Sergio Aguero’s memorable late strike saw Manchester City restore some local pride as they beat their fierce rivals and the side poised to take their Premier League title, Manchester United, 2-1 at Old Trafford.
Aguero’s winner came 12 minutes from time after a Vincent Kompany own goal had cancelled out James Milner’s opener in the second half. The win reduces United’s lead at the top of the table to 12 points, but the victory and a strong performance is likely to have City fans wondering just how their team has allowed themselves to fall so far behind their attempts to reclaim the title.
It was a far from spectacular encounter at Old Trafford, but, built on a solid defensive base, City were the side who appeared to just have the edge for the majority of the 90 minutes and deserved their win. While the defeat for United denied them revenge from City’s win at Old Trafford last season, it also continued a run of unimpressive performances from Sir Alex Ferguson’s side since exiting the Champions League last month.
The crowd inside Old Trafford began in full voice, and it was likely the fear of dissenting voices that led to a decision not to hold a minute’s silence before kick-off for former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who passed away earlier on Monday. Baroness Thatcher had been a divisive figure, with particular animosity held toward her in the north of England as well as among football fans in the country.
When the action did get underway is was at a ferocious tempo.
With City starting with Carlos Tevez as their sole forward, a cagey encounter looked on the cards, but instead it was a frantic, end-to-end first 15 minutes, although with both defenses doing well, chances were still at a premium.
Robin van Persie had perhaps the best of them as he dragged a shot wide of goal to continue his recent scoring drought.
At the other end, Phil Jones, in for the injured Nemanja Vidic and Jonny Evans, made a good early contribution by remaining alert to prevent David Silva’s low cross from reaching Carlos Tevez.
As the half wore on, the tempo slowed, although City were the side in the ascendency with the home team seemingly happy to try and play on the counter. Both defenses remained on top, however Samir Nasri lashed a shot wide from a rare moment of indecisiveness in the United backline.
Going forward both sides were too often careless in possession. Indeed the main source of excitement for the fans for spells of the match was some rash challenges, most notably Wayne Rooney’s two-footed tackle on James Milner, which, on another day, may have led him to seeing red rather than yellow from the referee.
The closest to a goal in the opening 45 minutes came from a seemingly innocuous effort from Rafael right on the stroke of half time. Van Persie got a flick on for Rafael, who toe-poked the ball optimistically toward goal that had Hart worried but hit the outside corner of the frame of the goal.
Six minutes after the break, it was the visitors that struck first after a move that started from Ryan Giggs’s ill-advised backheel inside his own half. Gareth Barry took possession and continued down the left before passing it inside to Nasri to layoff it off to Milner, who hit a strong left-footed strike that took a slight deflection off of Michael Carrick and just beat David de Gea into the near post.
Just seven minutes later Jones got a crucial and somewhat unintended touch at the other end to help bring United level.
Van Persie, whose late free-kick decided the first contest between these sides earlier in the season, whipped in a menacing set-piece from near the right touchline that Kompany misjudged the flight of allowing Jones to get in round the back for what looked like a simple close-range finish. The United center-back also got his timing wrong as the ball hit his shoulder and went back across goal, before his blushes were avoided as it struck Kompany and diverted into the net.
The equalizer temporarily got the home fans in full voice and their side responded with some pressure, but City soon quieted both the opposition crowd and team as they reclaimed the ascendency.
It took a piece of magic from one of their substitutes, though, to get the decisive third goal.
Aguero’s strike bore plenty of resemblance to the one he scored to win the title in dramatic circumstances last season. But this one was even better. Receiving the ball just outside the box, the Argentinian -- not deemed fit enough for the full 90 minutes -- burst and feinted his way past both United central defenders before unleashing a venomous shot into the roof of the net at De Gea’s near post.
United pushed forward in the closing stages, but City fairly comfortably held out as two half-chances went begging when Van Persie was unable to turn Giggs’s low pass toward goal at the near post and in the final seconds Patrice Evra headed straight at Joe Hart.