Manchester United held on following Marouane Fellaini’s late sending-off for headbutting Sergio Aguero to eke out a 0-0 draw at Manchester City, keeping the race for Champions League qualification in the balance.
Fellaini might have been about to receive a second booking anyway for fouling Aguero when he went head to head with City’s striker and connected with a butt in the 84th minute, earning a straight red card.
The result kept United in fifth spot, both a place and a point behind City with five games remaining in the race for a top-four finish to qualify for the Champions League. Liverpool are a point ahead of City and have played a game more than both Manchester clubs.
Aguero came closer than anyone to breaking the deadlock, hitting the post from a yard in the ninth minute, and City piled on the pressure right up to Gabriel Jesus’ disallowed goal in injury-time only for United’s ten men to hold out.
The opening exchanges were a flurry of activity, little of it entirely effective but all of it fast, frantic and full-blooded.
There were a handful of heavy challenges and some permissive refereeing from Martin Atkinson, with Nicolas Otamendi closer than most to being penalised for a tussle with Marcus Rashford.
Physically, the England striker is no match for the Argentine but it quickly became clear that any foot race between the two would finish in the teenager’s favour. On three occasions Rashford ate up the ground to speed past Otamendi, but as the first half progressed that began to look like the only ace up United’s sleeve.
City were a better unit overall and should have taken the lead when good work from Raheem Sterling and Kevin De Bruyne teed up Aguero. He nipped into the six-yard box and connected low with the outside of the post.
Despite struggling for fluency United still had two wonderful chances to score in the first period. The first was a gift from Claudio Bravo, who flapped at Anthony Martial’s cross and inexplicably pawed the ball back to Henrikh Mkhitaryan. That the resulting shot was punted straight back at him was merely good fortune.
Ander Herrera was just as culpable seconds before the break when City switched off defending a Rashford free-kick and he planted a free back-post header into the stands, with the goal yawning.
After the restart Fernandinho was close to meeting De Bruyne’s cross, Aguero continued trying his luck and Leroy Sane found no takers for a penalty claim against Antonio Valencia.
The closing stages provided gripping drama, Bravo coming off injured before Fellaini ensured an unwanted spotlight when he embarked on his shocking battle with Aguero.