Familiarity bred intent rather than contempt in this rumbustious fourth round FA Cup tie at the Britannia Stadium.
The selections made by both managers made it abundantly clear that the FA Cup mattered to both Cities – Stoke and Manchester.
A sometimes cantankerous footballing tug of war was finally won with one gigantic ‘heave’ by Pablo Zabaleta’s 85th minute goal expertly finished with the outside of his foot and a strike worthy of his more vaunted Argentine countrymen Carlos Tevez and Sergio Aguero.
It was never a pretty game but the Blues were in control for the most part, always looked the more threatening and rarely looked like surrendering their record of not conceding a goal in 2013.
Joleon Lescott, perhaps more used to and better suited by Stoke’s rough and tumble, replaced Matija Nastasic at the heart of the back four and Aleks Kolarov came in at left back to add his free kick menace to the attacking options.
Lescott, who played in both the league games against Stoke, was outstanding in the heart of a back four that protected its Romanian keeper well.
Samir Nasri and Mario Balotelli were notable absentees from the eighteen after missing some training in the week through illness but it was refreshing to see teenagers Mario Lopes, who scored against Watford in the previous round, and Karim Rekik on the bench.
City dominated the early stages of the game as Thomas Sorensen saved low down from Tevez and then Ryan Shawcross blocked Edin Dzeko’s drive.
The best chance of the opening half fell to David Silva but the Spaniard couldn’t get enough curl on his shot and it thumped against the upright with Sorensen merely an interested and nervous spectator.
Tevez, who was the most influential City player in the opening exchanges, then sliced wide from close to the penalty spot before Stoke finally exerted some pressure.
Mancini’s men were though proving hard working off the ball as well as inventive and comfortable on it and it wasn’t until skipper Vincent Kompany limped off in the 32nd minute that the home side looked remotely menacing.
It took an age – well seven minutes – for the Blues to get back up to eleven men with Gael Clichy the substitute for Kompany and a wholesale reshuffle seeing a three-at-the-back system deployed which lacked some inches in the ‘tall department’.
Even so, the sure-punching Costel Pantilimon was seldom in serious action before the break.
Stoke could have been expected to try and exploit their height advantage in the second half but the threat was quashed at source and the second half followed a similar pattern to the first with another system change thrown in by Mancini who reverted to a back four for the last quarter.
Glenn Whelan, a former Blue, might have seen red for a two footed tackle on Javi Garcia that was missed by referee Webb and City’s frustration at a seeming lack of justice was heightened when Kolarov volleyed just wide and Sorensen saved well at the feet of Gareth Barry.
Still, cometh the hour, cometh the man and with three Argentine stars on the pitch it was the least likely who popped up with the 85th minute winner after Aguero’s cross had been deflected to him.
Roll on round five.