By Kevin Henning, Sun 11 March 2012 20:37
So it was a seismic Sunday in which the balance looked to have tipped in the 2011/12 title race. United, for so long chasing City, finally reached the summit. By one point. Is it time for widespread panic amongst blues? Of course not. There are ten games left to play, thirty points to play for. Not to mention the mother of all Manchester derbies at the Etihad Stadium in April. Roberto Mancini is learning what an English title race is all about. Let's stop for a moment though and consider what he has achieved in his short time as a Premier League manager though.
His first six months were traumatic. A Carling Cup semi-final defeat to the rivals, the 34 year wait extended again. Mancini swore after the game that he would see to it personally that the banner that had adorned the Stretford End for too long, would be taken down. Focus turned to the race for fourth spot and the riches of the Champions League. Again, Mancini was left wondering what might have been as Tottenham Hotspur deservedly snatched the prize from under his nose. After just five months in the job, people who should have known better were claiming he couldn't bring his Italian style of football over here and expect to get what he wanted.
City moved into his first full season with immense pressure. Mancini was under no illusion that he simply had to secure Champions League football. At times he was mocked, Arsenal away saw the Citizens turn up with the sole intention of spoiling the game and taking a point. City were booed of the pitch by the Gunners faithful that night who cried "Anti-football". We got what we wanted that night though and ultimately pipped Wenger's men to third spot. Mancini kept his nerve throughout the second half of the season not only exacting revenge on Spurs almost a year to the day, but at the same time guiding City to an FA Cup Final. Mancini also exorcised the ghost of the derby day semi final of twelve months previous by putting United to the sword at Wembley in the semi-final.
The final against Stoke saw Bobby Manc stay true to his word and within days, the banner had disappeared from Old Trafford in time for Gary Neville's testimonial. Every word he'd uttered was true. Every setback he'd suffered,.put right. City finished third, qualified for the group stage of the Champions League and ended a 35 year wait. We'd grown and Mancini was the main reason. Trouble causers were sent packing and ultra profeesionals (and Mario Balotelli) were brought in to replace them. Craig Bellamy to Liverpool and Emmanuel Adebayor to Spurs showed that the Italian was confident that our major rivals over the last couple of seasons were now behind us. We were aiming our sights higher.
We entered his second full season needing a title challenge and once again, he has delivered. For most of the season, those who claim to be in the know have seen it as a foregone conclusion. If, and it's an extremely big if, United get the bit between their teeth and reach the finish line ahead of City, we'll be majorly disappointed. No-one will be more so than Roberto Mancini though. Let's not forget that this is his first title charge in English football. He has had obstacles thrown in his way again. The Carlos Tevez saga would be a major problem for any manager in world football. None would have handled it better than Mancini. He simply got on with his job. Nothing was going to distract him from his goal.
Should the Premier League trophy not find it's way to Manchester in May though, you can be assured that Mancini will take the body blow and learn again. He has learned time and time again how to bounce back from knockout blows in English football. Remember the words of Brian Kidd on the Wembley turf as City paraded the FA Cup? He spoke of the boss being a born winner. How anyone who didn't want to carry on collecting trophies should get of the train at the next stop. This is the mentality City have lacked for decades. United, and a fair few of their players simply can't go on forever. We have proved that we are neither scared nor inferior to them this season. The sands of time are running out for Ferguson and his men. It may not be this season, although the title is still in City's hands, but I am completely confident that the stylish Italian is still the man to drive us forward and on to a first league crown since 1968 and a scrappy 1-0 defeat to Swansea isn't going to change that. FORZA MANCINI.