Off the end of the pier

Posted by Simon Curtis

The near horizontal wind-driven rain stinging the faces of the faithful as we escaped as swiftly as was humanly possible from Wembley's suffocating embrace, acted as the final indignity to those who had arrived in good voice and light heart in this desolate part of north London, presuming that City's sixth FA Cup triumph would shortly be with us. Simply by turning up, the glistening booty would be ours. We had of course committed one deathly sin: that of forgetting our heritage as the Kings of the Cock Up.

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Wigan Athletic, a humble non-league club when Franny Lee and his merry cohorts were already making acquaintance with this trophy for the Blues, were anything but undeserving first time winners. As a result, the rest of us, sloping off into the wet streets with our shoulders hunched against the driving rain, must doff our caps and say a simple "well done" to the Latics.

Both sides had reason before the start of hostilities to have the number 100 in their minds as they stepped out into a damp grey Wembley afternoon. For Wigan, it was their 100th competitive match in the Cup since becoming a fully-fledged league club. For City, memories of lusty participation in the 100th edition of the FA Cup final in 1981 made hope fresh that the daring deeds of Tommy Hutchison and Joe Corrigan could this time be repeated with a more favourable end result. In the end, we avoided complete symmetry but not complete embarrassment when the only goal of the game fell just ten minutes short of 100 on the Wembley ticker.

Yaya Toure had beforehand spoken of a "shift in history" and little did he know the accuracy of his forecast, albeit for the opposition rather than the pedestrian eleven he represented Saturday. City's recent rise has been meteoric, but alongside Wigan's dramatic ascent from paupers to princes, sky blue progress appears somewhat lethargic. There was nothing remotely lethargic about Wigan on this occasion, however. With Shaun Maloney and Callum McManaman a constant jinking menace, Arouna Kone a forceful barrier and the replacement Roger Espinoza surprisingly in the thick of things and showing up well because of it, it became immediately clear that the pie-eaters were not here to be consumed. They appeared, in fact, to have a full set of more than useful teeth of their own and were not slow to bear them all.

For anybody wearing sky blue favours, the match took on an uneasy edge. Far from being overawed and resigned to playing second fiddle, it was Wigan who were directing the orchestral accompaniment. City appeared lumpen and preoccupied, ill at ease and unable to focus; Pablo Zabaleta, Vincent Kompany and Matija Nastasic all being caught in possession by more alert opponents in a manner which did not bode well.

By the time referee Marriner blew for halftime, the game was developing nicely into a the kind of energetic and unruly beast that City's players had obviously not envisaged needing to tame.

There was a creaking inevitability about proceedings as each Wigan attack in the second period brought them closer and closer to the target. When the ball bounced onto the top of the bar from Maloney's free kick, City still failed to awaken from their slumber. With only ten on the pitch and the board for added time being held up on the sidelines, a little voice deep inside us all started to scream and bleat. Somewhere it was clear what was about to happen to us all. That the hammer blow fell at this late stage, giving no time for a riposte, was a kind of sweet mercy for City, as there was plainly so little left in the tank, the response might not have sufficed anyway. A deft flick off substitute Ben Watson's flaming head settled matters once and for all and acted as a pistol shot in the air for all those who had assembled to crucify Roberto Mancini, come what may. Scurrilous tales in the morning press had continued to suggest that his oft-mentioned successor Senor Pellegrini's contract was edging closer to becoming a fully legal document. This can have done only harm to the morale of players and staff alike on the morning of such an important game. Viva, the fifth column of old was still very much alive and kicking!

The Italian's future was never going to be about the outcome of a single game, whether it be a season-defining one like this or not. His employers are sensible enough to base their decisions on other broader issues, crucially perhaps with Pellegrini in mind, competence in European competitions included in that Big Picture. That said, here, carried off in the squally wind, was a ripe opportunity to secure a second trophy of the season 2012-2013 (after the much-maligned Community Shield). That chance had gone and for those unwilling to count the traditional season-opener as a bona fide pot, Mancini’s hands end the season distressingly empty.

Still, for the Blues faithful there is unfinished business. The Italian's name was chanted long and hard during the match once again. Not all believe in him anymore. Some have had doubts for a considerable time, perhaps planted there by certain more mischievous sections of the press. Others are happy to be patient and let him finish the job he has started. Indeed, with United and Chelsea starting next term with fresh coaching staff, there is an argument for sticking with the man who knows City well, instead of starting from scratch. This would give City a head start on their main rivals for the title next season in many peoples' eyes. While they are bedding down new staff, City could perhaps build up a decent head of steam. We will all have to wait perhaps ten more days to discover what destiny holds for Mancini.

In the meantime, a 90th minute Cup Final defeat to a team that was a non-league side not so long ago, plus the wonderfully well-timed biblical downpour outside the towering edifice afterwards, reminded us all of one delicious detail: dear old City’s wonky DNA is still alive and well and preparing new adventures for us all. Thank the football Gods for that, at least.

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