TWO moments of magic inside two second-half minutes helped Manchester City avoid a second successive Wembley meltdown yesterday as they landed the season’s first silverware with a 3-1 victory over Sunderland in the Capital One Cup final.
SCORERS: Man City - Toure 55, Nasri 56, Navas 90; Sunderland - Borini 10
Referee: M Atkinson
Memories of last season’s FA Cup final defeat by relegation-bound Wigan Athletic were re-surfacing as Manuel Pellegrini’s side trailed to Fabio Borini’s clinical tenth-minute strike.
This time, however, City showed their pedigree with Yaya Touré’s spectacular curling shot and Samir Nasri’s piledriver turning the final on its head.
Relegation-threatened Sunderland continued to dream of a first piece of silverware since their epic 1973 FA Cup final defeat of Leeds United with an impressive response in which Scotland striker Steven Fletcher should have equalised before Jesus Navas finished them off in the 90th minute.
It was City’s first League Cup title since 1976 and keeps alive their hopes of an unprecedented domestic treble in Pellegrini’s first season, but it was never straightforward.
“Maybe what happened last year at Wembley was in their minds in the first half,” said Chilean Pellegrini, after picking up his first major trophy as a European coach following a lengthy but fruitless spell in Spain.
“But the important thing was to calm the players and let them trust in what they can do.”
With City in the last eight of the FA Cup and six points off the top of the Premier league with two games in hand, Pellegrini said capturing the League Cup could prove pivotal.
“This gives us a lot of confidence to go forward,” he said.
“If you have a chance to win a title and don’t, it affects you. We are the only club to have the chance to win all the trophies and for a big club, one trophy is never enough.” Sunderland manager Gus Poyet said there was little more his team could have done to avoid defeat.
“I’m sad, I hate it, but I’m proud of them,” the Uruguayan said. “We were more than decent for 45 minutes – then bang, bang.
“From the football side we couldn’t do better but in the end the quality decided the game.”
Sunderland spent the opening minutes deep inside their own half as City zipped the ball around on the lush Wembley turf but, after knocking out Chelsea and Manchester United to reach the showpiece, they soon showed some attacking intent.
City were jittery at the back and, after Sunderland had a goal rightly flagged offside, they fell behind following an uncharacteristic mistake by skipper Vincent Kompany.
He was caught in two minds as Borini closed him down and instead of booting the ball clear he was dispossessed and Borini raced into the box to thump a shot with the outside of his right boot past Costel Pantilimon.
City dominated possession for the rest of the half without ever carving open a Sunderland rearguard well-marshalled by former Manchester United stalwarts Wes Brown and John O’Shea.
Sunderland goalkeeper Vito Mannone was never seriously tested and it was Sunderland who could have doubled their lead when former Swansea and Liverpool striker Borini ran through on goal from a suspiciously offside position.
This time Kompany rescued his side with a timely intervention just as the Italian cocked his leg to shoot.
A City onslaught was expected at the start of the second half but, again, it was Poyet’s Sunderland who impressed.
Former Celtic midfielder Ki Sung-yueng, part of the Swansea City side that lifted the trophy last season, let fly from 30 yards, forcing Pantilimon to tip his dipping strike over the crossbar.
Then the wheels fell off Sunderland’s bandwagon.
One nonchalant swing of Touré’s right leg sent a curling, 30-yard shot beyond the fingertips of Mannone after 55 minutes and two minutes later Nasri met Aleksandar Kolarov’s half-cleared cross with an unstoppable shot, showing great technique to steer the ball into Pantilimon’s right-hand corner with the outside of his boot.
It was cruel on Sunderland but they refused to capitulate and once their heads had cleared from the shock of two lightning bolts they began to pose some serious questions of a City defence that still looked vulnerable.
With Sunderland throwing men forward substitute Fletcher – who had not been deemed fit enough to warrant a starting place – hit a shot straight at Pantilimon and they battled gamely until the end to no avail.
Substitute Navas made absolutely sure there was no way back for Sunderland with a clinical third on the stroke of full time when City broke at pace with five men against two.
Manchester City: Pantilimon, Zabaleta, Kompany, Demichelis, Kolarov, Nasri, Toure, Fernandinho, Silva (Javi Garcia 77), Dzeko (Negredo 88), Aguero (Jesus Navas 58). Subs Not Used: Hart, Lescott, Milner, Clichy.
Sunderland: Mannone, Bardsley, O’Shea, Brown, Alonso, Cattermole (Giaccherini 77), Johnson (Gardner 60), Larsson (Fletcher 60), Ki, Colback, Borini. Subs Not Used: Celustka, Vergini, Scocco, Ustari.