In a remarkable FA Cup third round tie at the Ethiad Stadium, Red was the colour in more ways than one as Manchester United held off a brave comeback from Manchester City to knock the cup-holders out of the competition on their own turf.
Whilst the result was a memorable one for United’s fans, they will also be smiling tonight due to the stunning news that broke an hour before kick-off that Paul Scholes had reversed his decision to retire in the summer to play on until the end of the season.
It was a stunning story for the game to start with and gave United’s fans even more of a reason to be cheerful and optimistic of their side making up for the shambles that was City’s sensational 6-1 win at Old Trafford back in October.
Sir Alex Ferguson decided to stick with Anders Lindegaard again in goal with Chris Smalling making a surprise return to the starting line-up alongside Rio Ferdinand in defence after his recent bout with tonsillitis with Jonny Evans recovering to make the bench alongside Scholes.
City started the game brightly with Samir Nasri, David Silva and Sergio Aguero combining well to put United under pressure. Aguero in particular looked menacing and charged down a Lindegaard clearance early on to give the Danish stopper a scare early on.
Despite being locked deep in their own half United were not letting City relax and against the run-of-play took the lead. Ryan Giggs picked out Wayne Rooney 50 yards from goal who stormed forward playing the ball to Antonio Valenica who picked out Rooney in the box to head home.
It was a magnificent header by Rooney and one that Costel Pantilimon filling in for Joe Hart could do little to stop. United’s fans celebrating the opener after 10 minutes had barley stopped cheering Rooney’s name when City’s skipper Vincent Kompany was sent-off.
The Belgian despite winning the ball cleanly from Nani in a two-footed lunge was surprisingly given his marching orders by referee Chris Foy. It looked a harsh decision but one that given the letter of the law was an understandable one to make.
City’s fans were furious and Mancini and his assistant ex-United favourite Brian Kidd were far from happy with the decision. United though had to concentrate and not get carried away with their man advantage knowing that the game was far from won.
Aguero was continuing to work his socks off and after blasting an effort into the side-netting almost equalised forcing Lindegaard into a fantastic save to hif left after fortuitously receiving the ball on the edge of the box after Ferdinand and Phil Jones had bumped into each other.
With James Milner having to drop to right-back, United had time and space in midfield to work the ball down the channels and on 28 minutes the lead was doubled. Nani played in Evra down the left who cross found Danny Welbeck on the second attempt to volley past Pantilliomon.
It was the forward’s eight goal of the season and one he rightfully celebrated in style. Questions though will be asked of why Nigel de Jong made no attempt to block the forward’s shot but United’s fans couldn’t care, they were 2-0 up and surely on their way to a famous victory.
Good work by Ryan Giggs and Rooney enabled Welbeck to hurt City again 10 minutes later when he was brought down in the area by Aleksander Kolarov. Rooney stepped up to take the penalty which was well saved by Pantillimon to his right, only for the forward to coolly the rebound home.
With the score 3-0 at half-time, United fans began to dream of the Reds scoring six to make up for the loss at Old Trafford but Mancini was to have none of that and took off Silva and Adam Johnson for two defensive-minded players in Stevan Savic and Pablo Zabaleta to shore up the back.
Just as they did at Newcastle in mid-week, United conceded a goal from a free-kick two minutes into the half. Micah Richards collided with Evra 25 yards out with Kolarov sending in an unstoppable shot past Lindegaard to give City some hope before they even began to imagine starting a come-back.
United had chances to restore their three-goal lead but Rooney narrowly shot wide before Valencia was hauled down in the area by Kolarov with Foy deeming the Serbian’s challenge was a fair one. Shortly after that it was time for Scholes sporting the no.22 shirt to mark his return to the action.
Despite getting some good early touches on the ball, six minutes after coming on the veteran midfielder miscued a short pass back to Evra who had taken a throw-on down the left. James Milner nipped in crossing for Aguero to fire home on the second attempt after Lindegaard had parried his first attempt.
With 25 minutes left on the clock, United had a difficult time left to see the game out and get the job done. Perhaps justice prevailed as Kolarov saw a cross handled by Jones with Foy waving away City’s claims as United to their relief held on.
After such a result, it was somehwat predictable that they were rewarded in the next round of the Cup with a tie away to Anfield to face Liverpool. Given the events of recent weeks, it will be a game that will have everybody talking and that’s before you start to think about the possible line-ups.
United: Lindegaard, Evra, Ferdinand, Smalling, Jones, Nani (Scholes), Giggs, Carrick, Valencia, Rooney, Welbeck (Anderson).
Despite Wayne Rooney getting the man-of-the-match award by ITV, credit must go to Antonio Valencia who in his natural position on right-wing was outstanding. He teamed up well with Phil Jones down the right, his ball for Rooney’s opener was a moment of magic and he kept his cool throughout City’s second-half comeback.
By Adam Dennehey @ADennehey87