Title-winning teams need a little luck and Manchester City grabbed their chance when it came
One had to feel sympathy for the torture Harry Redknapp endured in the final, incredible few seconds at the Etihad Stadium. No, seriously. As Gareth Bale's low cross rolled along the face of the City goal in the 91st minute and Jermain Defoe threw his hesitant and injured body forward, the Tottenham manager moved into wild celebration; then horror as the striker turned it wide. Thoughts of Mrs Redknapp's finishing skills no doubt flashed through his mind. But the agony was nothing compared to what followed and Ledley King conceded a clear penalty with a foul on Balotelli. Both teams' commitment to victory was laudable but only one team got the fortune when it mattered and, for City, the stoppage time events here could have a major bearing on the rest of their season.
With Emmanuel Adebayor unable to wind up his parent club, and despite Harry Redknapp's protestations to the contrary, this was Defoe's opportunity to show he can lead Tottenham's pursuit of the Manchester clubs and is not simply the poacher to dig them out of a hole against the lesser lights. He eventually took it but should have delivered so much more. Chances were scarce until the game opened up and the 29-year-old's obvious height disadvantage against the City defence did not provide the ideal platform for a striker of his talents. His composed response to Savic's error, however, hauled Tottenham back into a game, his movement was exemplary but he should have read Bale's intentions in stoppage time quicker and converted at full stretch.
It is difficult for any 21-year-old central defender with only a handful of starts in English football to slot flawlessly into a Premier League team. To do so into a side chasing the title and is missing its most commanding defensive presence, as City are with Vincent Kompany, adds to the problems facing the £6m signing from Partizan Belgrade. Savic is in that dispiriting position where every mistake is costing his club. He conceded the penalty that has given Liverpool the edge in the Carling Cup semi-final and his wayward header offered Spurs the lifeline that Defoe seized. The Montenegro international had, in fairness, produced an assured display until that point, in what was only his third Premier League start, and Mancini must hope no lasting damage has been done to the defender's confidence.
There has been a significant and perfectly understandable shift in Redknapp's use of Gareth Bale this season as the Tottenham manager has sought to capitalise on the Welshman's pace, vision and skill from a more central position. With one glorious strike of that left foot, Bale showed why. The 22-year-old started the game on the left, exchanged wings with Aaron Lennon late in the first half and also spent a few minutes as an unorthodox centre-forward when swapping positions with Defoe. That freedom makes Spurs such an attractive team to watch and Bale such a devastating talent when afforded a sight of goal.
"Why Always Me?" provided the answer once again. The Italian continues to blend the wonderful with the reckless. A consequence of Chris Foy's decision to dismiss Kompany for a two-footed challenge on Nani is that every borderline tackle committed by an opposition player at The Etihad Stadium ignites calls for a red card, and not only from Roberto Mancini. The City faithful demanded sanction for Scott Parker's scything challenge on Micah Richards but in truth the Spurs' anchorman was the victim of the game's worst offence when Balotelli stood on his head. Parker's first contact with Balotelli's foot was clearly accidental. The second looked a deliberate stamp for which no punishment came from referee Howard Webb.