The rewards keep coming for Manchester City, still basking in the afterglow of their FA Cup triumph and now enjoying the view from third place in the Premier League. Roberto Mancini's side moved above Arsenal after a match in which Carlos Tevez, in supreme form, scored two wonderful goals and Mancini declared that the Argentinian striker would stay at the club.
Tevez's first was a solo effort, slaloming through the Stoke defence before finishing with a rocket of a shot. His second had legitimate claims to be recognised as one of the season's most spectacular free-kicks, finding the top corner from 30 yards. In between, Joleon Lescott scored with a 52nd-minute header as Mancini's team restated their superiority over the team they had beaten at Wembley on Saturday. Stoke, quite frankly, looked like they did not want to be here – their opponents were swatting flies.
Mancini will now take his team to Bolton Wanderers on the last weekend of the season, hoping to confirm third place, the club's highest finish since 1977. Of greater importance, third place would also mean qualifying for the Champions League automatically, leaving Arsenal to navigate the qualifiers in August. That alone made this an evening of huge satisfaction for the Eastlands crowd. Arsenal go to Fulham on Sunday having taken 11 points from their last 10 league games.
City have finished the season on an exhilarating high. They took a raucous lap of honour after the final whistle and Mancini's assertion afterwards that Tevez would remain in Manchester added to the sense of jubilation. The Argentinian has scored 52 goals in 85 games for the club and he has 20 in the league this season. That puts him level with Dimitar Berbatov of Manchester United in the revised top-scorers' list (the Dubious Goals Panel chalked one off for both men this week).
Tevez's second goal was described as "absolutely extraordinary" by the Stoke manager, Tony Pulis, but it was a measure of the evening that it was only marginally the most memorable moment. The first goal also deserved a sprinkling of superlatives, the Argentinian playing a one-two with James Milner, darting into the penalty area and then swerving, leaning and twisting between the challenges of Ryan Shawcross and Andy Wilkinson. The run alone was magnificent but it was followed by a spearing drive that was still rising as it flew into the top right-hand corner of Thomas Sorensen's net.
That was a quarter of an hour into a first half that was even more one-sided than the first 45 minutes at Wembley. Stoke, perhaps unsurprisingly, looked emotionally spent, a team going through the motions. They barely troubled Joe Hart, the City goalkeeper who is now assured of the Premier League's Golden Glove award, having kept 17 clean sheets.
Hart spent long spells of the second half deliberating whether to give in to the demands, from the fans behind his goal, to start the Poznan dance. It was a party mood by that stage. At the other end, Sorensen was struggling to replicate the form he showed at Wembley. The Stoke goalkeeper was unconvincing in the extreme for the second goal, coming off his line to try to intercept Adam Johnson's free-kick delivery but then freezing. Lescott was braver, stronger and more determined to get to the ball and he scored with a header from six yards out.
Stoke's ordeal could have been even worse. Edin Dzeko, a second-half substitute, was clean through within two minutes of replacing David Silva, only to put his shot too close to Sorensen. But the pressure was unrelenting before Tevez, with his late goal of the season contender, gave the score a more accurate reflection. This was the moment when he showed that if he were to leave, City would have an enormous void to fill. His was a brilliant mixture of power and precision.
The FA Cup, left in the safe while the post-match celebrations went on, was held back for an open-top bus parade that will start from Manchester Town Hall next Monday. There was also a sense of duty towards their opponents. Quite simply, City did not want to rub Stoke's noses in it. But Tevez did just that and if Mancini is right and the striker does stay, there might be something in Pulis's post-match assertion that this could be a title-winning team next season.