Continuing our series charting our journey from Division Three to Premier League Champions, we look back at the 2010/11 season and the long-suffering supporters wait for silverware was about to come to an end.
A season earlier, Roberto Mancini had City taken City to the brink of the Champions League in his first half season in charge. Now the Italian set about bringing in the players that would push the blues further and challenge for silverware. Jerome Boateng was the first to arrive from SV Hamburger on 1st July, and the next day, Yaya Toure joined his brother Kolo at City, with the blues paying Barcelona £24m for his services. David Silva was next to arrive, with the blues shelling out another £24m to Valencia. The last signing of July came in the form of Serbian defender Aleksander Kolarov for £16m from Lazio. Mancini signed two more players in August. Mario Balotelli arrived from Inter Milan for another £24m and James Milner made the move from Villa Park for £18m. The blues were now ready to challenge.
City travelled to Spurs on the opening day of the season and Mancini decided on a change of keeper for the first game. Shay Given, signed but Mark Hughes just over eighteen months earlier, was dropped to the bench and replaced by Joe Hart. The new number one faced a Spurs onslaught, but kept a clean sheet as City held on for a point. The blues next match saw them travel to Romania and a Europa League play-off against Timisoara. Mario Balotelli scored the only goal as the blues won the first leg 1-0. Back in the league, Liverpool arrived at Eastlands and the blues put on a show of strength as the powered past the reds, winning 3-0. Three days later, a goal either side of the interval gave City a 2-0 home win over Timisoara, which saw the blues progress to the group stage of the Europa League.
August ended with a trip to Sunderland and it looked like the blues would get their second away point and third clean sheet of the season. However, in typical City fashion, the blues conceded a penalty in the fourth minute of injury time, which the Black Cats scored and inflicted a first defeat of the season on Mancini’s men.
September started with a visit from Blackburn Rovers, and City had to come from behind to secure a 1-1 draw. On 16th September, City started their Europa League group matches with an away game at Red Bull Salzburg. The Austrian’s had won 12 league titles in 17 years, runners-up on four occasions and five Austrian cups, four of them league and cup doubles, compared to City’s no silverware since 1976. But none of that mattered as the blues won 2-0, thanks to goals by Jo and David Silva. Back in the league, City made the short journey to Wigan and finally laid their ghost to rest. Carlos Tevez scored just before the break and Yaya Toure scored his first goal for the club with 20 minutes remaining. Jo gave City the lead in a League Cup tie at West Brom, but old habits die hard as the blues conceded two goals in two minutes as the Baggies won 2-1.
Back to league action and Chelsea were the next visitors for City, where a Tevez goal gave the blues a 1-0 win. The result left City in fourth place in the league, four points behind leaders Chelsea. September ended with City in Europa League action at home to Juventus, where an Adam Johnson equaliser salvaged a point for the blues.
City faced Newcastle in the first game of October, where a Tevez penalty and a Johnson goal gave the blues a 2-1 home win. The blues then travelled to newly promoted Blackpool for an eagerly awaited contest with the Seasiders. After a goalless first half, Tevez gave City the lead on 67 minutes, but the home side levelled with 12 minutes left. Tevez struck again a minute later and when David Silva curled in a third, City looked home and dry. But a goal three minutes into injury time threatened to derail the blues, but City held steadfast and won 3-2. The blues faced Lech Poznan in the Europa League and won 3-0 with Emmanuel Adebayor bagging a hat-trick, before Mancini’s team lost a bad-tempered home match with Arsenal. The blues had Boyata sent off after just five minutes and the Gunners had five players booked as they ran out 3-0 winners. The final game in October also ended in defeat, 2-1 at Wolves, but the blues held onto fourth place, two points ahead of fifth placed Spurs.
