There was a strange build up to this game. Superficially, United fans (myself included) were exuding confidence about having a party on derby day. Privately, myself and virtually every red I know would have been delighted with a draw tonight. United hadn’t lost a league game in nearly five months since the terrible performance at a staggeringly poor Norwich City in November. The truth is that United haven’t played well since the first half of the Chelsea FA Cup game immediately after being knocked out of the European cup just under a month ago. The two league matches since then (prior to tonight’s match) had seen United beat Reading and Sunderland by a goal to nil without really looking impressive. Everybody knew that United would have to improve dramatically on last Mondays dreadful performance at Stamford Bridge because one thing that was obvious was that City were going to be up for this game tonight.
A cagey first half was shaded by City, they played with more purpose without looking too threatening. While Rafael hit Joe Harts upright on the stroke of half time, it was the only time I remember the City goal coming under any threat. Six minutes after half time, Ryan Giggs tried being a bit too clever with a defensive back heel which ended up in the possession of Samir Nasri. From the resulting Nasri pass, James Milner belted the shot which deflected off Phil Jones past David De Gea in the Scoreboard end goal. City’s defence to me had looked solid all night and it was a great relief seven minutes later when Phil Jones forced an own goal off Vincent Kompany, resultant from a Robin Van Persie free kick. Twenty minutes later, Sergio Aguero ran past Danny Welbeck, Rio Ferdinand and Phil Jones like they were static chicanes to score an amazing winner for City. September last year was the last time United lost a home league game. That day, Gareth Bale scored a similar goal for Tottenham that Aguero scored tonight. I didn’t think it would happen twice in a season. City deserved the win tonight, they played with more cohesion and they looked like they wanted it more. What United’s next move is anybody’s guess. A year ago today, United beat QPR 2-0 before City went to Arsenal and lost 1-0. The end of that days work meant that United had an eight point lead with six games to go, a lead that we all know United squandered. Tonight, United are twelve points clear with seven games to go, so are theoretically, in a better position that this time last season, even if it doesn’t feel like it. For the healthy position United find themselves in regarding league position, this side isn’t good enough over any long term picture, regardless of the noises emanating out of Old Trafford regarding the youth and potential longevity of these young players.
Two hours before kick off, there was a substantial police presence near the Pomona and the old Bulls Head on Chester Road. Everywhere you looked after that on the arterial roads leading to Old Trafford from Town, there was police everywhere. The Tollgate, normally a pub where reds meet for a chat and a pint before a match was in a very boisterous mood tonight pre-match. I noticed on the walk up to the ground that there wasn’t a single ticket tout working the streets near Old Trafford. This to my eyes was unprecendented for a match at Old Trafford, especially one where the ticket would have been so valuable on the black market. The other thing I noticed and something which I believe to be, long term, the thin end of the wedge for everybody going to a football match, were police sniffer dogs checking City fans as they were entering their part of the ground. The first site I got of City fans was on their entry into the stadium under police escort. Nowadays they, like United fans have been doing for years, were hardly wearing colours. The atmosphere in the ground was as highly charged as I’ve ever seen at Old Trafford for a derby. It’s just a shame that for all the fire coming from the terraces from United fans, particularly in the first half, the team were as listless and as flat as they have been over the last few weeks. A league title recapture would be celebrated with delirious rapture by reds but we all know that come what may, in both ways, there’s a lot of work need doing on that squad. I just hope that winning the league won’t result in a papering over the cracks.