FA Premier League
Sunday 9 December 2012, 13.30 KO
City: Hart, Zabaleta, Kompany (c) (K Toure 21), Nastasic, Clichy, Y Toure (Dzeko 84), Barry, Nasri, Silva, Aguero, Balotelli (Tevez 52)
Unused: Pantilimon, Lescott, Maicon, Garcia
Goals: Y Toure (60), Zabaleta (86)
Booked: Nasri, Y Toure, Tevez, Barry
Referee: Martin Atkinson
Man of the Match: Pablo Zabaleta
It was a fast-paced start from the home side, who were out of the traps quickly and took the game to the visitors. Rooney twice committed hefty challenges in the United half to concede free kicks and it was the second that spurned City’s first chance of the match: Balotelli drove an effort at goal, but it was deflected and easy for De Gea to knock around the post.
Silva was then the orchestrator as he slid the ball through for Clichy to chase down the left flank. He got there before it went behind and drove a cross into the box, but Balotelli, arriving late, couldn’t keep his shot down, sending it into the fans behind the goal. Balotelli almost played Aguero through minutes later, but the Argentine’s touch was too heavy and it rolled through the De Gea.
But with their first attack of the game and completely against the run of play, United opened the scoring. Young brought the ball forward after he received a touch-down from van Persie. He fed it on to Rooney, who scuffed his shot into the bottom corner. Hart was left rooted to the spot and the blues were facing an uphill task, despite starting the better.
It got worse for the home side, as, just minutes later, Vincent Kompany limped out of the game. And City were looking shaky, as the ball into the box from wide was causing the home side problems that both Hart and the back four were struggling to clear. At the other end, persistence from Aguero could have pulled the blues level, as he battled his way through to a shooting position, but De Gea was able to hold the effort.
On the half hour, the game had been completely turned on its head: Valencia picked up the ball on the right wing and he fired it into the box. Ghosting in, completely unmarked, was Rooney once again and he found the net with a simple finish. City were doing themselves no favours and the poor defending had returned with a vengeance.
Cleverley shot over from the edge of the box, before Barry found himself in a shooting position in the United half, following good work by Balotelli and Aguero. But the England midfielder’s effort was skewed wide. There were signs that City could have gotten back into the game, but after the opening goal, the blues just couldn’t keep the ball. The hosts’ early domination seemed a distant memory.
Tevez joined the action early in the second half and it completely transformed City’s play. Suddenly, the home side were looking dangerous again: Tevez was hassling and working hard from the front to keep the pressure on the United defence. Aguero then curled an effort just over the bar, before he was inches away from connecting to Nasri’s low cross to the back post.
On the hour mark, United added a third goal after van Persie hit the post with a brilliant effort, but Young was offside from the rebound and it was disallowed. It was a bad call and the goal should have stood. It was almost as if that was the warning that the blues needed: Immediately, they pulled a goal back. Silva and Tevez had shots blocked from inside the box, before the Argentine slid it to Yaya Toure in the area and his side-footed finish beat De Gea to the bottom corner. City were back in it.
With 20 minutes to play, Tevez stayed on his feet inside the area when he appeared to be fouled, but he couldn’t take advantage of the position and his effort was scuffed towards De Gea. The Spanish goalkeeper held onto the shot. City fans were then frustrated by the referee, who pulled play back for a foul on Yaya Toure, despite the Ivorian having skipped past it and being in behind the visiting defence. He was clean through, but the referee deemed him not to have advantage.
Ten minutes later, Silva was inches away from pulling the home side level as he blasted at goal from inside the box, having cut back onto his left foot. It was destined for the top corner until De Gea’s shoulder intervened, deflecting it onto the bar and behind for a corner. The goalkeeper knew nothing about the save, and City were left cursing their luck.
With four minutes to play, Zabaleta grabbed his first goal of the season and dragged City level. The ball was cleared as far as the Argentine, who was lurking on the edge of the box, and he rifled the shot low and hard and into the bottom corner. It was exactly what City had deserved for their second half performance.
But the game wasn’t over: In stoppage time, Clichy wanted Hart to come and claim a ball over the top, but the goalkeeper stayed put on his line. Instead of putting it out, Clichy took a bad touch and Tevez gave away a foul in trying to recover. From the resulting free kick, van Persie’s shot was deflected past Hart and found the bottom corner, via the post.
The game finished with a sour note, however, as Rio Ferdinand, who had been celebrating United’s late winner, was hit by a coin from the stands. A fan was also escorted away after running onto the pitch towards the United man, but Joe Hart ushered him away. It wasn’t the way City will have wanted the derby to have ended, in more ways than one.
The positive for the home side is that a six point gap is one that can be closed with half a season to play. But they’re going to need to both defend and attack better than they did during this game. It was the early mistakes that cost City, in a game they created enough chances to win.