November continued with the losing theme as City travelled to Poland and lost 3-1 to Lech Poznan. The blues were four minutes away from taking a point home, but conceded two goals to lose their first Europa League match. Three days later, City went to West Brom and walked away with a 2-0 win, Mario Balotelli scoring both goals in six first half minutes to secure the points. Two goalless draws followed, with United then Birmingham denying City at Eastlands. A trip to Fulham ended with a 4-1 win for the blues. Tevez gave City the lead after just six minutes, Pablo Zabaleta and Yaya Toure made it 3-0 by half time, while Tevez made it 4-0 11 minutes after the break. November’s final game was at new bogey side Stoke City. With the score at 0-0, Micah Richards popped up in the 81st minute to give City the lead. But the home side had become the new Wigan and equalised in the final minute to share the points. City remained in fourth place and were only five points behind leaders United, and questions were being asked if City could win the league.
December began with City welcoming Red Bull Salzburg to Manchester, then sending them home on the back of a 3-0 defeat. Tevez then scored the only goal of the game in the 4th minute as City beat Bolton 1-0, then travelled to West Ham and came away with the three points thanks to a 3-1 win. The final game of the Europe League group games saw City in Turin to face Juventus. The Italians were unbeaten in all their group games, but on the other side of the coin, had failed to win any games either, so it was a predictable scoreline when the blues drew 1-1 to top the group on goal difference.
Back in the league, City were starting to look like serious title contenders, sitting in third place, two points behind United. So when Everton arrived, 12 places and 14 points behind City, it should have been a foregone conclusion that City would take another three points. After 20 minutes, City were 2-0 down and despite Yaya Toure pulling a goal back with 18 minutes remaining, the blues fell to defeat. City quickly made up for that loss on Boxing Day when they visited Newcastle. The home side must have eaten too much turkey the day before as City raced into a two goal lead inside five minutes. Newcastle finally woke up and pulled a goal back with 18 minutes remaining, but an own goal secured the points and a 3-1 win for City. The final game of the year saw Aston Villa arrive at Eastlands and dispatched with a 4-0 thumping. Balotelli scored a hat-trick and Joleon Lescott scored as City ended the year on a high and in second place, level on points with United, albeit having played two games more.
2011 began with a home game against Blackpool. Adam Johnson scored the winner to keep the pressure on the reds. A visit to Arsenal ended with a 0-0 draw before the blues played Leicester in FA Cup. City were hoping for a good cup run following their early exit from the League Cup, but conceded a goal in the first minute. The blues rallied and were 2-1 up at half time. But still, they allowed Leicester to equalise and force a replay at Eastlands. City then beat Wolves 4-3 at Eastlands, recovering well from conceding the first goal on 12 minutes to take a 4-1 lead by the 66th minute. Two goals from Wolves made it a nervy finish, but the blues again held on to top the table.
Leicester were dispatched in the FA Cup as City won 4-2 to set up a visit to Notts County, then lost 1-0 at Aston Villa, which was a perfect example as to why the blues wouldn’t win the league this season. City signed striker Edin Dzeko during the January transfer window and he scored his first goal for the club in the FA Cup tie which ended 1-1 and another tie went to a replay. The blues played out an entertaining 2-2 draw at Birmingham, with Carlos Tevez and Aleksander Kolarov on the scoresheet for the blues. Tevez hit another hat-trick as City beat West Brom 3-0 at Eastlands, then lost 2-1 at Old Trafford as City’s brief title challenge faded.
The FA Cup was realistically City’s only hope of silverware and faced Notts County in the replay at Eastlands. A home tie against Aston Villa awaiting the victors, and despite a spirited effort from the visitors, City ran out 5-0 winners, with Vieira grabbing two, Tevez, Dzeko and Richards rounding off the scoring. Back in the league, City again threw away a lead at home to Fulham in a 1-1 draw. Back in the FA Cup, Yaya Toure gave the bleus the lead in the 5th minute against Aston Villa, and Balotelli doubled it in 25 minutes. David Silva ensured the blues progressed to the quarter final with a goal in the 70th minute.
