LONDON: Manuel Pellegrini has won the first of the five-trophy target he was set when he signed his three-year contract at Manchester City last summer.
An improved second-half performance which resulted in two goals in two minutes from Yaya Toure and Samir Nasri plus another from Jesus Navas fired City to the relief of a 3-1 victory over Sunderland in the League Cup Final.
Last May City lost to relegation-bound Wigan in the FA Cup Final. That upset was a final nail in the managerial coffin of Roberto Mancini, as successor Pellegrini will have known.
Skipper Vincent Kompany said: “The first half was not up to standard but the second half was brilliant. This means everything to us.” Nasri added: “I hope it will bring confidence to us because last year was really tough. We are going to fight for the league to make something exceptional.”
Beaten Sunderland manager Guy Poyet said: “I hate losing but I’m proud of the players. The best of it was that City had to score two outstanding goals to beat us.”
After the Champions League defeat by Barcelona, the omens did not appear happy for City in the first half. But they powered back for a victory to encourage their league title combat with Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea, in-form Liverpool and fading Arsenal.
In the first half Sunderland’s teamwork was outstanding. Lee Cattermole and Seb Larsson controlled midfield while Liverpool loanee Fabio Borini struck a superb, acute-angled opening goal after outwitting Martin Demichelis and Kompany for both speed and anticipation.
Even with Sergio Aguero fit to return, City lacked penetration in attack but they regrouped at half-time. An illustration of their command was the sight of Poyet on the edge of the technical area, urging his Black Cats to push City back upfield.
The Uruguayan’s fears proved justified when Toure curled a perfectly-judged 30m chip over keeper Vito Mannone for the equaliser. Two minutes later Nasri, running in at speed, drove home a left-wing cross from Aleksandar Kolarov for City’s 120th goal of the season.
Sunderland battled back bravely and Pellegrini acknowledged the shifting balance by implementing a defensive substitution with Javi Garcia replacing David Silva in midfield.
Sunderland threw more and more men forward and, predictably, were killed off in the last minute of normal time when Navas raced away to convert a Toure assist.
The Black Cats’ dream of a Wembley shock to match the FA Cup victory over then-mighty Leeds in 1973 had vanished and City were left to celebrate their third League Cup, albeit their first since 1976.
This was also the first trophy Pellegrini had won in his 10 years in European football with Villarreal, Real Madrid, Malaga and now City.
Pellegrini’s assistant Brian Kidd said: “It was a great performance by Sunderland and I’m so pleased for the boss. He has never taken this competition lightly. It was his first trophy here so he’s got that monkey off his back.”