Date:Tuesday February 16 2010
Tonight is the night that City can prove to themselves, their rivals and their fans that they are the real deal and press home the first of their two game advantage over Spurs and Liverpool.
Victory will mean several things, the most important being we will be in the top four of the Premier League for the first time in many months.
To our main rivals Liverpool, Spurs and Villa it will be a psychological victory as we stand above them with a clear advantage and home games against all of them.
If we can win both game sit will put us closer to third place and Arsenal than the other three and perhaps change our whole psychology for the end of season battle.
To our owners it is another yardstick in 'the project', a target achieved and one that must then be maintained from that point until the end of the season.
Most importantly though, it will send out a message to the fans clear and loud that we are the new City and not that 'typical' everyday one that everyone loves to condescend.
Time and time again, the team has proved in recent seasons that it has none of the true qualities required of a team looking to cement itself in the upper echelons of European football.
Qualities such as a never-say-die attitude, a pathological desire to win and the ability to travel to deepest darkest Mordor on a cold February night to defeat the enemy in their own back yard.
Fans have been treated to a myriad of disappointment over the years, with early seasons full of promise only to see their beloved Blues fail at the business end of the season.
Under Sven-Goran Eriksson City bluffed their way through the first half of the season promising much and reaching the top of the Premier League at one point.
Post Christmas however saw business resumed as usual with an away record shouting relegation form and Sven's one-dimensional tactic found out. Fans needed a back up plan- alas there was none.
Enter Mark Hughes and another era of empty promises followed. The new and honour-bound owners were praised for their public backing of the manager and the time he would be given. City were showing signs of stability.
Early season was no walk in the park though as the new high profile City were scrutinised at every corner and results were not coming as quickly as first thought.
It was at this time Hughes' back up plan or 'blame culture' came into effect as the players brought in by former managers were blamed for the team's inadequacies and the famous 'my teams play after Christmas' line was played like a stuck record.
To be fair the team did improve, but a quarter final home win against Hamburg was the highlight when the team played magnificently in front of packed house.
Yet that magical night at Eastlands masked the true City as yet again we had lost a key game and everyone knew that the first leg capitulation was what really counted in our UEFA Cup exit.
This season another early season sprint saw City right up there and Adebayor banging the goals in for fun until his mindless actions against Arsenal saw him suspended and out of the team.
A series of draws saw the Blues lose ground on the top three and after a key loss against Spurs cracks were beginning to appear. Hughes needed a back up plan, but he had already played his card the season before and unfortunately for him Garry Cook and Brian Marwood had their own in Roberto Mancini.
After a brief honeymoon period Mancini has some serious obstacles to overcome and prove he is the man to take the Sky Blues to the promised land.
With every loss those charming stammering Italian attempts to articulate will become annoying pauses of eternity a la Scholari as patience wears thin. The inability to understand the question will not be seen as a minor hindrance but a major flaw in communication to the first team.
Some might say that a Semi-final appearance is a major step forward in our progression and another yardstick to measure our success, others will point out that we threw away a fist leg lead and capitulated in the last half hour of the most important game for thirty years.
Amidst his recent Mediterranean mumblings one thing stuck out amongst the usual incoherence and that is that Roberto actually thinks we are playing good football and very well for that matter.
Now I am a fan of Mancini and the resoluteness he has brought to our sacred club, but can he really believe that we played well against Pompey, Bolton and Stoke?
Liverpool's Rafa Benitez would have you believe City's clash against Stoke to be irrelevant in the chase for that all important fourth spot and he may be right.
For it is tonight at Stoke that the real test begins on a cold February night in the Potteries against Stoke's Rugby XI hard, physical and determined to get to their forty point target of safety.
One things for sure, if we can pull out a win against these lot, the games against Liverpool, Spurs and Co will look a thousand times less daunting to both the fans and the players.
Whichever team is chosen, it will need to be at one hundred percent and the defence focused from the offset right until the final whistle.
Viera, Toure and Adebayor will need to perform for us to have any chance of winning and I hope they are ready to sound battle cry and wear the shirt with pride tonight.
If they do Mancini can look forward to some key but winnable home games against the likes of Liverpool, Spurs and the Rags and a damage limitation plan for the campaign against Chelsea.
So boys cometh the hour, cometh the men please and a couple of goals wouldn't go a miss either.
Date:Tuesday February 16 2010
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