The FA Cup third round brought together a mouth-watering fixture between the countries top two sides. Often such ties become dull tactical affairs brought on scale of the fixture. However, this was never likely to be dull, and true to form the match proved to be full of incident and as dramatic as we all expected it to be.
All pre-match tensions felt by Reds were put to one side with the news that Paul Scholes had indeed come out of retirement, as rumoured in the tabloids (exclusive to The Sun), and was named on the bench. The debate immediately started on the discussion and you’ll be able to read my personal view shortly. But as kick off drew closer minds were firmly fixed on the game ahead. For the first time City were going into the game as clear favourites, and United facing three loses in a row for the first time since 2001. Today was a day for the Manchester United players to stand up and be counted. Today the Manchester United players did just that, by winning in dramatic fashion.
City began the game strongly and dominated possession and territory. United, however, stood fast and strong preventing City creating any chances. After 10 minutes of this pattern United got their first chance to go forward. City’s play was disrupted halfway in the United half where Ryan Giggs found Wayne Rooney, with plenty of space he in turn fed Valencia out wide and continued his run into the box where he rose above those around him and met Antonio Valencia’s excellent cross with a clever and powerful header to beat City’s No 2 keeper. Rooney celebrated by kissing the United badge, a statement of intent after a week which saw him rumoured to be leaving the club.
Within two minutes of Rooney’s opener things worsened for the home team. Vincent Kompany got his marching orders for a two footed tackle on Nani. Many feel the red card was harsh on Kompany as he clearly won the ball and Nani stayed on his feet. However, in my view there was justification for the sending off. Both Kompany’s feet were off the ground and studs were showing. If Nani had been half a yard quicker he would have come off rather badly. Therefore, my view is that it can be classed as reckless and therefore a red card is not as harsh as some deem it to be. Because if you really thinking about it, you’re giving the referee a decision to make when jumping into tackles of that nature. The only concern for United being that with the game being at City, there may always be that temptation within the referee (Chris Foy) to even things up. Certainly when Patrice Evra, Nani and Danny Welbeck picked up yellow cards this was a concern, which ultimately help Sir Alex make the discussion to remove the Nani and Welbeck later in the game.
City now lost the rhythm with which they started the game and United were getting more and more possession and started to control the game. City did manage to create half a chance with Aguero chancing his luck from 25 yards, which was saved brilliantly by Anders Lindegaard. It was a reminder that even with ten men City would always have a threat coming forward. United went on the search for more goals.
On the half hour a second goal for United arrived. Good work from Evra and Nani down the left resulted in a cross not being dealt with properly, Samir Nasri looping the ball high within the box. Welbeck turned and watched the ball drop and with his back to goal turned to volley home brilliantly, and forcing Nigel De Jong to bottle his challenge.
Momentum, belief and vigour were now with United who now had total control and kept pushing forward looking for a third. We did not have to wait long. Just ten minutes more in fact. A poor clearance from Pantilimon was picked up in City’s own half and Giggs played in Welbeck again who had the better of Kolarov who brought him down for a penalty to United. There was no need for the challenge to be made but there was no argument from City who could see it as a clear cut decision. It was Wayne Rooney who stepped up to take the penalty, and although it was save he reacted quickest to head the rebound in to give United a 3-0 lead.
Half time came and United were jubilant. City were spent. There was a real buzz among United fans who now thought we would humiliate our closest rivals. Unfortunately City manager Roberto Mancini had other something else in mind. He took David Silva and Adam Johnson off at the break and changed shape in order to stop United and take advantage of errors made by us. It can be argued that in the match earlier in the season, if Ferguson had have been given the chance to get his players together while down to ten men that particular score line would have been somewhat different.
The game change in the 48th minute when City were awarded a free kick twenty yards from the United goal. Kolarov duly stepped up and swung the ball over the United wall and passed the reach of Lindegaard to make it 3-1.
Just before the hour the fairy-tale reunion was complete, Paul Scholes was introduced. He was welcomed with glorious applause from the well heard United fans and every touch was cheered. Scholes looked competent as he always did passing the ball nicely and helped keep United in control, especially during the nervy final few minutes. However, Scholes is naturally lacking in a bit of match sharpness and it was his initial mistake which led to City getting a second. He misplaced a pass to Evra which allowed City to cross to Aguero whose shot was spilled by Lindegaard, Aguero however reacted quickest to tap in the rebound to give real hope to City and give United fans a rough final thirty minutes.
However, two minutes before City scored their second United should have had a second penalty. This time however, Foy turned down the appeals (no shock there). If it had been awarded and put away, a 4-1 lead would have given a completely complexion on the remainder of the game. But it wasn’t, and with City getting a second United looked edgy, and their foot went off the gas. City now had some momentum and once again looked dangerous.
There were some hairy moments too. Lindegaard flapped at a couple and even palmed down a free-kick at the death inside the box. As much as I like Lindegaard and admire his attitude, I have to say I’m firmly the David de Gea court. Personally I feel he must be now be given the no.1 spot from here on. City also felt that they had a good shout for a penalty when a low cross was cut out by Phil Jones, the ball coming off his thigh onto his arm. It was a case of “seen them given”, but would have been extremely harsh.
United still looked to come forward given the chance and there was a moment when Scholes had the chase to write all the headlines. A classic Scholes moment with the ball breaking lose twenty yards out, he struck it well but unfortunately the keeper was right behind it. As the clocked ticked down United began to keep the ball well and run the clock down impressively.
The match ended with the earlier free kick which we managed to clear and a massive victory for United was complete. The second half performance, and eventual scoreline took a little away from what was a great result and fine first half. City will unfortunately take heart from their ‘moral’ victory but more importantly the United squad can also take heart and improve their confidence after today.
Sir Alex made clear after the game he was unhappy at the way we went about the second half and I can only imagine he will make clear to our youngsters and new signings that is unacceptable at our football club. He was however happy with Rooney who did have an excellent game, effective in both going forward and tracking back. It was Rooney who won the man of the match award, a correct decision, but for me only just ahead of Welbeck & Carrick.
Our award for a big win at the noisy neighbours? A trip to Anfield in the fourth round. Bring it on!
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