There were several interesting comparisons: two potential England right-backs; the league's most talented foreign playmakers in Luka Modric and David Silva; the contrast between the emerging brilliance of Joe Hart and the perennial reliability of Brad Friedel. But one of the most influential players was not even on the pitch.

The absence of Emmanuel Adebayor, unable to play against his parent club, threatened to be crucial. His place in Tottenham's team was taken by the diminutive Jermain Defoe, meaning that Tottenham would have no aerial competitor for the forced clearance from defence or the aerial delivery from wide areas. City tried to capitalise on this by closing down quickly up front, through the conscientious Sergio Agüero and Edin Dzeko, with Silva supporting, forcing Friedel to hit backpasses down field. Inevitably those long clearances were snapped up by Joleon Lescott, Micah Richards or Stefan Savic, all of whom dwarf Defoe.

After failing in this way with several early clearances, and with a handful arrowed towards Gareth Bale, Friedel adapted and whenever possible started attacks by throwing the ball to deepish defenders or finding them with short passes.

This gave Tottenham more ground to cover before they reached the final third and it also gave City the opportunity to win the ball earlier. Harry Redknapp's men seldom panicked but their controlled possession had little penetration. With Rafael van der Vaart linking with Scott Parker and Modric to help nullify the midfield space that Silva can use so well, Defoe had little support. When Tottenham did get the ball wide in advanced areas in that chess-like first half the high cross was not an option and members of that central trio rarely joined the attack.

Both teams showed more ambition in the second period and Samir Nasri's clever run and finish, profiting from Silva's brilliant pass, changed the complexion of the game. In a flurry of cut and thrust, Joleon Lescott extended City's lead before Defoe – from a long ball out of defence that was misjudged by Savic – and Bale's wonderful shot brought parity. The end was chaotic. Defoe might have scored and Mario Balotelli, who should have been dismissed, emphasised the unpredictability and cruelty of the game by shooting home the decisive penalty.