Over the years there have been few events in sport that can rival the excitement of the FA Cup. This Manchester Derby was a perfect example of the magic that this tournament embodies. It was exciting for fans of both sides and neutrals as well. It was a brilliant display of the quality of both United and City. There were cards, goals, tense moments, controversy, and plenty of reasons to jump out of the seat you were already on the edge of.
Before I go any further, I must first say hats off to United. They took advantage of the extra man and did the little things that are necessary to win games. Now then, it has to be said that this was truly a tale of two halves, and one referee. At the end of the first half I really thought that Chris Foy had to be wearing a United strip under his referee’s shirt. But in the second half, despite all that Foy had done to hurt City, he made plenty of questionable calls that went in City’s favor.
The first 25 minutes of this match looked like a mirror image of the beginning of the 6-1 thrashing that City gave United on October 23. The home side dominated possession but against the run of play the visitors struck first. That is where the similarities between this and the last derby end. After that Foy permanently changed the landscape of the game, and probably lost some friends who support City in the process. Was Kompany’s tackle risky, two-footed, and dangerous? Absolutely. But he was in control of his body, made an effort to get his studs down when he got to ground, got the ball and none of Nani, and most importantly was not reckless. Under the circumstances it should have been a yellow. (Now if it were De Jong going in on the same challenge I wouldn’t doubt his reputation leading to a straight red, but it was Vincent Kompany!) At the end of the day though, the decision was red and can’t be changed, but for the rest of the half red was the only color City was seeing.
This is where United have to be praised. They had vengeance on their minds and they were relentless. If Rooney’s opening header wasn’t brilliant enough, Welbeck’s perfectly placed volley was more than excellent. Then Foy found himself at the center of attention again when he correctly awarded United a penalty for Kolarov’s challenge on Welbeck in the City box. Costel Pantilimon, filling in for Joe Hart, was brilliant on the penalty by making the initial stop on Rooney, but Rooney wanted to score and was first to the rebound to fire it home and make it 3-0. By this point most would have expected the richly assembled, “passionless”, group of City players to throw in the towel and focus on the Premier League title, but the second half had a different story in the cards.
This is the game where Mancini proved he is a top manager. His halftime substitutions and his tactics for the rest of the match were spot on. City fought hard in the second half to scrape back two goals. The first, a brilliant free kick from Kolarov, was a deserved gift for City from Foy. The foul that lead to the free kick on Evra could have gone either way with Richards initiating the contact and doing some pulling of his own. However, Foy had done so much to hurt City’s chances in the first half that a few calls were bound to go their way. Then the second goal brought the blue half of the city to life. Persistence from Aguero and a mistake from Lindegaard set the stage for an exciting final 25 minutes. City came close to tying the game in the dying minutes when Kolarov had a second close range free kick and then were close to scoring again on a late corner. But despite their best efforts City couldn’t close the gap and it was United who went through.
In the end there were really three winners in this game. The United team, the United fans, and the City fans. United fans have to feel they deserved this win after the October beating. But the Citizens’ fans couldn’t have asked for a better display from their squad. United and their fans have grown accustomed to winning, especially against City. In this game they returned to the familiar win column, their fans will be happy, and their banter will be relentless as usual. City fans are used to it though, but now it will be much easier to bear after the second half performance that inspired City fans around the world. City fans have plenty of reason to be proud of their club after this performance. “Superbia In Proelia” , or Pride in Battle, is City’s motto and their squad embodied that in this game, they were very proud and battled to the very last whistle.
Manchester will forever be divided but if there’s one thing that fans from both sides can agree on it is that their clubs are giving them plenty to be proud of: United’s unprecedented success in the most difficult league in the world and City’s brilliant history, pride, fans, and bright future. Every time these two teams meet it gets more and more exciting and now, more than ever, there is so much at stake in these matches. This chapter has closed, City won’t be defending the cup and United are very much in the hunt for more silverware. Now it is about looking forward to the future. As a fan of either side you have a lot to be proud of and reason to be excited about the future of this fixture. Let’s hope that the April 28 derby is just as exciting.