THE alluring charm of the FA Cup has always been in its ability to throw up incongruous situations. There was no upset at Glanford Park yesterday, but the sight of Robinho tip-toeing through the mud-spattered corridors in a pair of sky-blue boots is an image that will endure, particularly if this turns out to be his final appearance in a Manchester City shirt.
It was a mark of how far Robinho's stock has fallen that Roberto Mancini recalled him to the starting line-up yesterday for a match sandwiched between the two legs of the Carling Cup semi-final against Manchester United, but, jeered by the locals for much of the game, he did have the last word, scoring City's fourth goal with his final kick before making way for Craig Bellamy, to little acclaim.
Mancini was predictably coy when grilled over the future of the £32.5m man, who told a Brazilian radio station he is leaving on a loan move to Santos.
Mancini insisted: "Hopefully in the end Robinho will stay here. In the next day the situation can change but at the moment he stays here and I am very happy for him."
However, Mancini added tellingly: "I think one player can stay in a squad only if he is happy -- if he wants to play every game and if he wants to work every day. That is most important because the players and manager must be happy." Earlier, Robinho had told Brazilian radio station Radio Bandeirantes: "What's important is to be happy. The directors all agree that it's better to send me out on loan. It would be exceptional to return to Santos."
Whatever Robinho had in mind when, rather implausibly, he swapped Real Madrid for Manchester on that mad September day in 2008, it was not this. Even after such an anticlimactic spell in English football, Glanford Park is no stage on which to mark his farewell, so perhaps, as City hold talks with Santos and Benfica about a loan move to put him out of his misery, he will stick around until Wednesday for a spot of bench duty at Old Trafford.
If there is a temptation to regard Robinho's goal, his first in 12 appearances this season, as an irrelevance, it should be avoided. Scunthorpe United's performance was so full of character that, at 3-2 down, an equaliser would have surprised nobody. They were often the better team and, while the class of the goals scored by Martin Petrov, Nedum Onuoha and, in particular, Sylvinho were a measure of City's overall superiority, Mancini looked like a relieved man afterwards, his team taking their record to six wins in seven matches under him.
Nigel Adkins, the Scunthorpe manager, described it as "a game of inches" and it was easy to see what he meant. When Cliff Byrne headed against the crossbar in the 15th minute and Paul Hayes came a stud's length from poking the ball past Stuart Taylor, the City goalkeeper, 30 seconds later, it seemed that fortune was conspiring against the underdogs. The flipside is that Hayes was more than a matter of inches offside when he equalised on the half-hour and that a deflection off Dedryck Boyata carried Byrne's shot past Taylor for their second goal, but Scunthorpe seemed to have earned their fortune.
Scunthorpe are one of those small-town clubs who have never gained ideas above their station. The pre-match atmosphere felt like one of hope rather than any kind of expectation and, as Mancini leant against the dugout to watch the warm-up, he found himself besieged by autograph hunters, for some of who this was as much about stargazing as giant-killing.
When Petrov gave City the lead with a blistering left-foot shot in the third minute, the home supporters' expectations sank even lower.
It was an excellent goal, City passing the ball around nonchalantly before Robinho teed up Petrov, who burst past Gary Thompson's meek challenge and lashed his shot past Joe Murphy at the near post. Scunthorpe, though, did not lie down. After City failed for the umpteenth time to clear their lines, Robinho lost out in the air to Rob Jones, whose header was knocked by Martyn Woolford into the penalty area, where Hayes scored with a volley.
The goal should not have stood -- Hayes had been in an offside position -- but no one could claim that parity flattered the Championship team.
Ultimately, though, it came down to a gulf in class.
Stephen Ireland's deft touch set up Onuoha to make it 2-1 just before half-time and Sylvinho extended the lead with a spectacular shot from 30 yards in the 57th minute.
There was still time for Byrne's shot, via Boyata, to reduce the arrears and for Scunthorpe to push for an equaliser, but Robinho's final say showed a glimpse of the talent that has been in evidence all too rarely since his captivating first few weeks in Manchester. It was not the most auspicious of goodbyes, but at least a statement of some sort.