Things have changed at City. As Daniel Taylor from The Guardian pointed out, time was “when you might bump into Curly Watts or Eddie Large at Man City games. Tom Cruise is here today”. It was one of them days, I saw the Riot squad tearing down Every Street at 12.50 when all seemed quiet. Later on after the match, a prominent member of Uniteds firm was seen embracing a GMP football intelligence officer on Ashton New Road in a scene which had me thinking of the 1914 Christmas day truce in the Somme..
Just like the game at Stamford Bridge six weeks ago, United again surrendered a two goal lead in a big away game and also recovered right at the end to win the match. Against Chelsea, it was done against a nine man side who’d correctly had two of their players sent off. Today, it was done against a far better City side who somehow still had eleven men on the pitch at full time. Any United fan who said prior to todays match that they expected United to win are either clueless or they’re liars. Virtually every red I know would have bitten your hand off for a draw pre kick off. A win, which we all knew United were capable of could’ve happened but nobody I know was putting any serious money on United for that outcome.
To nobodies surprise, the genius that is David Silva was passed fit despite him being classed as doubtful last Monday. City really are amateurs when it comes to this kidology lark. This morning, Antonio Valencia had inadvertently let the cat out of the bag regarding his own fitness by telling his adoring public via Twitter, to expect a surprise. I have a feeling that behind closed doors, Sir Alex Ferguson would not have been too pleased with that for reasons which should be obvious. There were also a lot of tongues wagging pre kick off when it was announced that 19 year old goalkeeper Sam Johnstone was in the squad in place of Anders Lindergaard. It transpired that the reason for that was Mrs Lindergaard had, overnight gone into labour which nicely quelled any of the more excitable rumours that were already being bandied about after his performance at Reading last week. Bearing in mind how fragile United’s defence has been recently, I was at the very least expecting City to score today but when I heard that Roberto Mancini had picked Mario Balotelli over Carlos Tevez to start, I thought it was an early gesture of festive neighbourly goodwill from the City manager. Balotelli was brought off by his surrogate father three minutes after attempting a back heel which ended up near Rio Ferdinand’s groin. This is obviously another sign of the new found maturity that figures at City were endlessly warbling on about last season. That Balotelli on his day is an excellent footballer is a given. That he’s also a grade one dickhead is also just as big a certainty.
The team Sir Alex Ferguson picked boded well. Unlike last April, this was a very attack minded side he’d picked with, in the best United traditons, two wingers in Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia and overlapping full backs in Patrice Evra and Rafael. Coupled with a centre forward partnership of Rooney and Van Persie, he was playing with relative abandon and doing away with the crowded midfield that he tried in April. After United kicked the game off City soon got in stride and in the 5th minute, they won a corner. Gareth Barry and Sergio Aguero tried the same tactic on David De Gea that Jason Roberts did with such great effect on Anders Lindergaard in last weeks match at Reading. It didn’t look right though, Aguero is a top quality striker but he doesn’t have the same physical presence of Jason Roberts. As for Gareth Barry, the less said about him, the better. Ballotelli got away with a foul throw on 9 minutes and then a minute later, he shot the ball well over the bar from 12 yards after a good overlapping run from Gael Clichy. Against the run of play on 15 minutes from a sweeping counter attack driven by Ashley Young, Wayne Rooney on the 18 yard line put United 1-0 in front. Joe Hart just stood there, he must have thought the shot was going wide but it just crawled into his bottom right hand corner. That United scored against the run of play is agreed by virtually everyone. Do United fans care about that ? About as much as City fans did in 2007 when United played City off the park at the Commonwealth Stadium and somehow lost. Fourteen minutes later, after some good work by Antonio Valencia, Rafael cut through City’s left flank and crossed to an unmarked Wayne Rooney near the penalty spot to make it 2-0 for United. This penchant that Mancini has for zonal marking did in my opinion cause that goal, either that or it was the fault of City’s new Serbian centre half Matija Nastasic who was caught chronically out of position. City signed Nastasic in the summer with the fanfare of him being the new Nemanja Vidic. He’s young and maybe in time, he will be as good as his Serbian compatriot but he looked more like the hapless and recently departed Stefan Savic at the back for City today.
Last season at the Tripe Colony, Joe Hart didn’t make a single save as City deservedly won 1-0 on their way to winning the Title. Today, Joe Hart again didn’t make a single save but this time, there was three shots on target plus a perfectly good goal by Ashley Young disallowed for an incorrect offside call. Pablo Zabaleta was in the right full back position playing Young onside when the flag was was erroneously raised on 60 minutes which would have made the score 3-0. This offside call was a pivotal moment in the match. I believe if that goal had been given, which it should have been, United could have gone on to score a similar win as to what City achieved at Old Trafford in October last year. My reasoning is basically, City would have gone kamikaze the same way United did last season and United would’ve picked them off the same way that City did. Forty five seconds later after Youngs goal, Yaya Toure swept City back into the game after a brilliant double save from David De Gea. From that moment, City got the momentum and we all knew there was going to be a lot of pressure on the United goal from there on in. Allowing for that though, both Patrice Evra on 69 minutes and Robin Van Persie on 78 minutes sent free header’s off target which they should have scored from. Twenty six minutes after Toure brought City back into the game, an unmarked Pablo Zabaleta on the edge of the penalty area equalised for City with a shot that went through Phil Jones legs and past an unsighted David De Gea. I was expecting a City winner from here, just praying United kept it tight and played with some discipline.
In the second minute of injury time, Carlos Tevez gave away a daft free kick by tripping up his old pal Rafael near the 18 yard line. Robin Van Persie had a little chat with Wayne Rooney before firing a free kick that was in line to be saved by Joe Hart. What happened next would have the most hardened cynic believing in karma. The ball slided off the instep of a cowering Samir Nasri to divert the ball past Joe Hart to give United the winner. This is the same Samir Nasri who, in the summer of 2011, turned down a move to Old Trafford for more money at City, guiding in a free kick that was given away by Carlos Tevez, who left United in the summer of 2009 for more money at City from a shot by Robin Van Persie, a lad who this summer turned down more money at City to play for United. How sweet can that be ?
Thanks to Lee Thomas and Neil Meehan for their help in writing this