English Premier League
Monday 30 April 2012, 20.00 KO
City: Hart, Zabaleta, Kompany (c), Lescott, Clichy, Y Toure, Barry, Nasri (Milner 90), Silva (Richards 82), Tevez (de Jong 68), Aguero
Unused: Pantilimon, Kolarov, Balotelli, Dzeko
Goals: Kompany (45)
Booked: Kompany, Y Toure, de Jong
Referee: Andre Marriner
Man of the Match: Gareth Barry
With three points separating the two sides at kick off, City knew that anything other than a win would see them trailing the visitors with only two games to play. Worse, a United win would leave the reds needing a single point from their remaining matches to take the league. A City win, however, and the blues would go back to the summit of the Premier League table on goal difference. The atmosphere was tense and the home side started accordingly.
It was the visitors with the early pressure. From their first corner, City struggled to get the ball clear, with a last-gasp block from Kompany and the blues just about scrambled it away. United wanted a handball from the Belgian, but the referee waved the shouts away.
The reds didn’t test Hart in the opening stages, but they were in control of the game. City were struggling to hold on to possession and hadn’t threatened De Gea’s goal. Soon, though, that changed: Nasri weaved his way through the visiting defence and slotted it through to Tevez. He smashed the ball back across the box in search of Aguero, but Jones got in the way to clear.
Kompany was harshly booked for a slightly late challenge on Rooney – the Belgian’s case not helped by something of an over-reaction by the England centre-forward – before Clichy took it upon himself to carry City forward. He nipped in ahead of Nani to steal the ball and he carried it to the edge of the United box. He found Aguero, but the Argentine was crowded out and had to settle for a corner.
From that flag-kick, Rooney botched his clearance and fired it more up than away. Zabaleta won it and played it back into the box, where Lescott knocked it down for Aguero to volley. He smashed it at goal, but he skewed his effort high and wide of the post. City were getting themselves on top of the game and it was United who were beginning to struggle.
However, United were defending as well as City attacked; whatever the blues tried, they just couldn’t break through a packed back-line. Aguero almost found room for a shot, but Ferdinand was in his way and the Argentine couldn’t force the effort on target and, as the board went up for stoppage time, it looked like the teams would be level. However, Silva delivered a corner into the six-yard box, where Vincent Kompany had lost his marker. He connected with it perfectly and his bullet header almost broke the back of the net. As it stood, City were back on the top of the league.
A goal in front at the start of the second half, as City began on the back foot, but comfortable. A series of United corners were well dealt with by Kompany and Lescott, while Aguero, Tevez and Nasri were working hard to press the visitors’ back four when they had possession.
Phil Jones went into the book for a late challenge on Barry, before Yaya Toure almost doubled City’s lead after a storming run through the midfield. De Jong had come one and allowed the Ivorian to move further forward – and he was intent on wrecking havoc on the reds’ defence. A de Jong tackle on Welbeck had the managers going head-to-head on the touchline, as a disagreement between Roberto Mancini and Sir Alex Ferguson escalated. It showed the importance of the game and the tension in the air.
With ten minutes to play, it was Yaya Toure again who could have added to City’s tally. He broke away with the ball once again on one of his trademark runs, but his curling effort from the edge of the box didn’t quite swing back in and it finished just wide. Nasri did well to keep the ball under pressure and win a throw-in, keeping City on the front foot and allowing Aguero to win a free kick. The ball in, however, was well cleared.
Zabaleta and Barry did brilliantly to keep the ball alive in the United half, as Giggs almost got it clear, before some hard would from Toure found Nasri free inside the area. He, though, couldn’t dig the ball out from under his feet to find the shot, before he had the ball nicked away from him by Smalling. City were inches away from sealing it, as the board for stoppage time went up.
With less than a minute remaining, United won a corner and packed the box. The first ball in was cleared, before the second found Rooney unmarked on the edge of the area. He tried to shoot, but Lescott got in the way and, as the rebound was crossed by into the middle, Smalling fouled Hart and the visitors’ pressure was over. To the relief of the City fans, the final whistle blew as the ball was cleared down the pitch.
From being eight points behind only a few weeks previous, City had clawed their way back to the top of the table. City and United were level on points, but the blues’ superior goal difference is what’s key. It’s advantage City – though the games against Newcastle and QPR won’t be easy. This title will go down to the last day of the season.