The great Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart celebrated his 260th birthday yesterday, and I’d like to thank him for taking the time out of his busy schedule to visit the Etihad Stadium last night and treating us all to possibly his greatest symphony of all time. That symphony, of course, was the final whistle that confirmed a 3-1 win and our eighth trip to Wembley in five years. Music to the ears of us City fans; the equivalent of a three hour Dimmu Borgir concert to those of the Everton supporters who came in their millions to watch their side put on another showing of ‘How Not To Defend’ – the 20th episode in the series. A reported 9,000 Evertonians turned up to cheer their lads on, but they made more noise on Twitter after the game than they did in the actual stadium.
It was a fantastic night for the club. The players, who have had their commitment questioned this season, responded exceptionally to an early sucker-punch administered by Barkley. The manager, who has received strong criticism for his team selection and tactics, got it bang on. The fans, who have had their support and dedication to the club ridiculed, broke the attendance record for a cup game at the Etihad. A total of 50,048 of them turned up with inflatable bananas in hand to smash the 1981 record and propel the boys on to a glorious victory.
On a night where everyone was preparing for a good laugh at us, it was City who had the last laugh. There was no dignity in defeat for Martínez. Instead, the man who knows there’s now very little to distract people from the poor job he’s doing at Goodison Park, stormed down the tunnel, bemoaning the referee’s performance that he was happy to shrug off when Roger East waved away a blatant foul on Raheem Sterling in the 0-0 draw a fortnight ago. Instead of empty seats, a party atmosphere consumed the Etihad and instead of the continued taunting from the red shite down the road who took pleasure in sharing the articles written about our ‘desperate’ attempts to sell tickets for the semi-final clash, their former manager Sir Alex Ferguson turned up for a glimpse at some good football for the first time this season.
Magnificent performances from Agüero, Fernandinho and substitute De Bruyne ensured that Ferguson could not help but leave the stadium impressed, but things did not get off to the best of starts for us. I said before the game that an Everton goal would probably mean tie over, and when Barkley embarked on a mazy run that left Otamendi for dead, Delph dizzy and a ball nestling in the corner of Caballero’s net, I feared the worst. It was a terrific run from Barkley who looked threatening throughout the 90 minutes, but a needless attempted slide tackle from Otamendi that completely missed the 22-year-old presented the midfielder with an unforgivable amount of space to skate into. For the second consecutive week, this was an impetuous piece of defending from Nico that really left us in the shit.
You can learn a lot about a team’s character from the way they respond in negative situations, and fair play to our lot, we’ve shown excellent resilience in our last two fixtures. However, on this occasion, it was a team response rather than an individual one. With the visitors now 3-1 up on aggregate and with us stuck in such an erratic run of form, I was expecting a bit of a heads down approach to the rest of the tie. Fortunately, Agüero’s red hot form and the return of the effervescent Fernandinho ensured that we were able to net an equaliser within six minutes when Ferna’s deflected effort flew past Robles. A fixture of such a magnitude requires a player like Fernandinho, someone who won’t leave the pitch until every single drop of sweat and effort has been squeezed out of his pores. It was a delight, and crucial, to see him back in the side.
Optimism had been restored, but the Everton counter attack still me burying my head underneath my jumper like an ostrich burying its head in the sand in the face of a predator. That may have been a better strategy for Demichelis who could not cope with the pace of Deulofeu, but his partner Otamendi put in a couple of impeccably timed slides to prevent the back of the net from bulging yet again. That’s what you get with Otamendi: either a swipe executed with more precision than the Halifax Gibbet or one that resembles the victim of a few too many Stellas swinging for the fella who accidently brushed past him in a nightclub. It’d be nice if he’d calm his approach just a little.
We could have gone into the break 2-1 up. Sergio saw a delicious effort from outside the box smash the post and Robles reacted quickly to deny Silva from the follow up. The strike may not have gone in, but it did serve to raise the volume in the stadium and set us up for a cracking second half.
A half-time switch that signaled Pellegrini’s intentions saw Navas replace Delph. With at least one goal needed to ensure there would be a chance for us to progress to Wembley, you may call the substitution predictable, but Navas has proven to be more effective coming off the bench than when he starts and it was a smart move from Manuel to target Everton’s weak left flank. The Spaniard made an instant impact, crossing for Agüero who scooped wide and laying off Zabaleta whose cross was headed against the post by Silva. Somehow, though, you never got the feeling that this wasn’t going to be City’s night.
The introduction of super Kev midway through the second period made sure that it was going to be our night. Now, with Agüero, Silva, Sterling, Navas and De Bruyne on the pitch, there was potential for a flurry of goals at either end with only Fernandinho patrolling the centre of midfield. But De Bruyne’s influence came at the right end of the pitch and we were in front with 20 minutes left on the clock. In a moment of beautiful poetic justice, Sterling ran onto a Clichy pass that ran over the byline, squirmed its way through supporters all the way to Row Z and grabbed itself a drink from the bar, to angle a perfect cross into De Bruyne who fired home from inside the box. The ball was so obviously out of play it was ridiculous. Ridiculously brilliant. And ridiculously deserved.
The back pages of this morning’s papers won’t tell you that we had 19 shots compared to Everton’s two. Nor will they tell you that Agüero was fouled in the build up to Barkley’s goal. They probably won’t mention the fact that Navas was denied a clear penalty in the first leg, either, but who cares? The look on Martínez’s face, the way he sulked in front of the camera afterwards and a trip to Wembley is something I’ll savour for a long time.
There was still time for us to avoid the toil of 30 minutes of extra time and it was De Bruyne who saved the day again. Whipping in a cross that can only be described as world class, De Bruyne found the head of Agüero who directed an equally outrageous header into the corner of the net. Cue pandemonium in the stands. This was City at their attacking best.
And to cap off his heroic performance, De Bruyne was carried off the field on a stretcher in injury time after appearing to damage his medial ligament. The sight of the Belgian in such pain put a dampener on a breathtaking night that he had played such a huge part in, but comments from his agent this morning suggest the injury may not be as bad as first feared. Let’s hope that it’s a matter of weeks rather than months. Get well soon, Kev.
The win over Watford and the 4-0 thrashing of Crystal Palace were cited, wrongly, as kick-starters to an excellent run of form. Now, awaiting a Capital One Cup final against Liverpool and coasting in 2nd place in the league, this really is the time to step into second gear. For me, the team huddle at the end of the game and the way we responded to such an early set back showed just how important this win was to the players and there was enough on show last night to suggest we have turned a corner.
Credit to the players, the manager, and the fans. You’re all sound. We’re off to Wembley!