At last after a week of fidgeting, nail biting and squeaky bums, the night had finally arrived. The most important derby in the history of the Premier League and most certainly the most important match this writer can remember. The banter was over and the time for supposition had past, this was it, a nail biting ninety minutes that could very well decide the outcome of the league, for whoever won, destiny would be in their own hands.
Mancini showed faith in the side that had defeated Wolves last week which meant the team sheet read as follows: Hart, Zabaleta, Kompany, Lescott, Clichy, Yaya, Barry, Silva, Nasri, Tevez and Aguero. The bench consisted of: Pantilimon, Richards, Kolarov, De Jong, Milner, Dzeko and Balotelli. Sir Alex Ferguscum set his stall out from the off with a five man midfield clearly meant to stifle City`s brilliance and go for the draw.
As expected United began the game at a frenetic whirlwind pace attempting to catch City off guard and the opening few minutes saw a rear guard by City as they looked to contain their neighbours and self-proclaimed champions. But in the 4th minute, Kompany picked up the ball and went on a great run, finding Clichy with a neat pass. The Frenchman crossed first time but his pass just evaded the two Argentinian front men.
City`s first corner came in the 7th minute and Silva stepped up and fizzed in a neat ball that was cleared by United and seconds later it was the visitors who had a corner won by Ferdinand. City were standing off United now and it was Nani who had the next chance but he fired wildly over the bar.
The game was end to end stuff after 11 minutes an engrossing and breathless affair as both team`s seemed nervous as surely the first goal would be all important. A foul by Barry on Evra and United won possession back in the 12th but for all their early bossing of the game, the had not tested Joe Hart.
The first contentious point of the match came in the 20th minute after Kompany fouled Rooney in the centre circle. The transplanted one went down as if felled by a bullet. He writhed in agony and it looked like his game could be over. This was Kompany`s first foul of the game, but the apparent agony Rooney was in forced Mariner into issuing a yellow card. Job done, Rooney jumped up and jogged off.
This seemed to galvanise the Blues as from that moment on they seemed a different proposition. They started to win the 50/50`s and in the 22nd minute won a series of corners that had the United defence at sixes and sevens. The Red`s were bringing ten men back in tactics reminiscent of West Brom`s visit to The Etihad but their extra defensive numbers just seemed to confuse them.
In the 28th minute, Nasri who was having a wonderful game nonchalantly skipped past Evra and put in a cross which was quickly cleared, but City having weathered the early United storm protecting Hart`s goal with grace and skill, changed up a gear. The United players were beginning to get frustrated and Rooney began to actually ask the referee for free kicks, often throwing his hands up in disgust when not awarded one.
Nasri who was having one of his best games in a City shirt combined brilliantly with Zabaleta in the 35th minute totally bypassing the wobbling United defence and finding Aguero who was unable steer the ball home with a half volley. City were flexing their muscles now and picking up all the second balls as the Blue fans roared as they have never before. Tevez picked up the ball halfway inside the United half and went on a run in the 40th minute, but he was closed down by five defenders and suddenly United were on the break and earnt a corner.
With two minutes of the half to go, City upped another gear as the Reds dropped deeper and deeper inviting the free scoring Blues onto them as so many teams had done in previous matches at fortress Etihad. A minute later and City won a corner. Silva whipped in a driven cross which was met by a majestic leap by Kompany whose bullet headed flew past a rooted De Gea and put City into a deserved lead. 1-0 and the crowd went wild and on the stroke of half time.
The second half kicked off with no changes and City looked ready to weather the expected storm in the opening ten as they had in the first half, but it never came. After two early corners which the defensive line dealt with easily, it was City who were on the front foot.
In the 52nd minute City had a corner which Lescott missed by inches. Seconds after this and an innocuous tackle by Yaya on Giggs earnt the Ivorian a contentious yellow card from Mariner when a word would have been perfectly sufficient. The response after each foul by a City player was looking pretty desperate as United resorted to cheating and quite ungentlemanly conduct trying to get Mancini`s charges booked at every opportunity.
The next eight minutes saw some great football by Nasri, Zabaleta, Tevez and Yaya as City stepped up the pace of the game and forced United further and further back into their own half. In the 57th minute, Ferguscum replaced the ineffective Park with Wellbeck as his side had to go for a goal. Plan be of contain, time waste and get a draw had not worked.
