Old Trafford rocked as Manchester United reinforced local bragging rights after a dramatic win last night. City, fresh from taking a first leg lead amid claims of being the “world’s best,” slumped on the biggest night for the blues in decades. Heartbreaking for the men from Eastlands but magnificent for the majority at Old Trafford.
Inevitably it was the peerless Wayne Rooney who stole all the headlines with a wonderful performance and a match winning injury-time goal.
So long Carlos Tevez, who had scored twice at Eastlands and once again last night to bring City back into the tie. In between veteran Paul Scholes drove United ahead and Michael Carrick sidefooted home before the Reds’ claimed victory in a dramatic night of Carling Cup football.
United had made the late call to keep Rio Ferdinand within the side by appealing the Football Association’s violent conduct charge against the England defender. It proved the right choice, with the former-Leeds United defender adding calm authority amid the storm of an electric Old Trafford atmosphere.
In midfield, Ferguson chose to deploy Scholes, Carrick and Darren Fletcher. While some fans are rightly wary of leaving Rooney alone up front, the like-for-like formation against City proved the Scot right once again. Fletcher, in particular, was instrumental in supporting Rooney from midfield.
But it was Ferdinand who brought the first moment of controversy, challenging former-United striker Tevez in the area, for the Argentinian to fall under the challenge. Referee Howard Webb felt that the defender’s challenge was fair as Tevez only half-heatedly appealed.
The the striker, who had insulted United’s Captain Gary Neville in midweek, brought a good save from Edwin van der Sar as City stood toe-to-toe with United during a first period that failed to meet the heights of entertainment to come.
If the emphasis was on Rooney to spark United into life then the former-Evertonian rarely lets anybody down. Indeed, it was Rooney’s magnificent driven cross-field pass that set up the opening United goal. Ryan Giggs, forced wide by Shay Given in the City net when through on goal, found first Nani and then Carrick in support. But it was Scholes, playing further forward than is the norm these days, who needed no second attempt to drive the ball home when squeezed out to him on the edge of the area.
The goal deflated City and United, now well on top, drove home the advantage with 25 minutes to go. Carrick coolly placed the ball past Given after Fletcher’s attempt was blocked.
But for all United’s dominance, the home side was only ever a goal ahead on aggregate and within minutes Tevez had stooped in ahead of Ferdinand to flick home to bring the tie level. The defender, perhaps ring-rusty after three months on the sidelines, failed to attack the ball and United paid the price.
Then the dénouement in stoppage time, with Rooney heading home Giggs right-wing cross and celebrating wildly as the roof came off Old Trafford.
Rightly, Ferguson withheld his deepest post-match praise for the Scouser who in Cristiano Ronaldo’s absence has taken his game to the very highest level. But the Scot also praised supporters in a week when he offered no quarter to the fans’ anti-Glazer campaign.
“It was much better than Saturday,” Ferguson said of Rooney who once again ploughed a lone furrow up-front.
“I know he scored four goals but here his control leading the line and his link up play was fantastic. Overall it was a wonderful performance. World class.
“It’s a derby game and you like to win your derby games. The atmosphere tonight, and the fact it was a semi-final tie, added a lot of spice to the match. And the fact we scored so late in the game brought a special type of celebration.
“Nothing really happened in the first half. They sat very deep. What we said at half-time was to keep playing our football and keep spreading our play.
“I’m proud of the team. I also must pay tribute to our support. They were unbelievable.”
Indeed the supporters were, who traveled home jubilant after once putting local upstarts in their place. City’s time will come of course - unrestrained spending is highly attractive to mercenary players like Tevez. But for now it is the Red side of Manchester that will travel to Wembley in a month’s time.