Aguero strike sends City through to final
Sergio Aguero provided a Jekyll and Hyde contribution to Manchester City's 2-1 FA Cup semi-final triumph over Chelsea.
The brilliant South American scored the second-half goal that ended up booking a meeting with Wigan next month. But he was also fortunate to escape a red card after a nasty challenge on David Luiz.
With Samir Nasri also on target for City, it was enough to repel a spirited Chelsea revival after Demba Ba had pulled one back.
The triumph keeps City manager Roberto Mancini in with a chance of extending his trophy-winning sequence to three seasons, which will answer his critics, who claim this campaign has been one of under-performance for the big-spending Blues.
That Chelsea went out with neither John Terry nor Frank Lampard being asked to make any contribution was the clearest indication yet that Rafael Benitez is presiding over a changing of the guard, even if he will be replaced as well during the summer.
Terry and Lampard have been part of all seven Chelsea FA Cup triumphs at this revamped stadium. At least they were on the bench - Ashley Cole did not even make it that far.
Petr Cech may be another survivor from Jose Mourinho's time but the goalkeeper remains an integral figure. And needing a fifth winners' medal to shove David Seaman out his share of being the most successful goalkeeper in the competition's history, Cech had a particular reason to impress.
It certainly seemed like it anyway given the brilliance of his early save to deny Aguero.
The Czech Republic international had set himself to deny Yaya Toure. That Aguero got his foot to the Ivorian's effort and steered it even closer to the corner just made Cech's plunge to the right more remarkable.
Cech then denied Carlos Tevez as City continued their fast start, with Chelsea hardly in the contest until skipper Vincent Kompany cleared Eden Hazard's mis-hit volley off the line.
That chance came about because Costel Pantilimon flapped at a cross.
With silverware so close, there had been a feeling Mancini would restore Joe Hart to his FA Cup starting line-up.
Clearly, Mancini has plenty of faith in the Romanian, just as the City fans have so much in their manager.
For it was the Italian's name that was sung loudest and longest after Nasri had broken the deadlock.
The sight of Toure powering at any defence is enough to get them quaking.
And Chelsea seemed spooked by the midfielder lumbering towards their box, which meant Aguero was afforded too much space when the short pass came.
He quickly flicked it onto Nasri, whose attempt at a return, resulted in a couple of fortunate rebounds and the perfect opportunity to lash home.
It is only a couple of weeks ago that Mancini said he wanted to punch Nasri for failing to produce top-class performances often enough.
That is was Nasri's first goal since October tells its own story. But presumably, all is forgiven - for a little while at least.
When Aguero spun away from Branislav Ivanovic and headed home Gareth Barry's cross straight after the restart, all Chelsea hope seemed lost.
Rarely can a substitute have had such an immediate impact as Fernando Torres.
For, as play restarted following his 65th-minute introduction, David Luiz drove a long ball to the edge of City's box, Torres flicked it on and Ba superbly hooked it in.
It ended City's chances of becoming only the fourth team to lift the trophy without conceding a goal and injected Chelsea with some much-needed self-belief.
Pantilimon saved at the feet of Juan Mata, then produced a wonderful stop to deny Ba.
It was spellbinding stuff, which just made Aguero's two-footed lunge at Luiz all the more stupid. Had Chris Foy seen it, City would have been left with just 10 men.
As he didn't, Aguero was still around for Torres to run his studs down the back of his calf, although in neither instance did any injury result.
It left a sour taste, although as it happened within the general run of play, it is unlikely Aguero will face any retrospective action.
Instead, he will return to this stadium in four weeks' time and aim to add another FA Cup to City's expanding trophy collection.