Half time at the Etihad Stadium in the F. A. Cup 3rd round tie between Manchester’s great rivals. As the players make their way to the dressing rooms for the interval, United stand 3-0 up against a disorientated City side.
United’s players (and giddy fans) see the second half as an opportunity to score more goals and exact vengeance for the 1-6 league defeat they suffered at the hands of City in October.
City’s players (and shell-shocked fans) struggle to comprehend the 45 minutes that has just played out, a nightmare first half for the home side to forget.
However, something happened to both teams during the break, as the second half saw a dramatic turn of events nearly culminating in an exhilarating comeback for the Citizens.
Roberto Mancini would be hard pressed not to have simply considered damage limitation at half time, with his side down to 10 men and the visitors dominating the majority of proceedings.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s team talk would have undoubtedly revolved around his team not getting complacent and pushing on in hope of thrashing their local rivals. Put it this way, Fergie will have been packing away the hair-dryer as the second half began.
However, where previous City outfits may have crumbled to their old foes, this group are a more resilient, determined and talented selection of players than the club have possessed for quite some time.
Instead of letting their heads drop, and allowing United to romp to victory, City produced a quite astonishing comeback to fall just short of drawing with the bitter enemies and forcing a replay.
First Aleksander Kolarov curled in a sumptuous free-kick, before Aguero pounced in the box to cut United’s lead to just one goal.
Predictably City tired, and although they came close to equalising late on when it looked like they had earned a penalty when the ball cannoned off Phil Jones, United secured a 3-2 triumph to knock the holders out of the F. A. Cup and earn themselves an intriguing 4th round tie against Liverpool.
United will be disappointed they didn’t make the most of the chance to lay a marker down to their title challengers and make amends for the humiliation they endured earlier in the season.
Even so, this was a win for the club against their close enemies, and one in which the Red Devils’ faithful will not let City’s support wipe from memory in a hurry.
The game itself was spoiled as a spectacle in many ways by the early dismissal of City captain Vincent Kompany. Whilst we should not condone tackles that see players lift both their feet off the floor – this was a foul and a yellow card but nothing more.
Wayne Rooney showcased his ability to bounce back from personal setback, as he produced a bubbling display of guile, predatory finishing and bravery, especially in the first half.
United will need their most talented of players to fire on all cylinders in the remainder of the season if they are to accomplish accolades and achievements, and Rooney is most crucial to their charge.
The former Everton striker’s partner up front Danny Welbeck also offered a glimpse into his outstanding potential as he scored the second with a brilliantly opportunistic sideways volley.
Welbeck then earned United’s penalty with a darting run in City’s box, splitting two defenders and forcing a rash challenge from Kolarov, which Rooney converted with his his head after Joe Hart parried his spot-kick.
City’s valiant attempt to reverse the deficit in the second 45 was summed up the energetic and clinical Sergio Aguero, who can be best described as an upgrade with an exemplary attitude on City’s former Argentine front-man turned bad-boy Carlos Tevez.
Aguero adopted a policy of shooting on site and ran the United defence ragged in search of goals to pull his side back into the game.
It was his 65th minute strike that brought City close to a famous comeback, a tap-in finish after forcing keeper Anders Lindegaard to spill his initial ferocious effort.
When the final whistle eventually blew, calling an end to an enthralling fixture, United were through to the next round of the cup, but it almost felt like a moral victory for City as they denied United the thrashing they craved after October’s crushing five goal romp for the league leaders.
United’s attention now turns to a weekend Premiership clash with Bolton Wanderers, whilst City face Liverpool in the Carling Cup mid-week.
For now, the bragging rights rest with the red half of Manchester.
Follow Jamie Dickenson on Twitter @jdickenson2010