Writer: Tranmere Loyal
Date:Sunday January 8 2012
Very rarely could nearly 6000 united fans have turned up at a City stadium in expectation of their poor side getting turned over. Never could 40000 City fans have done likewise in the expectation that their team would try to emulate what went before at Old Trafford in October. Never could the outcome of a match of this magnitude have taken on such a different complexion under such testing circumstances.
Mancini`s team sheet looked a little mysterious, with Pantilimon in goals and a forward line shorn of height against a back line that has struggled against "the big man" in the last two matches. Ferguson`s line up looked like a late Christmas gift, with its numerous injuries and the introduction of their major transfer window scoop - the reintroduction of the veteran thug, Scholes.
Three sides of the stadium were licking their lips, but they were to witness something a little unexpected. True united do not lose three-on-the-trot, but as the jumbotrons lit up the line-ups today was surely the day that it would happen.
Enter Chris Foy, that well known I.F.P. referee (In Fergie`s Pocket). From the off and like so many referees these days he seemed intent levelling up the playing field from minute one.
City despite missing Yaya Toure set off on the front foot and looked the more likely to score. United though saw the main weakness as being down City`s left where Kolarov was selected ahead of Clichy or Zabaleta.
And it was down this route that the match day expectations were to alter dramatically in the 11th minute when a cross field ball from Rooney caught Kolarov out of position whilst Valencia hared into the space beyond. His cross found Rooney unmarked and his free header opened the scoring.
Within no time Mr Foy delivered the match on a plate to Stretford`s finest by red carding Kompany following a fairly robust tackle in which he came away with the ball without touching the leaping cheat formerly known as Nani.
He is a particularly despicable creature, all mouth and contributes practically nothing to united`s efforts or in his case lack of them.
With City now short-handed for up to 80 minutes (including Fergie time) and trailing, Foy`s mission was accomplished. He certainly wasn`t going to even up the teams by flirting Giggs for a naughty scythe from behind without playing the ball, maybe he`s such a good professional he should be sent off. Nor was he to send off Jones for a similar effort down City`s left. After all he`s the new golden boy…isn`t he?
But at least Nani got a yellow for dissent but Foy didn`t have the bottle to escalate it to red when he continued.
After the sending off the hard working Aguero hit an excellent shot which was curling in but Lindegard was equal to it.
City had to re-shape and Milner took up the right back position with Richards taking over at centre back. For the rest of the half City were over run for periods and it looked as though a return hammering was on the cards especially as united got 2 more goals.
Just how did neither the referee nor his assistant see Welbeck use his hand to stop the ball going out of play for a City throw in to set off the move that ended in him scoring the second goal? That was a result of some kami-kazi defending where City panicked a bit and Nasri was a little less than committed.
Kolarov maybe put the lid on his day with a clumsy challenge on Welbeck just inside the box presenting Foy with an easy penalty decision. Rooney struck the ball well but Pantilimon made a fantastic save only for the ball to bounce kindly for Rooney to head in the rebound.
It was a nightmare. United continued to look dangerous but City held it together and started to get back on track intent on not letting united get to six!! United used their spare man well to weigh on Kolarov and to use the space he concedes in behind.
At half time Mancini did re-shape introducing Savic and effectively going three at the back. Milner and Kolarov were pushed forward to stem united`s wide attacks and this proved very effective. It also served notice on united and the crowd that unlike their counterparts at Old Trafford, City were not going to throw in the towel and get whacked. Indeed Coty attacked and defended with such verve that the visitors were clearly the more nervous both on and off the field, especially as in virtually City`s first attack Kolarov made amends for his first half disaster by striking a 25 yard free kick straight into the giving Lindegard no chance.
Now it was a different story. Gone was united`s flowing play from the first half, silence prevailed in the South Stand. From denigrating City, the Poznan and everything Blue, nails were suddenly on the menu as fingers were stuck in their mouths.
City continued to press putting on a virtuoso performance rewarded with an exceptional goal from man-of-the-match Sergio Aguero. He collected a cross from the right which was actually behind him. The resultant right foot shot caught Lindegard by surprise and was too hot to handle and it found its way back to Aguero`s left foot. No mistake 2-3.
Now the nerves manifested themselves in all things red. Ferdinand was terrible, the midfield non-existant, so they brought on their major signing, Scholes. No doubt his job was to give City a kicking whilst trying to help united keep a ball that they had hardly seen since the break.
The game Blues just couldn`t get the equaliser. Another screaming free kick was flapped at by Lindegard and Lescott just couldn`t force in the rebound. Pantilimon headed a corner goalwards but it was scrambled away.
So united got away with it and won 3-2 but the true story of this match was that with 11 on the field or perhaps 10 including Yaya Toure, City would have won. United got lucky but City showed them exactly how you play with 10 men. You do not throw in the towel and allow your worst enemy to inflict major damage to your morale, you maintain a system, play to it and see what you can get. If anything united threw the towel in here also, surrendering everything they built for themselves in the first half.
For the first time ever I came away from a lost match feeling City had achieved something. There were very many positives to be taken from the second half and it was another milestone along the journey. Frankly I no longer see united as a threat. If that`s the best they`ve got then it`s no wonder there are murmurings once again from Rooney.
Yes, like many others I was relieved we didn`t get an equaliser on the 6-1, but the second half performance by City`s brave 10 men was exceptional and it serves notice to all that City will try to go all the way in this year`s title race.
As important now is the fact that Stretford have a new distraction. They probably expected not to be in the hat for the fourth round, but they are and now they don`t get a rest at the end of the month. It will be another distraction for them as they try to attempt to retain the Premier League title, along, of course with the much maligned Europa League.
I didn`t see the reason for resting Joe Hart and believe he would have made a difference. I didn`t see the point in playing Kolarov when Zabaleta could have taken that berth and given Valencia a harder task. With Dzeko and Balotelli inured, the Toures out of town and Barry suspended the rest of the team selected itself. Aguero was awesome.
United look a poor shadow of themselves. Maybe they will be forever in their own shadow!! The moral victory today was in City`s favour and for once the so-called "bragging rights" go to the team that didn`t win.
Date:Sunday January 8 2012
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