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Heaven and Hell - City 1 United 0

A Glaswegian pensioner edged closer to meeting his maker as sky blue heaven appeared on Manchester City’s horizons at a turbo-charged Etihad Stadium.

Sir Alexander Chapman Ferguson will be hoping a derisive put down of the blue side of Manchester is not a self-fulfilling prophecy come the Premier League finale on May 13th.

He famously retorted ‘not in my lifetime…’ when asked if City – flush with Sheikh Mansour’s riches – would ever finish above United.

Well we’re just 180 minutes away from determining if City will ascend to Premier League paradise and Fergie goes in the opposite direction!

On the evidence of this titanic table-topping clash – billed as the most important Manchester derby of all time – and watched by a global audience of 650 million people, Sir Alex should start putting his affairs in order.

There was only ever going to be one winner after City emerged from an opening 20 minute spell – one where United had the upper hand – to take command with incisive forward play. For the remaining 70 minutes – plus the almost mandatory ‘Fergie Time’ – it soon became evident one team wanted to win, the other to sneak away with a cowardly draw.

With the world watching, City set about achieving what had seemed unthinkable just 22 days earlier – bridging the chasm of an eight point United lead – forged on Easter Sunday after City succumbed to Arsenal 1-0. Nobody – but nobody – could have envisaged City’s Lazarus-like resurrection.

City boss Roberto Mancini sent out an unchanged team, overflowing with attacking intent, to win the three points that would send the ‘noisy neighbours’ roaring back to the top slot.

By contrast Fergie had dumbfounded most pundits with his team selection replacing the pace and youth of Valencia and Welbeck with the experience and solidity of Giggs and Park. Jones and Smalling were drafted in for Evans and Rafael as the reigning champions sought to shore up a defence that had leaked so badly against Everton in a crazy 4-4 draw at Old Trafford.

City sensed blood in the water and set out to savage the weak-willed Reds. Fergie – for so many years the master of the ‘mind games’ – may as well have run up a white flag as he swapped United’s traditional offence for, what he clearly thought would be a stalwart defence. A point would suffice, but it never looked likely to be snatched.

Led by ‘Captain Fantastic’ Vincent Kompany, the Blues denied a meek, mild and strangely subdued United a single effort on target. Joe Hart would’ve been forgiven for believing the May Day Bank Holiday had been brought forward by a week.

Frenetic as it was, the game was lacking quality during the opening exchanges. The City faithful were in full swing on ‘Wayne Watch’, baiting United’s main threat Rooney, as he remonstrated with referee Andre Marriner at every opportunity.

Rooney – reviled by City fans – hardly endeared himself to the home support by feigning injury after an enthusiastic challenge by Kompany. Gullible as ever, Marriner dished out an unwarranted yellow card and the City skipper knew he had to walk a fine line.

The friction and animosity between the pair traced back to the Belgian skipper’s controversial sending off in City’s valiant 3-2 FA Cup defeat in January. Rooney was instrumental in confronting ref Chris Foy and demanding a red card following Kompany’s challenge on Nani.

‘Kompany Karma’ was on its way and it would spark an eruption, hitherto never witnessed at the Etihad. David Silva swung a pacy corner kick into United’s packed six yard box, Kompany eluded his theoretical marker, Chris Smalling, before powering a colossal header past a floundering David De Gea.

City had lift-off as Kompany careered away like a man possessed, leaping into the night sky. Exuberant didn’t come close. Deservedly edging the encounter, but with so much at stake, few in the capacity crowd believed a solitary goal would settle matters.

Mancini’s men emerged for the second half, steeling themselves for what they had every right to believe would be an inevitable United onslaught. United huffed and puffed but the final through ball – let alone a clinical strike – was nowhere to be seen.

Like Grand Chess Masters Fergie and Mancini moved their pieces around the lush green ‘board’ of the Etihad pitch. On came Welbeck for Park as United searched for the equaliser. Mancini countered, swapping the indefatigable Tevez for the tenacity and bite of De Jong.

It looked like the Italian was preparing for a siege. Nothing was further from Bobby Manc’s mindset. It was the catalyst to unleash Yaya Toure from his holding midfielder role. The Ivorian giant came close with two rampaging efforts, while the lack lustre Scholes and Carrick failed to provide ammunition to United’s front men.

The second half fireworks were confined to the touchline with a tetchy Ferguson hurling his infamous Glaswegian charm at Mancini. Forget the ‘mind games’ here was an animated and angry Sir Alex spewing bile and striding towards the equally fiery Italian. If I was a betting man, my mortgage would most definitely NOT have been on dear old Baconface.

Ever humorous, a chorus of, ‘He’s cracking up, he’s cracking up, Fergie’s cracking up…’ bellowed from the Colin Bell Stand – and soon the East, North and South Stands – as the almost comedic confrontation was quelled by the intervention of Fourth Official Mike Jones and City Assistant Manager David Platt.

United went for broke with Valencia and Young coming on, while City held firm with Richards and Milner helping repel the far from rampant Reds.

Five minutes of ‘Fergie Time’ proved fruitless and City secured the double over United for the season and a healthy +8 goal difference advantage.

Roberto Mancini maintains– publicly at least - that United are still in pole position for the Premier League title, but a win at high flying Newcastle on Sunday would make City irresistible favourites.

By David Walker

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