With a five-yard prod Sergio Aguero brought uncontained delirium to the Etihad Stadium last night and kept Manchester City’s Champions League dream well and truly alive. From looking down and out against Villarreal and requiring something akin to a miracle to progress from the group stages suddenly it’s all to play for as Napoli and Bayern remain firmly in the cross-hairs. But as vital as that is to City’s master plan the Argentine’s strike could yet have a far greater significance. It might yet prove to be a watershed moment, a snapshot in time City fans return to in years to come and frame with sepia-tinged nostalgia as being truly era-defining.
Nothing will ever rival Dickov’s late salvation against Gillingham in ’99 for sheer importance and Yaya’s cup-winning hit last May was hardly inconsequential either but in one glorious instance Kun Aguero may have netted one of the most crucial goals in City’s recent history. A strike of lightning that heralds in a perfect storm.
An over-reaction? Possibly, but here’s why it was far more than ‘just’ a match-winner.
An end to the European stage-fright?
A worrying pattern was forming. City would tear up Premier League defences looking every inch a dominant, free-flowing, destructive force then walk quivering onto the main stage unsure of all they knew for certain only three days previous. Without last night’s dramatic finale a trio of disjointed, toiling displays would not only have garnered a meagre two points but would have risked a debilitating mindset to permeate through the squad as they travelled to Spain and Italy before hosting a sensational Bayern side requiring a probable three wins to progress.
It would have cast doubt in stone. In Europe we struggle.
Aguero’s winner kicked that particular monkey in the spuds before it could jump on our back.
An end to our last-minute draught
The last occasion I can recall City celebrating a stoppage-time winner was in late-2007 – a Stevie Ireland stunner against Reading. Before that I think it was Billy Meredith waltzing around Old Etonians to secure two ounces of pipe tobacco and a formal handshake from Queen Victoria. Last-gasp glory is just not in our repertoire. So much so that once I’d peeled myself off the clouds and returned to terra firma I instinctively bit my fingernails for the remaining five seconds. Old habits die hard.
From Michael Thomas taking what was up for grabs at Anfield to countless Old Trafford heartbreaks for stoic visiting sides the ability to snatch victory from the jaws of a draw makes up a vital component of a successful team.
Dzeko had an absolute stinker. From the first minute to the last he couldn’t have held up a bank in Balamory.
It was our Sheffield Wednesday
City are heading down the same trail that United once blazed through so it is inevitable that there will be echoes of their journey along the way. Last night’s jubilance even contained one of its previous travellers. In 1993 United were looking to attain their first league title since the days of Charlton and Best. Requiring a win at home to Sheffield Wednesday they over-turned a 1-0 deficit with a spectacularly late climax that resulted in Ferguson’s assistant Brian Kidd leaping in astonishment onto the Old Trafford pitch. Thankfully Kiddo refrained from doing likewise last night – the ramifications of the thrown scrunched-up paper placards onto the sidelines will probably result in a UEFA fine as it is – but his reaction was no less joyful to behold. Mancini meanwhile repeatedly punched the air like a child at Christmas, in an instant shedding all of the suffocating restraints of his role.
United fans often refer back to the Wednesday game as a pivotal watershed moment from which the glory days returned. Villarreal could well prove to be ours.
Takes us into derby flying
Without Kun’s strike there was the very real risk of heading into Sunday’s critical Manchester derby blighted with hesitation and doubt. Carrington would have been a sombre environment with confidence low. Now, all due to one flick of a predatory boot, the mood will be buoyant. The chance to go five points clear of a side that are beginning to stutter. Bring it on.
It won’t happen again
Dzeko had an absolute stinker – the ball bounced off him at strange angles as he inconceivably reinhabited last season’s ill-fitting skin. From the first minute to the last he couldn’t have held up a bank in Balamory. De Jong, struggling to regain match-sharpness, looked off the pace throughout whilst Nasri was ineffective attempting to do the simple things in a complicated fashion. Most surprising of all was a poor showing from David Silva. Such is the majestic ease of his touch and probing I didn’t even think that was possible.
It is hard to imagine that so many individuals will each suffer a simultaneous off-day again this term. So to snatch a victory from such unusual circumstances should offer Manchester City untold confidence for the arduous journey ahead.
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