LONDON — During a six-year period in the '70s, Manchester City and the League Cup were synonymous with one another. Three appearances in the final and two wins were part of a glorious period in the club’s history, but a 38-year absence from the final meant the bond was broken.
The wait is over. City are League Cup winners once more.
For Manuel Pellegrini, the result will bring relief as well as joy. It’s his first major piece of silverware since moving to Europe to further his managerial career, and questions have been raised as to whether he has what it takes to win trophies with City. He needed this as much as everybody at the club wanted it.
Sunderland have become City’s bogey team, and the first-half followed a familiar pattern to the league matches played at the Stadium of Light over the past four seasons: City dominating possession but insipid in attack, with Sunderland grabbing a goal against the run of play.
The City fans could be forgiven for thinking it wasn’t going to be their day.
However, a superb second-half performance that saw the Blues score three wonderful goals sealed the win and with it the first trophy of Pellegrini’s tenure. He will be hoping that, much like Jose Mourinho’s first spell at Chelsea, this trophy is the catalyst for sustained success.
Pellegrini now in. His message at half-time? "You have 45 minutes to change the score. Be calm, be patient . ." #MCFC— Daniel Taylor (@DTguardian) March 2, 2014
Samir Nasri was, quite rightly, awarded Man of the Match after another excellent display of guile and flair that kept City in possession of the ball and looking dangerous.
After a difficult season last time out, Nasri deserves great credit for turning his career at City around. It’s difficult to remember another player who has turned his form around quite as sharply.
Yaya Toure got City back into the match with a quite brilliant strike from outside the box, and Nasri himself put them ahead with a first-time, outside-of-the-boot finish. After a frustrating first-half, two goals in the space of a minute saw the game turn around completely.
Jesus Navas confirmed the result, finishing off a swift breakaway. The Spaniard is fast becoming one of the stars of City’s season, and this was one of the best cameo appearances in a major final you’re likely to see.
Sunderland can be pleased with their campaign. They saw off both Chelsea and Manchester United en route to their first major final since 1992 and performed admirably at Wembley, but City’s superiority eventually told.
City's defence still looking brittle. Been far from their best today. Sunderland deserve plenty of the credit for that— Oliver Holt (@OllieHolt22) March 2, 2014
Anyone who feels the League Cup is a devalued competition should watch the celebrations of the City players and staff at the full-time whistle. The relief and happiness at securing a trophy after a barren season last time out was palpable.
This is more than just a piece of silverware for City—it could be the start of a successful era under Pellegrini.
A unique domestic treble is still a possibility, and this result could well be the confidence-builder they need to see them win further trophies.
A City loss would have asked serious questions about both the Pellegrini era and the commitment of the players, but they put all concerns to bed this afternoon. The players responded to early misfortune and showed their quality. Pellegrini's men have much more to give, and the future is bright.
Rob Pollard is Bleacher Report's lead Manchester City correspondent and will be following the club from a Manchester base throughout the 2013-14 season. Follow him on Twitter here: @RobPollard_.