On a day when expectations were low amongst the United faithful the real Manchester United turned up at Middle Eastlands in a thrilling Derby deservedly won by the better team.
From Sir Alex Ferguson to Danny Welbeck we stood up and were counted, we should rightly have been 3-0 up and out of sight on the hour mark but a poor performance from the referee and his assistants changed the score-line, but luckily not the result.
Manchester United started with Jonny Evans marking Mario Balotelli, bringing back concerns about the roasting our man got at Old Trafford last season, I watched the team selection with a little trepidation but after 50 minutes it was clear that Super Mario was in Jonny’s pocket, the tables turned from last season in that battle.
And so it was all over the field. We snuffed out Sergio Aguero with numbers, Samir Nasri was peripheral, Vincent Kompany limped off injured and despite early possession Manchester City flattered only to deceive.
United played a 4-4-2 with Wayne Rooney often in advance of Robin van Persie and looking all the more dangerous for it. His 2 goals were impressive because he was the most advanced player, looking for space in the box rather than hanging back like an advanced midfielder as we have seen for so much of this season.
At 2-0 we looked so safe it became almost relaxing yet one of the many poor refereeing decisions turned the game on its head as Ashley Young scored a perfectly good goal only for a mistake by the assistant to call offside and as I feared in that moment of anguish City scored immediately.
David De Gea playing in place of Anders Lindegaard after his Massimo Taibi-like performance at Reading generally did well apart from a few moments when he was rooted to his line when he should have come and collected through balls. His double save prior to City’s first goal was excellent and no fault could be attributed to the Stray Cat for the Yaya Toure strike that gave City hope. His save off his shoulder from David Silva was also good and his punching was better than we have seen for some time.
But 2-1 is the score-line that I hate, United didn’t seem to know whether to stick or twist and so did neither and the inevitable equalizer, inevitably from a corner, followed. City could hardly believe their luck and suddenly looked like winning the game.
The referee continued to influence the outcome. Patrice Evra was clearly fouled by Kolo Toure for what should have been a United penalty and Carlos Tevez should have been sent off for kicking out at Phil Jones in front of Sir Alex who made his opinions very clear to Mark Clattenburg who was the fourth official. Why was that not a second yellow? Surely the FA will intervene based on video evidence.
RvP’s winner from a free kick on the right that was set up for him to curl it in off the post thanks to Nasri’s weak poke at the ball was no less than we deserved.
Then came the scenes at the end when Rio Ferdinand was struck by a coin, blood streaming from his eye while the staff tried to patch him up as City tried to restart the game quickly There were City fans screaming racial abuse and one attempting to attack him on the field.
We have not heard the last of this, punishing City is important for the FA to have any credibility (as if they can recover that!) and fines don’t matter to oil rich sheiks, hit them where it hurts with a points deduction. They deserve no less and it will be interesting to see if the FA has the guts to stamp this out.
Rio’s post match tweet that City fans are cheap throwing 2 pence pieces rather than pound coins was both funny and a sad reflection of poor losers who will never be taken seriously if they behave like idiots.
Sir Alex leapt like a salmon at the winning goal, it opens a gap rather like the one we blew last Spring, and as we know United never make winner a trophy easy, there is far to go before we get our trophy back. Sir Alex also took a moment to throw another verbal brick at Chelsea in the after match interview as though to stamp down those other fossil-fuelled upstarts.
Winning at City was a massive result but deserved.
I liked the performances of most players but it was great to see Antonio Valencia back, although not his greatest game. Young did much better than recently, Evra and Rafael were both excellent and Tom Cleverley did well.
But for me the performance of Wayne Rooney did enough to silence the critics of which I’ve been a vocal one. I recently asked what his best position is and he showed me, it’s up there equal to RVP in advance of him 50% of the time. This lad scores goals – that’s what he does best.
This was a great game that despite the officiating had the best team winning and re-established the hierarchy in Manchester.
Next week we play Sunderland and what we want is a performance of the same intensity to put a poor team to the sword. Kick on United, this was by far our best performance of the season and with Christmas coming its the present I wished for. Thanks lads
By Steve Burrows CBE @ifollowsteve