Sunderland thoroughly merited their half-time Capital One Cup final lead after the excellent Fabio Borini fired a 10th-minute opener.
A 1-0 scoreline enveloped the massed ranks of blue at the national stadium with tangible dread. On City’s last four visits to the Stadium of Light, Sunderland sent them away thoroughly chastened by the same margin.
Manuel Pellegrini’s men lacked tempo and intent in their limp attacks. Passes shifted listlessly across the well-marshalled Sunderland box. When a hopeful cross did arrive, centre-backs Wes Brown and John O’Shea gobbled them up.
This was the state of affairs for the 44 minutes after Borini’s goal. It appeared likely to remain until Pablo Zabaleta slipped a routine pass into Toure’s path.
If the quality of the Ivorian’s nonchalant sweep into the top corner from 30 yards scaled heights rarely touched, the impact of his contribution was in line with his outstanding achievements since swapping Barcelona for Manchester in the summer of 2010.
Toure scored the only goal on each of City’s first two visits to the new Wembley. A rousing semi-final win over rivals Manchester United paved the way for a vicious swipe of the midfielder’s left boot to decide 130th FA Cup final against Stoke.
It was City’s first trophy in 36 years and, 12 months later, Toure would put them on the brink of ending a 44-year wait to become champions of England with a superb two-goal salvo at Newcastle.
Of course, Sergio Aguero was the hero as that campaign reached an unforgettable injury-time conclusion.
Perhaps the Argentina striker should be grateful Toure had earlier vacated the stage with a leg injury. His last hobbling act was to set up Zabaleta’s opening goal in the eventual 3-2 win over QPR.
Ultimately, Sunderland were just the latest team to suffer as the 30-year-old bent a huge occasion to his considerable will as City claimed a 3-1 Capital One Cup final glory.
Reinvigorated, like many of his team-mates, by Pellegrini’s management, Toure has taken his game up a gear this season. Alongside his invaluable knack of defining the big moments, he carries a significantly increased goal threat.
The Wembley wonder strike was his 17th of a remarkable campaign. And yet, the plaudits are still not universal.
Fellow final goalscorer Samir Nasri spoke along those lines this week, as per The Guardian, and lingering gripes remain among UK pundits regarding Toure’s alleged aversion to hard work.
Somewhat infamously, having watched the player score for the third time in as many away league games, Dietmar Hamann was scathing in his assessment of Toure’s contribution to City’s 3-2 New Year’s Day win at Swansea.
“I just think at times, especially away from home, he can be a liability,” the former Germany international told BBC One’s Match of the Day programme.
The accompanying clips showed Toure neglecting dirty work in his own half, leaving Fernandinho to pick up his midfield partner’s tab.
In Fernandinho’s injury absence against Chelsea at the start of last month, Pellegrini made the curious decision to put centre-back Martin Demichelis alongside Toure in the engine room.
Jose Mourinho’s team were deserved 1-0 winners, dominating the midfield battle. Surely this was down to the temporary stop-gap rather than the proven world-class operator? Not according to the Daily Telegraph’s Mark Ogden. Look at the writer’s fifth paragraph and you’ll see that word again—liability.
The player’s detractors will take solace in statistics found on WhoScored.com. In Premier League games this season, Fernandinho averages 3.2 tackles per game to Toure’s 1.8, outstripping him 2.4 to 0.8 on interceptions.
But Toure is the antithesis of the "get stuck in" midfielder—perhaps the reason this demonstrably magnificent performer lacks unanimous acclaim in England.
From Gerry Gow to Joey Barton, City fans have had their share of tireless workers who tackle anything that breathes. Jamie Pollock once tried so hard in a relegation six-pointer that he blundered headlong into an improbable solo own goal.
Integral to Pellegrini’s plans, as he was to Mancini’s, Toure will rarely benefit from the restorative effects of squad rotation. His approach to matches and seasons is akin to a seasoned heavyweight boxer from the days of brutal 15-round contests.
Had Toure torn around after Sunderland’s swarming midfield during the first half, would he have had the presence of mind and sniper-like precision to turn the contest spectacularly on its head in the 55th minute?
When City’s opponents pressed gallantly for an equaliser, it was Toure who surged forward on the break to set up Jesus Navas for the game-clinching third.
He takes some rounds off but delivers the knockout blow—a style that has established him as one of the world’s best.
City’s UEFA Champions League hopes may hang by a thread, but they remain in with a realistic hope of becoming the first team in history to secure an English domestic treble.
Such high stakes mean pivotal moments will present themselves. When they do, expect Yaya Toure to be close at hand.