Manchester United triumphed 3-2 against their city rivals in a tense affair at the Eithad stadium with the winner coming from a Robin van Persie free kick in extra time.
United fans everywhere seemed universally happy with the line up, most commenting that it was the strongest 11 available. De Gea kept his place in the starting line-up as Mrs Lindegaard had gone into labour, so Mr Lindegaard was unavailable. As to whether De Gea would have played had Anders been available, i can only hope so, ranking as i do, even Sam Johnstone above Lindegaard in terms of natural ability – and being able to kick the ball further than the edge of his own box. Perhaps De Gea’s performance today will be enough to cement a regular place in the team similar to the run he was able to put together when Lindegaard was injured last year. Rafael was restored to the right back spot after his early substitution against Reading alongside Ferdinand, Evans and Evra. The midfield consisted of Young, Cleverley, Carrick and the surprise return of Tony V, leaving Rooney to support van Persie up front.
United were battered for the first 15 minutes. Unable to get any time or space on the ball they lost possession time and time again, inviting City to break forward. Far from the usual defensive error, or lapse in concentration we have become accustomed to expecting this season though, United’s midfield worked hard to stay goal side of the ball, and the defence held firm allowing just two shots (one on target) before Rooney opened the scoring.
Rooney’s first goal came after some wonderful one touch football down the left wing as Young played a one two with van Persie and then drove on towards City’s box. Young played a short pass into Rooney’s path on the edge of the box who scuffed his shot into the far corner of Joe Hart’s net.
At 1-0 City’s captain, Kompany was substituted for Kolo Toure after the former signalled he was injured and unable to carry on – a bizarre decision from Mancini given he had Lescott also available on the bench. United were 2-0 up 13 minutes later as Rooney once again found some space in City’s box and was able to stroke home a side-foot finish past the flailing Joe Hart.
City seemed stunned by these two counter-attacking goals, and perhaps conscious of being caught again, began to attack in a more measured manner, leaving Carrick and Cleverley the time and space to get back and disrupt play.
After half time, United looked to maintain momentum but had to substitute Jonny Evans for Chris Smalling after just 48 minutes after a hamstring pull Evans suffered in the first half did not react to half time treatment.
United continued to look comfortable for the first 15 minutes, and even scored another goal which was wrongly disallowed for offside after some breathtaking skill from Robin van Persie saw him bend a shot past Hart with his weaker right foot, only to see it hit the post and bounce back into play for Young to slot home. Within a minute City had scored at the other end and the game was back in the balance.
At 2-1 City looked the more likely to go on and get the next, they were playing with more urgency while United began to sink back into their own half, afraid to leave any space behind them. The leveller did come in the 85th minute, shortly after Valencia had been substituted for Phil Jones. Zabaleta was left unmarked at the top of the box from a corner, and he promptly drilled a low shot through the legs of Phil Jones and past an unsighted De Gea.
Despite the momentum swing in the second half, and the knowledge that a draw would still have kept United top of the league, Sir Alex deserves credit for reacting to City’s equalizer by bringing Welbeck on for Cleverley and sending a message to his team that they should still be looking for the win. This in stark contrast to last years encounter at the Etihad where United failed to register even a single shot on goal.
Welbeck would prove instrumental in a dramatic finish to the game as he won the ball back high up the field and passed it to Rafael who was fouled by Tevez outside City’s box. Rooney and van Persie stood over the ball, and with one swing of the prolific Dutchman’s boot, aided by a deflection from cheese-eating surrender-monkey Samir Nasri, United had re-taken the lead with just 90 seconds left to play.
The United players ran to celebrate in front of the away fans, and whilst doing so, Rio Ferdinand was hit just above the eye with a 2p coin, cutting him. Joe Hart then managed to intercept a City fan that had run onto the pitch and was intent on remonstrating with Ferdinand. City have commendably issued a statement this evening condemning this behaviour, but truth be told, having been to a few derby games at the Etihad now, the bile and hatred in the fans that sit either side of the away fans is unparalleled anywhere except perhaps Anfield. I’ve seen airplane gestures time and time again in clear sight of their stewards who do nothing about them. I’ve had coins and bottles thrown at me, and outside the ground, when four of the writers for this website including myself and the founder walked back to town after our 3-2 win in the FA Cup last season, we were pelted with bottles, bricks and coins, one of which hit Craig on the back of the head – they don’t take 3-2 defeats at home very well.
United held on for the momentous win that puts them 6 points clear at the top of the Premier League, and 10 points clear of Chelsea. They also ended City’s 2 year streak of being unbeaten at home in the league.
The win is significant, as is the cushion it gives United. Also of significance is the contribution of Robin van Persie who had the choice to be on either side of this game over the summer and chose the men in red. With some of the seasons most difficult away games already behind them, and a relatively easy run ahead over the christmas period, Sir Alex can rightly be very happy with the progress his team are making in their quest to regain the Premier League title.