From an outsider’s perspective, it may be easy to assume that City’s recent successes against Manchester United have only come as a result of Sheikh Mansour’s take over in September 2008. Whilst that may be true in some respects, any City fan will happily tell you about a handful of successes against United since the return to the Premier League in 2002 and before Mansour’s arrival. Such victories, like the 3-1 at Maine Road in 2002 and the 4-1 at Eastlands in 2004, have lived long in the memory because, compared to the quality of the sides today, United were much better and City were much, much worse. For the best part of 30 years United were always overwhelming favourites in the Manchester derby and it was no different in the infant years of the new Millennium.
A particularly memorable derby was played out at Old Trafford on 10th February 2008 on the 50th anniversary of the Munich Air Disaster. On 6th February 1958 the Manchester United team travelling on their way back from Belgrade after the European Cup quarter final against Red Star Belgrade stopped off at Munich to refuel. Despite problems with one of the engines, take off was attempted but the plane crashed killing 23 people, eight of those United players. The anniversary in 2008 was a poignant day for Manchester, especially for those with red allegiances, but the United victory which many had predicted and saw as a fitting tribute to the occasion wasn’t to be.
In the build up to the game City were in abysmal form and couldn’t buy a win. After a thrilling start to the season where Sven Goran-Erikkson’s City side had occupied the top four through to the New Year, the cracks had begun to show, the results nosedived and by the time the derby came around City were lying in mid-table obscurity. United, on the other hand, were on course for another Premier League title. The likes of Christiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez were expected to overwhelm their less illustrious counterparts such as Richard Dunne and Darius Vassell. City, though, having won the reverse fixture in the first weeks of the season had other ideas.
A minute’s silence, in honour of the Munich victims, was impeccably observed by both sets of supporters before the match. Despite some crass suggestions from the media that City fans may disrespect the occasion, what transpired emphasised the intensity of an emotionally charged Old Trafford. With the players wearing specially designed retro kits, free of modern day sponsorships, to pay their respects, the game began.
Despite United starting on the front foot, City settled and began to put some pressure on their opponents. After 25 minutes, City’s positive attitude was rewarded when Darius Vassell powered in City’s opener. After Stephen Ireland’s shot was parried by Edwin Van Der Sar, Vassell’s feeble rebound was again saved by the United stopper before the City striker was given another bite of the cherry, which he duly converted. If there was any doubt that City’s goal was a flash in the pan, City, built upon a solid and organised defence, doubled the lead just before half time. Martin Petrov’s in swinging cross from the right-hand channel was met by debutant Benjani ‘s glancing header and Van Der Sar was left floundering as the ball nestled in the back of the net.
Predictably, United threatened to get back into the game in the second half but Richard Dunne and Micah Richards were imperious at the heart of the defence. A frustrated United managed to pull one back in the dying embers of the game but, thankfully, Michael Carrick’s goal did not lead to an equaliser and City held on for the three points. As such, it was City’s first league double over United since the 1969/70 season.
After the match, United assistant manager Carlos Queiroz said, “It was not our day. We didn’t play well and need to accept that. City were really difficult to play against because they were very organised and compact waiting for the counter-attack.”
City manager Eriksson said, “I am extremely proud of all my team. To come to Old Trafford and win – and to deserve to win – is great.”
City XI: Joe Hart, Nedum Onuoha, Micah Richards, Richard Dunne, Michael Ball, Darius Vassell, Stephen Ireland, Dietmar Hamann (Jihai 84), Gelson, Martin Petrov (Garrido 87), Benjani Mwaruwari (Caicedo 75).
Subs Not Used: Isaksson, Geovanni.
On this day, Nickelback were sitting at number 2 in the UK Singles Chart with Rockstar.
Written by Rob Toole