City 0, Swansea 5
This was not how the story should end. City were outpassed and outclassed in a Wembley walk-over.
They did not become the first fourth-tier team in European history to win a major domestic trophy. Phil Parkinson is not the first English manager to win the competition at the new Wembley.
Swansea inflicted Capital One Cup punishment to an embarrassing degree. The under-under-underdogs, as Michael Laudrup had described City, were crushed in a final that was effectively over once the first goal went in.
It hurt – how it hurt – but everyone with an affiliation for Valley Parade should still wake this morning with a feeling of pride. That they were there at all – going where 90 other clubs had failed – should mean more than a painful scoreline that will eventually fade.
Just think back over six months to when it all began; when Mo Farah eased away for his second gold medal in the Olympic 5000 metres, it put the cap on a glorious British sporting summer.
Few, barring those who were there, would have even glanced at the football score that afternoon from Notts County. City’s win at Meadow Lane, memorable as it may have been locally, did not register on the national wavelength.
But James Hanson’s curling left-footer not only took the Bantams through the first round for only the third time in 11 years. It also kicked off a fairytale story as spectacular as anything the Olympics could conjure.
Wembley, sadly, proved one peak too far for a team that had scaled so many mountains. They never got beyond base camp.
The form book and league tables, for once, proved spot on – the experts and “told you so” nay-sayers eventually got it right.
What could have been an historic final became the most lop-sided one as the three-division difference between the sides was exposed as a gaping chasm.
But do not let that diminish what City had done to get to this stage. The magnitude of their achievement in becoming the first club from the basement level to reach a major Wembley final – toppling three from the top flight on their way – should not be dismissed in the bitter disappointment of yesterday.
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With Swansea also making their debut in a proper final, it had made for tremendous anticipation at both ends of the famous stadium – the only shame was the empty seats dotted around the Club Wembley level. Surely they would have been snapped up had the clubs had the offer.
As contests went, it never got going. City were a goal down before they were able to get out the blocks.
Swansea had an early stranglehold on possession and their neat pass, pass and pass some more style created a header for Ben Davies – and a 17th-minute opener from Nathan Dyer.
Matt Duke could only parry Michu’s cross-shot and the winger was first to the rebound to tap in at the far post for his first goal in 20 games.
History, at least, remained a straw to cling on to. Five of the previous seven winners of the competition had conceded first.
But there was a touch of the first half of Villa Park about City’s cowed approach. Swansea’s control of the ball accentuated it and Parkinson’s side found it tough to make any mark on proceedings.
It took nearly half an hour for Hanson to win his first header and City had still not troubled the shots column. The fans sensed their edginess – “get amongst ’em” was a typical bellow but there had not been one robust League Two challenge to let the Swans know they were here.
Leon Britton, once a fourth-tier player himself, volleyed wide from a half-cleared corner and Rory McArdle, back in the thick of it after his ankle injury, showed no ill effects with a crucial intervention from Michu.
Swansea’s reputation for folding from set-pieces – they have conceded from 14 in the Premier League this season – at least gave City a glimmer of hope. When Ki was booked for whacking the back of Nahki Wells, the roar went up in the claret and amber ranks but the free-kick failed to even make the box.
Swansea’s complete control earned a second reward six minutes before the break. Pablo Hernandez played a low ball in to Michu and the Spaniard got half a yard on Carl McHugh to fire through his legs and past the diving Duke.
Parkinson had wondered aloud before the game why none of the big boys had shown an interest in the former Malaga marksman. The quality way he took his term’s tally to 19 goals underlined his priceless value to South Wales.
It threatened to get even messier for City as Duke saved from Wayne Routledge and Hernandez. “Land of our Fathers” cascaded from the white half of Wembley; met by stunned silence at the other.
The pre-match optimism had drifted away into the freezing air – Parkinson had a mammoth team talk ahead to make any hint of a game of it.
He replaced the struggling Curtis Good with Andrew Davies and moved McHugh out of the middle. But the Irishman was immediately exposed by Dyer and a cute one-two with Routledge set him up for a curling finish for goal number three.
The game was up – and there were still 42 minutes left.
“Que Sera, Sera” became a chorus of “We’ve been to Wembley” as the gallows humour kicked in. There was the merest suggestion of a City flurry but Stephen Darby’s long throw was claimed unopposed by keeper Gerhard Tremmel, his first catch of the day.
The nightmare continued to unfold at the other end. Jonathan De Guzman burst through, only to be denied by Duke’s trip. The ball trickled past the post but referee Kevin Friend pulled play back for the foul – and gave Duke his marching orders.
City’s keeper, the hero for so much of this cup run, became the seventh player to be red-carded in a League Cup final. Dyer, on a hat-trick, argued with his team-mates to take the penalty but it was De Guzman who picked himself up to slot past substitute stopper Jon McLaughlin.
Wells had been withdrawn for damage limitation purposes to bring on the keeper; the Bermudian unable to scratch the surface on his biggest stage. The same could sadly be said for pretty much all of his team-mates.
Swansea still hunted goals, Michu shooting wide and Ashley Williams straight at McLaughlin. The City fans responded by standing up to offer a defiant song as flags were waved across the stadium. Their team may have been caught in the headlights but the fans were bowing out with a bang.
“Shoot, shoot, shoot” they shouted as City finally won a corner four minutes from time. Gary Jones did eventually oblige and even though it bounced four times on its way to Tremmel, the roar was huge.
But Swansea had time for one more and, after Michu hit the woodwork, De Guzman nudged in his second at the near post.
Still the City fans sung – saluting their team at the end as loudly as the winners. Quite right too because, let’s face it, they had won by making it to the final two.