element of our season. Now we must put the icing on the cake. Most fans would have settled for Champions League qualification at the beginning of the season, but Champions League football and FA Cup winners? That would be one hell of a season at this stage in our development. History has already been made with the win over Spurs, but to remove the 35 year albatross would be something special yet again.

It will be a tough encounter, much tougher than the Semi Final against United. Irrespective of Stoke’s recent form, we all know what they can do to us. They’ve done it countless times in the past. There is no way at all that we are massive favourite, despite what others may say. This is one game, and anything can happen. More than anything else, we need to match Stoke’s drive and desire – only then will we stand a chance. For Tony Pulis, manager of Gillingham in the 1999 Division 2 playoff final, there is that added dimension of revenge. We also must not forget that Stoke have the chance to make history too. We’ve been in the wilderness for 35 years, Stoke for 39.

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