Third contentious point of the game came in the 60th as Zabaleta was harshly clattered by a clearly frustrated Evra. The foul was the worst one of the night up to that point and on another day could have been a red card, but Evra didn`t even receive a talking to.
The introduction of Wellbeck seemed to spark United and their possession stats began to increase, but despite all their effort, Hart had yet to be tested and their shots were wild and desperate efforts from way way out. In the 60th minute, Mancini`s tactical brain flexed its muscles and Tevez was replaced by De Jong as City looked to close down the midfield as United had tried in the first half.
In the 68th minute, Jones went in on Barry with a vicious tackle, one that could have caused nasty injury. This time the ref had no choice and Jones was issued with a yellow card. United were looking narrow and desperately needed some more width as they started to get battered by the City attack.
Yaya was revelling in the more forward role he had been given now De Jong was on the pitch and United were struggling to keep up with him when he went on his ranging runs. Aguero`s movement was leaving the United centre halves struggling to cope and creating more space for his team mates.
The most contentious point of the match soon followed. With 12 minutes to go Fergie replaced Scholes whose legs looked to have gone, with Valencia. Seconds later and De Jong was booked for a challenge which he appeared to have cleanly won the ball.
This caused all out war on the touchline as Fergescum, clearly perturbed to be out classed both tactically and through team ethic, showed his unhappiness to Mancini with a few choice words. The fiery Italian looked up for the ruck until David Platt intervened and separated the two managers.
Another nasty challenge from the red half of Manchester followed after Carrick left Barry prone on the turf after a nasty challenge. The ref got the booking spot on and again on another day, Carrick could have walked.
With ten minutes to go, Yaya went on another trade mark run. The whole United defence backed off allowing him to unleash a wicked shot which flashed past De Gea, but also the far post.
In the 82nd minute, Richards replaced Silva and Young replaced Nani. The game then followed a similar vein: City attacked and looked dangerous as the United defence showed clear nerves and when they did manage to get out of their own half, De Jong or Barry snapped at their heels giving them no time to build up anything dangerous.
Even in the 5 minutes of Fergie time, United never managed to threaten Hart`s goal as the solid wall of Blue snuffed out each chance before it could ever seriously threaten. There was only one team on the pitch by the end of the game as the eleven men in Blue fought tooth and nail for each other and a display of team work that will make a lot of people take note.
The match finished to a deafening roar as the stadium went wild. Mancini and his charges had done it, overtaken an eight point deficit in four matches shutting out their bitter rivals in the process. Not only that, they were unlucky not to have scored more goals and had limited the Reds to five shots on goal, none of which had been on target. This was the first time United had failed to have a shot on target in a competitive match in three years.
Joe Hart – 8
Didn’t actually have much to do for ninety minutes and was at the end of a nasty foul just before the final whistle.
Pablo Zabaleta – 9
What a full back. Combined well with Nasri and added steel to the defence that didn’t give the wingers a sniff.
Vincent Kompany – 8.5
Rooney got him booked early on and he repaid Ferguscum’s lapdog by scoring the winning goal. Well done Captain Fantastic.
Joleon Lescott – 8.5
Defended solidly from the off and didn’t give Cheating United a sniff.
Gael Clichy – 8.5
A wonderful attacking full back’s role and kept the wingers in check.
Yaya Toure – 8.5
Put in the best tackle of the match that seemed to galvanise his team mates and push City even further forward.
Gareth Barry – 9.5
One of his best ever games in a City shirt. Did the dirty stuff and never gave the ball away.
Samir Nasri – 9
Linked up brilliantly with Zabaleta and had one of his best games as a Blue.
David Silva – 7.5
Didn’t have his best game but still got stuck in and showed a tenacious side to his game we don’t always see.
Carlos Tevez – 7.5
Drifted in and out of the game but still looked a danger when on the ball.
Sergio Aguero – 8.5
Ran the Cheating United back for ragged and they just could not keep up with his movement.
De Jong – 8
Brought on to shore up the midfield and he did just that. Like Kompany on the end of Cheating United’s cheating tactics as Young got him booked.
Micah Richards – 8
Came on as a third centre back and nearly got himself killed with a nasty collision.
Came on too late to mark.
Roberto Mancini – 9
Bobby got it spot on tonight and limited cheating United to no shots on target. Shame he didn’t get a fist on target when he was separated from Ferguscum.
Alex ‘win at all costs’ Ferguscum = -1
is come for a draw and try and get opposition players sent off tactics backfired in his face. A win for football and sportsmanship tonight.