THE demands of a cup final can work wonders on a player.
This was seen most clearly in the effort made by Vincent Kompany at Wembley, the Manchester City captain having run himself into the ground during the final of the Capital One only to find a new reserve of energy when it mattered most. The Belgian took the steps two at a time as he gambolled up to lift his club's first trophy of the season.
It was a moment made notable by the dejected figures in Sunderland shirts who stayed just long enough to witness their dream being acted out by others. The image of Manuel Pellegrini would stand out too; the City manager quietly watching as the swell of celebrations rushed around him. As supporters tried to capture the moment with a plethora of flashes, Pellegrini drifted into the background.
He would yesterday raise his first trophy as City manager but also the bar. The Chilean's job was complete at around 3.45pm yesterday; his next is only just beginning.
It is an occupation hazard of being the man in charge of this City team. The job places a coach in a state of flux since he must always be in pursuit of success and it was unlikely to have been far from Pellegrini's mind that City are only fourth in the Barclays Premier League table - six points behind leaders Chelsea, albeit with two games in hand. Their next match is at home to Wigan Athletic on Sunday in the sixth round of the FA Cup. It is also a game which they are expected to win.
An early goal from a spirited Sunderland side made the Capital One Cup final an uphill struggle for City yesterday. It would carry them up the steps to lift the trophy and to a summit to which they intend to return this season. They might as well have marked the spot with a flag since Pellegrini is also targeting the FA Cup as part of an ambitious quadruple.
"We are the only club that has the chance to continue trying to win all the competitions," said the City manager, whose side can still win the FA Cup, league and Champions League. "We wanted this trophy but I don't think that anybody can think that is enough. I don't think for top players or important clubs you are satisfied with one trophy."
City are trying to breed a side for success but their resolve was tested after 10 minutes yesterday. Fabio Borini was released in behind the City defence by Adam Johnson and the Sunderland striker able to shrug off Kompany before clipping a delightful shot past Costel Pantilimon, who was preferred to Joe Hart in goal.
It was a slap in the face to City and they were made to suffer further indignity as pockets of the Sunderland support united to enact the "Poznan" celebration which is favoured by their counterparts across the stadium. Sunderland are not free from the threat of relegation in the league but their fans had arrived in London intent on enjoying themselves.
City had not been at their most impressive in the first half - Sergio Aguero had a shot saved and a tame header from Kompany was blocked - yet Pellegrini resisted any temptation to alter his line up at the break. The Chilean was dubbed "the Engineer" during his time as a manager in Spain but he was left to rely on artistry rather than subtle tinkering to win yesterday.
The first brush stroke was made by Yaya Toure - the City midfielder who Sunderland could subdue only until the 55th minute. He is a powerful, compelling player and is also capable of moment of nonchalant skill, such as that which allowed him to lift a delicious shot into the top corner of the net to draw his side level. Within two minutes Samir Nasri had struck effortlessly to move City into a 2-1 lead and the brink of victory.
The cup was secured in the final minute as substitute Jesus Navas converted a cross from Toure. "I feel so much joy, so much pride," said Nasri. "I hope that this cup is going to bring some others."
The prospect of future glory for Sunderland rests in their ability to beat the drop. Their performance at Wembley will offer some hope. "For 45 minutes we were more than decent but then Toure scores," said Gus Poyet, the Sunderland manager. "Maybe if we had two goalkeepers we would have stood a chance."