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 13 May.
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 where United had the upper hand with some incisive forward play.
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.
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’s dambusters.
City were out to win whereas Fergie was trading United’s traditional offence for a stalwart defence – a draw would suffice for the Reds.
Led by Captain Fantastic Vincent Kompany, the Blues denied a strangely subdued United a single effort on target, as City keeper Joe Hart must have thought 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 on the halfway line, resulting in yet another unwarranted yellow card.
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.
Little did we know that ‘Kompany Karma’ would strike back in first half added time and spark an eruption in the Etihad.
Silva swung a pacy corner kick into the six yard box, Kompany eluded his marker Chris Smalling and powered a colossal header past a defenceless David De Gea in the United goal.
Kompany careered away in triumph like a man possessed forcing Fergie into a half time rethink.
City were deservedly edging the encounter, but with so much at stake few believed a solitary goal would settle matters.
Mancini’s men emerged steeling themselves for the inevitable United onslaught, but forever focused on delivering their own killer blow of a second goal.
United huffed and puffed but the final through ball was missing. Fergie introduced Welbeck for Park while Mancini countered by swapping Tevez for De Jong.
It looked like the Italian was preparing for a siege, but no – it was the signal 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 Glaswegian charm at Mancini following an innocuous De Jong challenge on Welbeck.
Forget the ‘mind games’ here was an animated and angry Sir Alex spewing bile and striding towards the equally fiery Mancini.
Ever humorous, a chorus of ‘He’s cracking up, he’s cracking up, Fergie’s cracking up…’ echoed from the Colin Bell Stand 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.
The City chief 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.