Man Utd 4 – 3 Man City
By Phil McNulty
Chief football writer at Old Trafford
Michael Owen’s winner deep into stoppage time gave Manchester United a dramatic victory in a classic derby encounter at Old Trafford.
Owen, on as a substitute for Dimitar Berbatov, pounced in trademark fashion to beat Manchester City’s defiant goalkeeper Shay Given and provoke hugely contrasting emotions in the technical area.
United boss Sir Alex Ferguson set off on an impromptu wild dance along the touchline – while City counterpart Mark Hughes immediately demanded to know how the decisive moment of a thrilling game could come almost six minutes into four minutes of stoppage time.
Craig Bellamy looked to have earned City an unlikely point as they came from behind for the third time to level only seconds before the end of the 90 minutes.
Hughes demands explanation for added time
And an agitated Hughes was already questioning the amount of time being added on when his hopes of a draw were wrecked by Owen’s first goal for United at Old Trafford as City slipped to their first defeat of the season.
Earlier Carlos Tevez, back at his former club for the first time after his acrimonious switch to City, had threatened to return to haunt United in a game that had everything – apart from competent defending.
Wayne Rooney put United ahead after two minutes, but City swiftly restored equality when Tevez took advantage of Ben Foster’s hesitation to provide the opportunity for Gareth Barry’s equaliser.
Darren Fletcher restored United’s lead with a header just after half-time, but Bellamy ensured parity quickly returned with a thunderous 25-yard effort.
United mounted ceaseless pressure and only the efforts of keeper Given kept them at bay as he defied Berbatov twice and the truly outstanding Ryan Giggs.
Fletcher looked to have finally confirmed the three points for United with another header 10 minutes from time, but as Ferguson moved to the touchline and ordered his side to nail down the win, a moment of madness from defender Rio Ferdinand looked to have thrown away two points.
He gifted possession to City substitute Martin Petrov, who sent Bellamy away to beat a poorly-positioned Foster to score.
City’s fans inside Old Trafford were understandably jubilant – but a game that put everything the Premier League has to offer on full show, offered up one final twist with Owen’s winner.
For United, it was a win they deserved and illustrated that City still have some way to go to achieve boss Hughes’ stated aim of knocking their rivals “off their perch”.
Hughes will have admired his side’s resolve in coming back into the game three times, but the concern will lie in City’s hapless defending, where the £40m central defensive pairing of Kolo Toure and Joleon Lescott struggled to cope with a constant bombardment of crosses in the second half.
Ferguson celebrates Michael Owen’s last-gasp winner
The derby was played out against a background of bold words from both managers – and it was an occasion when the game surpassed the hype, and there is no doubt that United’s supremacy merited the win.
Tevez was named in City’s line-up as he completed his recovery from injury – although he was wearing heavy strapping on his right knee during the warm up.
And he set the tone for a typically industrious display when he almost cashed in on hesitation on the edge of the area between Foster and Nemanja Vidic. It was a flaw that was to have more serious consequences for United later.
United opened with serious intent and took advantage of sloppy defending from City to strike the first blow in only the second minute, with Patrice Evra breaking free inside the area to set up Rooney for a close-range finish.
Tevez’s status as a one-time hero at Old Trafford had been wiped out in an instant with his move to Eastlands, but he endeared himself even more to the City fans when he helped set up an equaliser against the run of play after 16 minutes.
Derby victory was deserved – Fletcher
Once again Foster was at the centre of a breakdown of communication with his defenders and was robbed by Tevez as he attempted to collect the ball on the edge of his area. The Argentine found Barry, who made a difficult finish look very easy as he slid home from 18 yards with United’s goalkeeper hopelessly stranded.
It was a goal that took away all of United’s early momentum and by the interval it was City who could justifiably feel more satisfied.
Tevez, who was booked for a late challenge on Ferdinand, was guilty of a dreadful miss on the stroke of half-time, squandering the opportunity to punish the club where he ultimately believed he was undervalued.
Toure ended a surging run with a pass that released Tevez inside the area with only Foster to beat. A desperate late lunge from Evra may just have distracted Tevez, but to only strike the outside of the post represented a dreadful waste.
And Tevez’s miss caused even more pain as United started the second half as they had the first, regaining the lead after 49 minutes. Once again City were guilty of poor defending as Giggs was allowed time to cross and Fletcher completed the job at the far post, rising above Barry to head home.
City needed to mount a swift response – and they did in the most spectacular fashion possible as they drew level again within three minutes.
Tevez was given a hostile reception on his Old Trafford return
There looked little danger as Bellamy collected possession on the left flank, but he then unleashed a stunning rising angled drive from 25 yards that arrowed into the top corner beyond the outstretched arms of Foster.
It provoked a furious attacking response from United, and only the brilliant Given kept City in the game as the goalkeeper demonstrated his enduring talents once more.
Given twice saved headers from Berbatov and then added to his catalogue of outstanding stops by turning a powerful drive from Giggs over the top.
United boss Ferguson was clearly frustrated at his side’s failure to emphasise their obvious superiority, and he replaced Berbatov with Owen on 77 minutes.
When the goal came with 10 minutes remaining, it once again arrived from the unlikely source of Fletcher, who headed home a free-kick from Giggs.
It brought Ferguson to the touchline to gesticulate at his players in a manner that suggested his famous “hairdryer” would be turned on to full power should they allow their lead to slip again.
Sadly, his words fell on deaf ears as Ferdinand committed an error that would have shamed a schoolboy, extravagantly attempting to lift the ball away he only found Petrov, who sent Bellamy clear.
Ferguson’s hands were already clasped to his head in anguish even before Bellamy made the most of more poor positioning from Foster to score at the near post.
As City fans celebrated an unlikely point the board went up for four minutes of stoppage time – so it was to the obvious consternation of Hughes that it was closer to six minutes when Owen pounced on Giggs’s pass to send Old Trafford into ecstasy with a clinical finish.