THE trouble which marred the aftermath of Robin van Persie’s late winner for United in the Manchester derby at the Etihad Stadium was a sad postscript to a thrilling afternoon.
The Red Devils thought they had established a match-winning lead through Wayne Rooney’s double before City hit back in the second half.
Indeed, once Argentine defender Pablo Zabaleta had levelled after Yaya Toure had halved the deficit, it seemed the hosts would go on to win, only for Van Persie’s deflected free-kick to seal the spoils for United, who moved six points clear at the top of the Barclay’s Premier League table.
United manager Sir Alex Ferguson said: “We should have been out of sight, but you have to give credit to City. They keep going and they score late goals. Fortunately we got the last one.”
Rooney’s double established him as United’s leading scorer in Manchester derbies. The England striker is now level with City duo Francis Lee and Joe Hayes on ten.
However, when Ashley Young had a third incorrectly ruled out for offside, City took advantage almost immediately, leaving the game on a knife-edge.
“Intensity, passion, competitiveness...everything was there,” Ferguson added. “The incident with Ashley was disappointing because from 3-0 up it went to 2-1 in minutes.
“Football can kick you in the teeth that way, but there will always be controversy in a match like that because there are so many things happening.”
The late drama left Manchester City’s Italian manager Roberto Mancini to reflect on another dismal performance from fellow Italian Mario Balotelli.
The forward was preferred to Carlos Tevez, but, after an ineffective opening period, showed no sign of improvement immediately afterward, triggering a stark warning from his manager.
“I love Mario, but it is important for him to start to think about his job,” said Mancini. “He has everything to play well but he can’t continue to play like today. We wanted more from him.
“When you have a player that has Mario’s quality, you cannot understand why he continues to throw it out of the window. It is incredible.
“I have seen players in my life with fantastic quality, but in the end, they did nothing.
“I don’t want Mario to finish like these players. It would be bad for him.”
Tevez’s introduction certainly sparked a City side – already reeling through the loss of skipper Vincent Kompany with a calf injury – into life.
It was Tevez’s half-cleared corner that led to Zabaleta’s equaliser, although there was some confusion about where the Argentina star should have been for Van Persie’s fateful free-kick given he moved away from his place in the wall to try and mark Rooney, who had become the sixth – and youngest – player to reach 150 Premier League goals.
“I don’t know what happened,” said Mancini. “I understood before it was dangerous that free-kick and we made a mistake by only putting three players in the wall.
“I called Carlos to come back into the wall, but from the bench I was too far away.”
The result puts Mancini under pressure given that City have also crashed out of the Champions League at the group stage with the worst performance from any English club in the competition’s history.
Yet even with the spectre of former Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola continuing to hang over him, Mancini insists City can still retain the title.
“Even though we have lost this game we have shown we can win the title this year,” said Mancini.
“It is clear, we need to work hard and stop making mistakes. We can’t continue to go one or two goals behind because it is difficult to recover.
“We have a good spirit. Now we need to win four or five matches in a row.”