Roberto Mancini has urged his Manchester City players to put their midweek League Cup disappointment behind them when Premier League strugglers Portsmouth visit Eastlands on Sunday.
Mancini and his squad have been licking their wounds since Wednesday’s crushing semi-final defeat to Manchester United at Old Trafford, but the Italian has been making a good job of hiding his hurt in the hope that this will give his players the lift they need.
Mancini says he was proud of his side and believes City will have no trouble in securing Champions League qualification for the first time if they can maintain the same levels that saw them push Sir Alex Ferguson’s men to the very limit.
Mancini said: “That game is now in the past, but after the game on Wednesday we still feel that we are strong.
“United scored late and won the game, but we still think we played very well. For us, the most important thing is that we did well and showed that we can win. I’m happy about that, but disappointed for the players.
“But now it’s in the past and we must think about the next game. We need to keep up the same level of performance. If we can do this and win the next three games in front of us then we know we have a good chance of getting fourth place.
“If we continue to play like we did against United then we will be fine. Okay, we lost to United but that is football. We played well.
“The important thing was that in two games we played at the same level as United. I am pleased with that. Now we have to focus on the game on Sunday, which is very important. We want to win and we must win.”
Mancini welcomes back Kolo Toure from African Cup of Nations duty, while Emmanuel Adebayor could be in line for his first start since his ill-fated departure for the same tournament with Togo.
Former Arsenal midfielder Patrick Vieira remains sidelined with a calf injury, however, but Mancini believes he will be fit to make his debut against Hull next weekend and bring an end to supporters’ fears that his signing might have been a gamble that has backfired.
Portsmouth could well represent cannon fodder to City as the club’s financial troubles show no sign of easing. It was not even certain that Avram Grant would still be their manager for Sunday’s match, such is the depth of the turmoil at Fratton Park.
The players have once again been forced to wait for their wages for the fourth time in succession, while Grant and chief executive Peter Storrie have accused the club of trying to sell players without consulting them both.
Storrie has decided against walking out on the club but admits he and Grant have plenty of cause to consider their futures.
He said: “We are both angry, frustrated and fed up, but neither of us are quitters. I don’t intend to quit now I’ve slept on it and although I cannot speak for Avram, from what we have talked about I don’t think he will quit either. And, let’s face it, we both have good reason to walk out.
“I am no longer involved in the finances, I am not involved in the transfer negotiations and Avram doesn’t know what players are being sold.”
The duo’s anger surfaced when Portsmouth opened negotiations with Tottenham to sell defender Younes Kaboul and goalkeeper Asmir Begovic without their knowledge.
It is understood the club are waiting to receive payment from Tottenham for the Kaboul deal before they can cover this month’s staff wages.
In the meantime, Grant will welcome midfielder Jamie O’Hara back into his side for the trip to Eastlands.
O’Hara has returned to Fratton Park on-loan from Tottenham until the end of the season, although Grant is still waiting for Kanu, Nadir Belhadj and Hassan Yebda to return from the African Cup of Nations.