City are up for the Cup
Watching the Everton v Wigan FA Cup quarter-final last Saturday lunchtime, it was hard as a Manchester City fan not to experience a certain sense of déjà vu as the dreams of a set of supporters in Blue were crushed, each goal seeing confidence giving way to disbelief, forlorn hope to frustration and finally anger as a gilt-edged shot at Wembley turned to dust.
March 16th, 2013
A few hours later City themselves continued their procession in this season’s competition (admittedly aided by a favourable series of draws), dspatching Barnsley 5-0 at The Etihad Stadium to follow on from equally comfortable home victories over Championship sides Leeds and Watford, in addition to shutting out Stoke at The Britannia. For the second time in three seasons City head to Wembley for an FA Cup semi-final, and once again they could be pitted against Mancunian rivals United.
Although they departed the FA Cup in 2012 at the first hurdle; a defeat at home to United providing the briefest of reigns in terms of defending their crown, City’s upward trajectory of the past few seasons has resulted in a culture of expectation in this particular competition (and others of course). Reaching the final is no longer a pipe dream but a reality, and one that will be keenly anticipated at the outset of each season.
There was a time though of course when this was far from the case; a point in time when a quarter-final appearance was not something to savour and to be viewed as a stepping stone onto greater achievements, but invoking a sense of paralysis akin to having ascended two-thirds of the way up Everest only to suffer from an acute attack of vertigo with the summit in sight.
City’s history is littered with ignominious FA Cup exits at the hands of lower league opposition (there really are too many to individually name) but it is the frustrations of the quarter-final exits that rankle. From my younger days there was the defeat at home to the all-conquering Liverpool side of the mid-1980s where expectation was low but hopes high on the back of a side packed with youth team graduates; whilst the defeat at home to Tottenham felt like a real kick in the teeth as hopes of it being ‘City’s year’ after Mike Sheron’s early opener gave way to a succession of Tottenham goals punctuated only by that goal from Terry Phelan and an ugly pitch invasion.
Under Stuart Pearce in the mid-2000’s City were stagnating. The club had long run out of money and even the excitement of a battle against the drop had given way to the relative safety of the lower mid-table. However, twice in two successive seasons City made it through to the last eight of the famous old competition only to suffer two dismal exits; the first an abject display at Ewood Park to Blackburn, and then the following year (oh how foolish we were to believe) a deflating 2-1 defeat at home to West Ham. We all really should have known better.
All of which helps neatly illustrates City’s progression in terms of performance and mentality the past few seasons. No longer is the last eight the buffers at the end of the track, and there is now a genuine belief that City are amongst the favourites each season.
They have a long, long way to go to match the exceptional record that Chelsea have posted in recent times but there is the very real sense that City, now amongst the Premier League elite, have both the requisite quality and wherewithal to challenge year after year in the competition.
All of which should go a long way to ensuring that the long trophy drought their FA Cup win in 2011 brought to an end very much remains a thing of the past.