Wigan were beaten 1-0 at Eastlands before City’s FA Cup match at home to Reading. The draw for the semi-final had been made prior to the match, and if City were to progress, they would face United at Wembley. It was a close match against the lower league opposition, but Micah Richards’ header with 16 minutes left set up a derby showdown at Wembley. It was their first FA Cup semi-final since 1981, could the blues beat United and reach the final? City’s last game in March came at Stamford Bridge. The blues had won 4-2 the previous season but there was no repeat of those heroics this time around as two goals in the last 11 minutes saw the home side win 2-0. The defeat saw Chelsea leapfrog City into third place in the league, but the blues were still in with a long shot of the title. Eight games left but ten points behind United, it would take a miracle if the blues could pull that off.
April began with a 5-0 thrashing of Sunderland at Eastlands before the blues took the trip to Anfield in their final match before attempting to reach the FA Cup final. The preparation for that game didn’t go to plan as the blues found themselves 3-0 down after 35 minutes. The second half was more damage limitation and the blues managed not to concede in the second 45.
16th April 2010 saw City’s first trip to Wembley since the 1999 Division Three play-off final. On that occasion, the blues won a penalty shoot-out, but this match would be much tougher than Gillingham. United were going for a league and cup double and were hot favourites to reach the final. A tense first half ended 0-0, but just seven minutes from the restart, the deadlock was broken. Yaya Toure capitalised on a mistake in the United defence to power his way towards the penalty area, before hitting a shot through Van Der Sar’s legs to send blues fans into dreamland. United tried to force an equaliser but City were more than equal to everything thrown at them. As the final whistle went, the faithful celebrated their first FA Cup final since 1981. They hoped this time, the result would be better than the last.
April ended with a 1-0 win at Blackburn, with Edin Dzeko grabbing the winner 15 minutes from time. By this point, City were all but out of the title race, being 14 points behind with 15 points left to play for. But the blues were just five points behind Arsenal, and a good run in the final matches of the season could see them finally qualify for the Champions League.
May began by beating West Ham 2-1 at Eastlands. City were 2-0 up in fifteen minutes, but had to hold on for the points. Yaya Toure gave City a first half lead at Everton, only for the blues to concede two second half goals and suffer another defeat on Merseyside. The blues were still five points behind Arsenal but with a game in hand by the time they played Spurs again at Eastlands. In a similar situation to last season, it was winner takes all. If City were to win, they would qualify for the Champions League and also put them within two points of third placed Arsenal. Again it would be Peter Crouch who would be the difference, but on this occasion, he put the ball in his own goal to give the blues a 1-0 win.
Wembley was being used to host the Champions League Final, so City’s FA Cup Final match against Stoke was brought forward to 14th May. Blues fans filled Wembley in the hope of seeing their team finally win silverware, 35 years after they last lifted the League Cup. City had the better of the chances in the first half, but the match remained at 0-0. In the second half, Stoke had a glorious chance to take the lead, and for keeper Joe hart, they would have done. That was Stoke’s best and virtually only chance of the match. With 16 minutes remaining, Mario Balotelli’s deflected shot fell to Yaya Toure and, at the same end as the semi-final and in front of the City supporters, the Ivorian rifled home to send those supporters into ecstasy. It was just what City deserved and the moment the blues fans had waited for happened, as Carlos Tevez lifted the FA Cup.
But City had another two league games left, with the first one coincidentally at home to Stoke. This time, the blues swept the Potters aside with a convincing 3-0 win. The result sent City into third place and into the automatic Champions League position. A win on the final day of the season at Bolton would secure their place for next season at Arsenal’s expense. Joleon Lescott gave City the lead three minutes before half-time and when Dzeko made it 2-0 after 62 minutes, it no longer mattered what Arsenal did.
After years of under-achievement, poor management and the club selling their best players, City had finally secured silverware and were about to enter Europe’s top competition for the first time in its current format.
The blue moon was no longer rising.
It had risen.