Goals from Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck sent United fans into raptures as Fergie’s men reclaimed local rights, while City were left incensed by referee Chris Foy’s decision to send Kompany off.
Derby day is not a normal day, never has been and never will be. Surely not now that Mansour’s billions have transformed City into genuine title contenders and new media darlings to the point where most of the national newspapers and TVs had already written United off before kick off.
The 6-1 drubbing back in October must have been fresh in Ferguson’s mind and he set out a side determined to avenge what the Scot himself classified as “my worst day in football”.
With Lindegaard confirmed in goal, United welcomed back Chris Smalling at right back, with Jones and Rio Ferdinand as centre backs and Evra on the left. These days fielding a back four made out of defenders rather than midfielders playing out of position is an achievement in itself for United. Valencia, Giggs, Carrick and Nani were given the nod in midfield, while under-fire Wayne Rooney partnered Danny Welbeck up front.
The real surprise though was on the bench, as United unveiled their first midfield signing for four years. Wearing number 22, Paul Scholes. Yes, that Paul Scholes.
The real meaning that wheeling out a 37-year-old out retirement might have will no doubt be discussed at length in more appropriate circumstances but it surely gave United fans an unexpected and welcome boost.
Obviously it’s great to see the most gifted English player of the last 20 or so years putting his boots back on to help the club but, at the same time, this decision goes some length to explain what a dire financial state the club finds itself into at the moment.
On a very wet afternoon at Eastlands City had the better start, enjoying possession and pinning United back into their own half, but the reds defended with composure.
Then, completely against the run of play, the match exploded into life. Rooney collected the ball in midfield, serving Valencia out on the right before sprinting into the box to head the Ecuadorian’s cross into the top corner with a wonderful header.
After a week of speculation about his future Rooney responded by wheeling away in celebration kissing the badge.
Three minutes later things went from bad to worse for City as Vincent Kompany saw red for a two-footed lunge at Nani. While the Belgian defender might have played the ball, the rule clearly states that a player can’t tackle with both feet off the ground and Kompany should have known better, particularly as Nani wouldn’t have gone anywhere.
City were raging at Chris Foy but, while the sending off might have been slightly harsh, it would be interesting to see how many City fans would have complained if, say, Rooney had made such a challenge and got his marching orders.
Aguero went close to restore parity, forcing a great save from Lindegaard after trying to curl the ball into the far post, and then hitting the side netting after a good run.
United quickly made their superiority count though, Giggs and Carrick controlling the play and Valencia, Rooney and Welbeck looking a constant threat going forward.
Just after the half hour mark, Nani played a clever reverse ball to Evra inside City’s penalty area. The United’s captain saw his cross poorly cleared by Nasri and Welbeck pounced on the rebound with a superb right-footed volley to send the ball into the bottom corner and United fans absolutely berserk at the other end of the ground.
Many, even within the United camp, must have wondered whether Welbeck would have the potential to be a United player but the young lad has impressed this season, displaying an excellent first touch and link up play.
Welbeck was in the thick of the action again nine minutes later, as he controlled Nani’s pass in the box, before being brought down by Kolarov.
Referee Chris Foy had no hesitation in pointing to the spot and Rooney saw his shot saved before tapping the rebound into the empty net with his head to condemn Eastlands to a stunned silence, with the only exception being the almost 6.000 United fans.
The traveling reds were clearly having one of their best afternoons of the season as they even performed a “Poznan” of their own, to ridicule City’s fans celebration in their own backyard.
Welbeck narrowly missed the chance to put United 4-0 up just before half time and United went back to dressing room in total control.
With the game seemingly done and dusted, City started the second half with a new looking formation, without Silva and Johnson and with defenders Zabaleta and Savic on the pitch.
Mancini reaped his dividends immediately as Kolarov’s free-kick flew over the wall and dipped to Lindegaard’s left to give City a glimmer of hope.
That hope should have been extinguished fifteen minutes later when Kolarov brought down Valencia, that had tormented him all afternoon, for what look a stonewall penalty. Chris Foy had a different view and waved play on.
Two minutes later Milner collected a misplaced pass by Scholes, who had replaced Nani, and squared the ball back for Aguero whose initial shot was saved by Lindegaard, but the Argentine then slotted the rebound home to reignite a contest that had looked dead and buried 20 minutes earlier.
City pressed forward and had a penalty appeal turned down as Jones appeared to have deflected Milner’s cross with his shoulder.
United kept their composure and looked set for a relatively stress-free final few minutes. Then, deep into stoppage time, City were awarded a free kick after Rio Ferdinand – one of the few United players not on top of their game today – had fouled Micah Richards on the edge of the box.
Lindegaard punched away Kolarov’s effort and United fans could breath again before exploding in celebration at the final whistle.
For the whole week United have been described as a team on the verge of collapse and City were made to look as if they had already entered the draw for the fourth round but, as usual, the animal is at its most dangerous when it’s wounded.
There’s something slightly perverse and yet inexplicably self indulgent as to why the media wheel out the “decline” saga every time United fail to deliver to their expectation. Surely the current United side might be far from a vintage one and definitely have issues that need to be addressed sooner rather than later but portraying the champions as a third division side purely on the basis of two consecutive defeats and a lack of activity in the transfer window it’s, quite frankly, ridiculous and smacks of envy. It also smacks of short memory, as Fergie’s side always produce when back up against the wall.
City might have restored some pride with their late comeback, Micah Richards later claiming that his side had been the “moral winners”. Unfortunately for him, the real winners were the men in red.