City crashed to defeat at Tottenham after the hosts scored three late goals to all-but end any lingering hopes of a second successive Premier League title.
The Blues bossed the game for long periods and led from Samir Nasri’s fifth-minute goal, but three Spurs strikes in the last quarter-of-an-hour gave the final score a lopsided look and left Roberto Mancini scratching his head as what looked like a precious victory turned into a dismal loss.
Now City must dust themselves down, try and win the remaining league games and focus on winning the FA Cup to end the campaign on a high
Prior to this game, City’s record against teams from the capital this season was more than impressive with two wins and three draws from five games in London (plus the FA Cup semi against Chelsea at Wembley).
With just one goal conceded in those five away league games, Mancini’s men quite rightly arrived in North London in confident mood.
Ask the majority of Spurs fans and they will tell you that they have become used to watching their season fall apart around the time of the season and with Chelsea and Arsenal threatening to snatch the last two Champions League berths away from their grasp, anything other than a win against City would have added further weight to those theories.
Gareth Bale, integral in so many of Spurs’ highs this campaign, made the starting line-up game and handed the hosts the perfect fillip before kick-off
But the Blues, with eight wins out of the last nine games and just four goals conceded during that run, seemed to have shifted into top gear for the final weeks of the season.
And if the champions wanted to prolong their grip on the Premier League trophy for at least a few weeks more, three points were imperative. Two teams needing a win for very different reasons – something had to give.
Mancini made five changes to the team that limped over the line against Wigan Athletic in midweek but his starting XI was still minus the mesmeric talents of David Silva and the talismanic qualities of Sergio Aguero – though the latter did make the bench.
With warm sunshine and blue skies welcoming the teams as they entered the fray, happy memories of last season’s emphatic 5-1 win came flooding back and with eight City players who took part in this fixture 20 months ago starting compared with just three for the hosts, it was no wonder City began with a definite spring in their step - and within five minutes, the Blues were ahead.
Carlos Tevez was seemingly pinned in by the corner flag by two Spurs defenders with nowhere to go. Typically, he battled his way out to find himself enough space to play a perfectly-weighted reverse pass for James Milner who drove into the box before cutting the ball back for Nasri who volleyed home from 12 yards.
It was the perfect start for the Blues who went on to control the majority of the first-half and should have added more goals through Edin Dzeko and Tevez who both had good chances to score.
The pattern continued after the break with City comfortable for long periods and Spurs rarely threatening, though the loss of Milner at the break affected the team’s balance down the right flank. Still, it was hard to see how the Blues wouldn’t maintain their proud record in London, such was the ineffectiveness of the hosts.
Then, from nowhere, came a disastrous final 15 minutes when City, who had looked solid and focused at the back all afternoon, crumbled
With seemingly little threat, Bale received the ball on the right and sent in a clever side-footed pass across the box where Clint Dempsey was waiting to level on 75 minutes. Suddenly, the axis shifted dramtaically and Spurs believed again.
Sub Jermain Defoe was allowed too much space and he cut inside Vincent Kompany before rifling home a second four minutes later as City’s discipline evaporated and Bale completed a dreadful few minutes by the visitors by racing into the box to clip the ball over Hart to end any flickering hopes of a second successive title.
In the end it felt like three points had been thrown away and though the Last Rites on the Blues’ hopes of being champions again were, in reality, given when seven points were dropped in three games against QPR, Liverpool and Southampton earlier in the year, it is still a bitter pill to swallow.
The FA Cup may yet ensure this campaign is remembered with fondness so all is not lost...