Barclay’s English Premiership
Sunday 30 November 2008, 13:30 KO
City: Hart, Richards (Sturridge 76), Dunne (c), Kompany, Garrido, Hamann (Zabaleta 45), Ireland, Wright-Phillips, Vassell (Elano 45), Robinho, Benjani
Unused: Schmeichel, Ball, Ben-Haim, Jo
Booked: Ireland, Vassell
City Man of the Match: Vincent Kompany
The 151st Manchester derby got off to a quiet start, with the first real chance falling to the visitors. Rooney turned and shot at Joe Hart’s goal and it seemed a comfortable enough save, but the City keeper spilled the ball. Richard Dunne, though, was on hand to clear the danger.
On 13 minutes, Ronaldo headed a Rooney corner over and, more worryingly for City, he was unmarked on the edge of the six-yard box.
City looked to take the initiative soon after, with Micah Richards ploughing into the United half and, after the ball ricocheted into the air, needed treatment after a clash with Vidic. And the referee ruled Richards had fouled the United man, seemingly setting the precedent for the game.
Fletcher then, somehow, escaped a yellow card for a cynical foul on Shaun Wright-Phillips, who must have wondered what had hit him when he came off the pitch at full time.
Rafael saw yellow shortly after, when he ploughed through the back of Robinho. The card, however, was awarded for throwing the ball away and not for the foul itself. The resulting free-kick was driven wide by Robinho, after Garrido had knocked it to him.
Joe Hart then made up for his earlier error with a superb stop from a Berbatov header. Rafael crossed for the Bulgarian who must have already been celebrating before Hart, somehow, clawed it around the post for a corner.
City should have taken the lead on 32 minutes, when a right wing free kick wasn’t dealt with by van der Sar, whose weak punch fell to Stephen Ireland. Unfortunately for the home side, his bobbling effort was missed by Richards and struck the post on its way out for a goal kick.
Evra avoided yellow when he attempted to hack down Wright-Phillips, but Fletcher was able to get his yellow card when he stopped the tricky winger in his tracks. It could easily have been Fletcher’s second yellow, but referee Howard Webb was feeling lenient.
But not that lenient for the home side, it seemed, because Ireland then found his name in the book for a rather innocuous foul. It was a costly foul, too, as United took the lead. City couldn’t clear and Carrick’s low shot could only be pushed out by Hart, straight to Rooney a yard from goal, and he couldn’t miss.
Vassell then had his name taken, just before the break, when Evra ran across him forcing the City player to run into the back of the United man. Given some of the fouls the referee had seen fit not to punish with a yellow card, Vassell was more than unlucky to have been booked for the foul.
Mark Hughes made two changes at the break, in an attempt to shake City up. Elano and Zabaleta came on for Hamann and Vassell and it immediately seemed to help the home side, who now had more of a foothold on the ball.
Kompany almost grabbed his second City goal with a thunderous drive from range, but it whistled just the wrong side of van der Sar’s post, with the Dutchman scrambling across his goal.
Benjani then had the next chance to equalise, after a lovely breakaway from the home side, but his drive off a Shaun Wright-Phillips through ball hit the side netting in front of the North Stand.
By this point, United were clearly struggling to contain Wright-Phillips, so they resorting to fouling him to halt his runs. Ronaldo picked up a yellow card for this on 59 minutes.
City were having more possession now, but struggling to do anything with it. Their hopes of getting something from the game were increased when Ronaldo, for reasons known only by him, palmed the ball away at a United corner and picked up his second yellow card on 68 minutes.
With just six minutes to go, Wright-Phillips was away and running at the United defence. Well, he was until Carrick intervened from behind, with no attempt made to play the ball – for which he earned a yellow card, despite it looking like a cynical, professional foul.
City almost grabbed a point in the closing stages, when Richard Dunne’s header was well saved on the line by van der Sar and, just was City’s luck, it fell to a United player, who was able to clear.
As the last roll of the dice, City sent Joe Hart forward for a corner, but they couldn’t force the ball into the goal and nearly conceded another, when Rooney attempted to lob the ‘outfield’ City keeper. Hart, though, was able to get back to save.
The game petered to a close with United time wasting on a goal kick, before holding the ball by City’s corner flag.
City will be pleased with their second half performance, but disappointed in the number chances they created and their toothlessness in the first 45 minutes. Many home fans will also be wondering how only Ronaldo was sent off, when Fletcher and Evra could easily have had two yellow cards, and Carrick a straight red, for their fouls on Wright-Phillips.