Carling Cup – Derby stun United in semi-final
Kris Commons”s 30th-minute strike clinched victory for the Rams after United’s defenders backed off the midfielder, who punished their retreat with a fierce drive past Tomasz Kuszczak.
United looked devoid of ideas in attack and, despite the second half introduction of Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo and Michael Carrick, were unable to cancel their arrears, against a dogged and tenacious Derby rearguard.
The cameras were all trained on manager-in-waiting, Nigel Clough, as the new boss was introduced to the home fans, who responded in buoyant fashion with the feeling clearly infectious as the Derby players began the game brightly.
Sir Alex Ferguson fielded a young side, mostly of players of 21 years or under, and the changes caused a number of uncharacteristic unforced errors from United’s defence.
The first glimpse of indecision saw Jonny Evans and John O’Shea contrive to make unconvincing clearances in their box, prompting desperate blocks from first Kuszczak, then Nemanja Vidic at the feet of Derby striker Steve Davies’s feet.
But 21-year-old Evans atoned for his lack of conviction moments later, scampering back to the United goal-line to clear Mile Sterjovski‘s shot away, with his keeper stranded, following a Kris Commons corner.
United enjoyed the majority of possession, but could not convert their territorial domination into anything tangible; their best chance falling to O’Shea after a slick exchange with Nani down the left, before the defender’s shot was bravely blocked by the retreating Paul Green.
On the half-hour mark, the visitors were made to pay as Commons unleashed a rasping drive from the edge of the area to beat Kuszczak down to his left – a superb opportunist strike, but Ferguson will have bemoaned the lack of pressure applied by his defenders.
Carlos Tevez, desperate to make his mark on proceedings, became increasingly frustrated by a lack of service and dropped deeper and deeper, leaving Danny Wellbeck isolated up-front, leaving both players despondent.
Ferguson resisted the temptation to make wholesale changes at half-time, instead waiting until the 63rd minute to employ the much-revered duo of Rooney and Ronaldo at the expense of the ineffectual Paul Scholes and Wellbeck, with Carrick introduced ten minutes later.
Two chances followed with Ronaldo the culprit on both occasions; the first, a shot from the edge of the box after a foraging run from Rafael, which drifted narrowly wide and the second a trademark free-kick, which came even closer to finding its way into the far corner of Carroll’s net.
But it was Derby who had the best opportunity squandered in the 80th minute, after another incisive run and shot from Commons was parried by Kuszczak, and Hulse inexplicably skyed his follow-up shot over the bar.
Ronaldo had another free-kick which he failed to convert, while Commons latched on to substitute Gary Teale‘s through ball but dragged his shot wide when through on goal.
But Derby clung on to their victory and caretaker boss David Lowe boasts a perfect record from his one game in charge against the English and European champions, with The Rams taking a one-goal lead to Old Trafford for the second leg in two weeks’ time.