Carling Cup verdict: Manchester United 3 Manchester City 1
Goals: Scholes 51, Carrick 73, Rooney 90+1 for United. Tevez 76 for City.
To lose 4-3 at Old Trafford to a stoppage time winner once this season was bad enough. To lose 4-3 (on aggregate) to a stoppage time winner for a second time is… Maybe I’m getting used to it, but it didn’t feel quite so bad second time around.
Whereas last time we defended woefully and relied on moments of Bellamy brilliance for respectability, this was a closer affair than 3-1 on the night suggests. Mancini was right to assert that aside from a spell in the second half, we played well and were comfortable in the game.
The manager began by showing faith in the same starting eleven as last week. Ireland, Onuoha, Petrov and Adebayor had to be content with a place on the bench, while Toure wasn’t even there. This was both a huge vote of confidence in Boyata, and a sign that containment was part of the plan in a midfield comprising de Jong, Barry and Zabaleta.
In the first half, the expected onslaught never arrived as City defended diligently and kept the ball reasonably well. Gradually we started to probe their defence and create chances. Tevez burst through, and but for a subtle foul by Ferdinand, would have got a shot away. The Argentine then came closer than anyone to scoring with a diving header that Van der Sar turned round the post.
United, for all their possession weren’t able to create real danger as we tightened up on the flanks and kept Rooney quiet. Mancini would have been delighted at his tactics working so well when we went in 0-0 at the break.
Starting the second half with the belief we showed in the opening period, Richards took the opportunity to drive forward and let fly with a left foot strike. Van der Sar was just able to turn it away from the top corner, and there was little indication that this would be as good as it got for City.
Maybe the coins and bottles thrown at Bellamy affected our concentration slightly. It’s difficult to tell, but we were a goal down immediately afterwards.
The first two goals shared a similar unfortunate pattern. United threated to create a chance which we thwarted, only for the ball to break for first Scholes and then Carrick to score.
This was genuine misfortune rather than the clear defensive errors that blighted us earlier in the season. The period after the first goal and up to Tevez’s strike was the low point of our performance. Our heads dropped while United were energised, and we could have gone further behind.
Fortunately we struck, out of the blue, and the balance of the game shifted. Knowing the tie was level, our confidence returned and we were again looking ok. Ireland was starting to find passes. Kompany was commanding the defence. Adebayor had a chance, but his header went hopelessly wide and, in truth, there wasn’t much to indicate he was over the events in Angola.
With hindsight it may have been better to bring on Petrov instead, and move Bellamy up front. Then again Bellamy wouldn’t have been in position to supply the cross from which Tevez scored.
At the death we weren’t under siege as we were in the first leg, and extra-time looked to be coming. Then Given was required to make his first difficult save and the final act came from the ensuing corner.
Following a short corner, the cross from Giggs was whipped in with venom. Allowing to big a gap between Boyata and Zabaleta was a minor error that would normally go unpunished. Not here sadly, and once again we were behind in stoppage time with no chance to respond.
“I am so disappointed because I thought we played well in the first half and into the second, but we had a spell where we allowed them two chances and we should have paid more attention.
“We’re still in the FA Cup and we have a chance to go to Wembley in that competition, which I would love to do for the fans.”
Missing out on a trip to Wembley reinforces the value of Sunday’s victory at Scunthorpe. To win the Carling Cup would have required victory over a full strength United and Villa. To win the FA Cup requires nothing harder, with comparable opponents of Chelsea, Spurs and Villa being the worst we could face.
Following the disappointment of this defeat, our determination to land the FA Cup and qualify for the Champions League should be strengthened. This season is still very much alive, and potentially a great one.