BEST OF THE MANSOUR ERA: City Win The Most Nerve-Wrecking Manchester Derby Ever

Throughout June on Typical City, we’re looking at some of the best matches Manchester City have played in the Sheikh Mansour-era. Day by day, we’re taking a trip down memory lane to some of the classic encounters the Blues have had since the 2008 takeover – you can view the rest of the featured games on the Best of the Mansour Era page.

Today’s piece takes us back to perhaps the tensest atmosphere that the Etihad has ever seen. With Manchester City needing a win in the Manchester Derby to get the upper hand in the title race, they knew a defeat or a draw was enough to put them firmly in the back seat and leaving rivals Manchester United just two games away from taking the crown. What followed next was perhaps the most nerve-wrecking match in the club’s history…

Manchester City 1-0 Manchester United
Monday 30 April 2012
City: Hart, Zabaleta, Kompany, Lescott, Clichy, Barry, Nasri (Milner 90), Silva (Richards 82), Y Toure, Aguero, Tevez (De Jong 68).
Unused: Pantilimon, Kolarov, Dzeko, Balotelli
Goals: Kompany (45+1)

Fingernails had been bitten almost to the bone by the time kick off arrived in the 163rd Manchester Derby. The picture was very simple: anything less than a win for Manchester City and they could kiss goodbye to their first Premier League title. Manchester United were three points ahead in the table, but with a worse goal difference, and they were just three games of the season to go. In the first of those three, the top two played each other.

A win for City took them back to the top of the table, just four matches after they’d fallen eight points behind the leaders. A draw would leave them three points behind, meaning United would need just four points from the remaining fixtures to take the crown. A loss was even worse – United would only then have to draw one of their final games to be uncatchable. For City, that Monday evening match was a must-win – while for United, it was a must-not-lose. It showed, and there was only one team interested in trying to win it, while the other looked more interested in trying not to get beaten.

It left the majority of the home crowd on pins for 90 minutes. The tension was palpable.

United had the first sight of goal, as Ryan Giggs and Wayne Rooney combined to break into the City box in the opening seconds, but the visitors weren’t able to test Joe Hart with an effort on target. It set the running theme for the night, as the Reds would eventually failed to find a shot to trouble the goalkeeper for the entire 90 minutes.

From then on in, it was all City as the game settled into a pattern of attack against defence. United fans will always say their side’s main principle was always to get on the front foot – but this fixture showed how much Sir Alex Ferguson was afraid of what could happen at the hands of Roberto Mancini’s team, and in the end he showed the Blues too much respect.

The hosts were still finding chances difficult to come by, though. Sergio Aguero blasted a volley high and wide after 24 minutes, following a flicked header from Joleon Lescott at a set piece, but it didn’t go close enough to concern David De Gea.

Indeed, it was on the stroke of half time that City broke the deadlock. Samir Nasri’s first corner, played short to David Silva, was quickly snuffed out and knocked behind by the United defence. With seconds of the half remaining, Nasri floated the second kick into the penalty area. There, Vincent Kompany escaped the attention of Chris Smalling to meet with a powerful header that flashed straight past De Gea. United’s game plan was undone; City’s was working perfectly.

The chances kept coming City’s way and the home fans must have been terrified of the United backlash, especially as the Blues didn’t take any of their opportunities. Yaya Toure smashed a low cross into the box at the near post, after side-stepping a challenge on the left, but it was blocked by De Gea as both Carlos Tevez and Aguero attempted to turn it home.

Another City breakaway allowed Toure space to fire a shot in at goal from the edge of the box. He carried the ball from midfield and had options right and left, but decided the shot was the best choice – on his left foot, it bent just around the post, not quite creeping on target, with the goalkeeper left rooted to the spot.

Tempers flared on the touchline with 15 minutes to play. As Danny Welbeck broke into the City half, Nigel De Jong was given a yellow card and a stern ticking off for what appeared to be a clumsy foul. He stumbled as he attempted a slide-challenge and ended up clattering the forward, giving away a free kick. It lit the touchpaper on the sidelines, as both Ferguson and Mancini was at each other’s throats – and it did nothing but rile up the home crowd. The visiting boss slumped back to his seat to the jeers of the fans, as David Platt calmed Mancini down on the other bench.

There was still time for the Blues to miss another golden opportunity. First, Toure completed a lung-busting run, sprinting half the length of the pitch without the ball, to keep it in on the left flank. As he turned to face-up against his defender, he found Nasri in the middle – but the Frenchman took too long to find a shot inside the six-yard box and the chance was blocked by De Gea.

The United flurry didn’t come until the final seconds of stoppage time. With an opportunity to get the ball into the area, they lumped it forward and tried to put the Blues under pressure. It was a comfortable clearance, and as Phil Jones returned it to the middle, Smalling fouled Hart – giving City a free kick. The full time whistle was blown as Kompany belted the ball downfield – and the Blues were back on top of the Premier League table.

After the match, Mancini still insisted United were favourites for the title, despite City’s upper hand: “We are happy, but it doesn’t change anything. We have another two games, two really difficult games, but instead United will play two easy games. United have a slight advantage yet.

“They defended with all players for all of the game. They didn’t have any chances to score. I think we did a good performance, but we knew before it would be a difficult game because United are a top team.”

Ferguson claimed in his interview with the BBC that the Italian was “badgering” the official: “He refereed the game the whole night. He was into the fourth official time and time again. The minute I come off the bench to complain about the tackle by De Jong on Welbeck – I thought it was a bad tackle – and immediately he’s out there haranguing the referee again.”

Written by David Mooney

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