Vincent Kompany’s header settles titanic derby to hand title advantage to Mancini’s men
The blue moon has risen. The new order is upon us.
And as the Achilles Heel that Sir Alex Ferguson has refused to acknowledge all season brought about United’s downfall and City’s triumph last night, there could be no Old Trafford complaints.
Fergie’s faith in David De Gea has been steadfast but when it mattered more than ever, the Spaniard capsized United’s title ship.
Deep into first half stoppage time as David Silva prepared to deliver a corner, De Gea was so obsessed with Carlos Tevez that, when Vincent Kompany lost marker Chris Smalling, the Spanish keeper was powerless to prevent the City skipper scoring the one goal that surpassed, in meaning, all six City claimed in October.
Driven on by the remarkable Yaya Toure, the side that was written off by most, including Roberto Mancini just a few weeks ago, are now just two games, 13 days, from ending the 34-year wait and being crowned the best in the country.
Of course, it is not done and dusted yet. Not by a long chalk.
Yet United did not have a shot worthy of the name. Only the most red-eyed of watchers could deny City deserved their victory, are rightly top of the pile, justifiably masters of their own destiny.
It was always likely to be nervous and twitchy but while Ferguson’s selection of Park Ji-Sung in a five-man midfield, with Rooney alone up front, might have ceded the advantage, City initially struggled to take it.
A dodgy punch by Joe Hart from Nani’s deflected cross inside 70 seconds only added to the palpable tension, City relieved that Michael Carrick’s drive thumped into Kompany.
Slowly, though, City were able to get Samir Nasri, Silva, Sergio Aguero and Tevez into the game, sniping runs that asked more serious questions of Rio Ferdinand and Co and Yaya Toure and Gareth Barry took more of a grip.
Not that either keeper was really tested in the opening spell, the highlights of which were a sliding Ferdinand clearance after Tevez briefly escaped down the right and Kompany’s soft booking for making contact with Rooney after the ball had gone.
City’s first shot took 25 minutes to come, Rooney’s attempted clearance ballooning high into the air with Joleon Lescott flicking back into the danger area but Aguero blazing high and wide of David De Gea’s goal.
Rooney was starting to get irritated as City, Nasri to the fore, threatened.
Aguero, twisting inside the box, could not find sufficient purchase on his shot after Nasri teased the ball in from the right before Pablo Zabaleta, who walked through Patrice Evra, swung a weak left foot as the ball was set to fall onto Aguero’s right.
Rooney retrieved Nani’s deep cross but there was nobody there to apply the finishing touch before Park smashed a clever short-corner move miles too high.
And then, in stoppage time, the red line was breached.
Nasri’s cross was turned behind. Silva swung in the corner, De Gea stayed on his line and with Chris Smalling caught under the ball, Kompany’s header ripped into the back of the net to send the Etihad into meltdown.
United, struggling all game down their left as Nasri and Zabaleta linked, needed to change things.
But while Hart fumbled a speculative Nani shot, City were more poised in possession, more potent in attack.
Nasri, fed by Barry, turned to shoot wide before Ferguson acted, though sending Danny Welbeck on for Park before the hour seemed an admission of a tactical and strategic error.
At least, for the first time, Rooney had company against Kompany yet United lacked any precision in their final ball and City remained in charge, De Gea kicking away Toure’s left-wing cross.
Mancini hooked Tevez, sending on Nigel De Jong to reinforce midfield, another bulwark against a late siege although Toure, a force of nature, was twice so close after trademark runs and 25-yarders that fizzed past the frame of the goal.
De Jong’s foul on Welbeck saw Fergie and Mancini going toe to toe, hammer and tongs, with fourth official Mike Jones intervening between the pair before each was dragged away.
City kept coming, De Gea foiling Gael Clichy, Nasri denied as he tried to walk the ball in.
Not even five minutes of “Fergie time” could alter this one. City are within touching distance of glory.