FA Cup: Manchester City set up Wembley showdown with United
Manchester City 1 Reading 0: For those who own motorway service stations from Knutsford to Toddington, this was the semi-final they all dreamt of.
As Manchester heads to London in pursuit of the FA Cup, the amount of Ginsters pies that will be sold the length of the route hardly bears thinking about. You never know, Virgin might be inspired to lay on the odd extra train.
Some 14 months ago, Roberto Mancini was coming to terms with a semi-final defeat to Manchester United in the Carling Cup, but City are a better team now and United slightly worse.
Mancini's last business trip to Wembley was in 1992 for a European Cup final with Sampdoria. It was lost to Barcelona, whose directors celebrated by swimming in the Thames. Should next month's encounter with United be lost, Manchester City's manager might be tempted to the water's edge, if only to hurl himself in.
There are some managers who would pin newspaper criticism of their players to the dressing-room wall to inspire a performance. "There is no need for me to say anything," said Bill Shankly to his Liverpool players before the 1974 final as he brandished Malcolm Macdonald's newspaper articles. "It's all been said." Macdonald and Newcastle were duly brought to their knees.
Mancini had no need to utter a word. The draw made by Fabio Capello and Hope Powell 40 minutes before kick-off had done his talking for him. Only Reading stood in their way, although nobody could anticipate just how fiercely the Championship's last survivors would resist, especially in the shape of their second-choice keeper, Alex McCarthy, who had shone in the 1-0 victory at Goodison Park in the fifth round and did so in the quarter-final.
His manager, Brian McDermott, lamented the fact that he had never stepped on to a Wembley pitch, although he might have an opportunity through the play-offs. With the final whistle long sounded, he embraced his chairman in a deserted stadium. It was genuinely touching. Sir John Madejski commented: "We have played one of the most expensively assembled teams in the world and we can hold our heads up afterwards. That says a lot."
Not since 1926 have the two Manchesters met in an FA Cup semi-final, won by City at Bramall Lane. They met Bolton in the final – which may yet happen – although this was rather overshadowed by City's relegation at the end of a season in which they had scored 89 goals and conceded 100.
Both those statistics, you imagine, would horrify Mancini, a man who delights in 1-0 wins and delighted in this one, scored by a man who in the Sunday papers had been reportedly in open revolt against him. Whatever the truth of that, Micah Richards met David Silva's corner perfectly, just when enquiries were being made about the possible date of the replay.
One of the criticisms made about Mancini was that he had asked his players to warm up in the corridors of the team hotel in Kiev before their defeat to Dynamo on Thursday night. They had flown home from Ukraine in the wake of a 2-0 loss and landed at Manchester Airport at five o'clock on Friday morning. It had been a tired, unhappy aircraft. Perhaps it was significant that Richards ran over to embrace his manager after the goal.
"It has been a long week," said Richards afterwards. "The travelling made everything a lot harder and you could see the boys were tired and leggy. But we have got through and that was the main thing. We had a talk after the game in Kiev and tempers were raised which is understandable because we had lost."
Eastlands was full, raucous and, bar one moment 10 minutes into the second half when Joe Hart and Joleon Lescott passed the ball to each other, they were entirely supportive.
However, this is a deeply weary team – Carlos Tevez, in particular, looked to be playing from memory – and Reading, having overcome Everton and West Bromwich Albion in this season's FA Cup, and beaten Liverpool in last season's competition, seldom looked as if they would crack, although Jay Tabb had to head off his own line.
Manchester City have eaten plenty of humble pie in their history but, as Reading are sponsored by Waitrose, had they lost yesterday it would have been filled with Aberdeen Angus beef and a rich, red wine sauce.
Tevez's frustrations seemed always on the verge of overwhelming him and he was seen attempting to stamp on Bryn Gunnarsson which would have earned him a red card. However, Silva was in elegant, breathless form. One moment in the first half saw him put Yaya Touré effortlessly through, although as he did so often, McCarthy proved equal to the shot.
Then Silva controlled the ball with one foot and lifted it over Ian Harte and then forced McCarthy into another fine save at his near post. It was a rare memorable moment in a match that will be remembered for its glittering prize rather than its glittering play.
Subs: Manchester City Balotelli 5 (Vieira, 70), Barry (De Jong, 83), Boyata (Wright-Phillips, 90). Unused Taylor (gk), Razak, Dzeko, Jo.
Reading Robson-Kanu 6 (McAnuff, 62), Church (Hunt, 77), Howard (Tabb, 86). Unused Andersen (gk), Griffin, Antonio, Taylor.
Booked: Manchester City Richards, Kompany. Reading Long.
Man of the match McCarthy