Noisy neighbours increase the volume

City silence Old Trafford with Manchester derby win over United

 Vincent Kompany scores an own goal, giving Manchester United their first goal of the game. Photograph: Dave Thompson/PA Wire.

Vincent Kompany scores an own goal, giving Manchester United their first goal of the game. Photograph: Dave Thompson/PA Wire.


Manchester United 1 Manchester City 2: Once again, Sergio Aguero was the man who condemned Manchester United.

The elegant swish of his right boot that won this match will have far less significant consequences than its more famous counterpart against QPR last May, but Manchester City will still cherish its impact at a time when they are on the verge of handing over the championship trophy.

Aguero's wonderfully taken goal, eluding three United players before burying his shot in the roof of David de Gea's net, means the gap between the two Manchester clubs is now down to 12 points, with seven games to play.

In reality, that probably just delays the inevitable - United can start looking towards the game at Arsenal on 28 April as the possible date of coronation - but City at least reminded the champions-in-waiting that they remain formidable opponents.

James Milner had given them the lead after 51 minutes and they quickly shook their heads clear after the misfortune of Vincent Kompany's own goal. Roberto Mancini's team had played as though determined to show the gulf in points was not a true reflection of the sides.

United set off like a side impatient to be reunited with the championship trophy. It was breathless stuff in those opening exchanges, two sides slugging it out with the drive and collective desire not to let the match slide into any form of conservatism.

Mancini had complained beforehand about United's opponents playing with a sense of foreboding at Old Trafford. No one could allege the same of the champions.

There is, however, a legitimate question that has to be asked of the team who began this match with so much attacking intent. If they had played with this spirit of togetherness more frequently then surely they would never have found themselves in the position whereby the title was virtually out of their reach by mid-February.

It is one thing doing it against the old rivals but they will surely regret being less motivated on other occasions.

They had the better of the first half, attacking in great numbers and making it a disconcertingly busy period for De Gea, while just stopping short of creating one clear opening.

Carlos Tevez's first intention when he collected the ball was to drive goalwards. Samir Nasri was a difficult opponent for Rafael da Silva, the Frenchman playing with considerably more drive than has been evident at other stages of the season.

Milner was getting the better of Patrice Evra, too. Yet the game was so open in this period United could also reflect on a collection of half-openings and near-misses.

There were some prodigious individual contests here: Kompany against Robin van Persie, Danny Welbeck against Gael Clichy, Rio Ferdinand and Tevez. Both sides, for the opening half hour, simply abandoned protocol and went 4-2-4, attack versus defence, from one end to the other. It was still, for the most part, an absorbing content.

There as an edge to it as well. Wayne Rooney got things going with a studs-up challenge on Milner and City's players were incensed when a promising attack was interrupted by the half-time whistle. Mancini joined in the protests as the referee, Mike Dean, left the pitch.

Mancini, however, must have been encouraged by what he had seen. Michael Carrick was struggling to exert his usual control in United's midfield. Giggs, after an impressive start, was being overrun. Milner's goal was a terrible moment for Giggs.

His attempt to flick the ball behind his legs to Rooney felt incongruous for a man of his experience and football intelligence. Gareth Barry read his intentions and suddenly United were badly exposed. Barry, running through the inside-left channel, cut his pass inside for Nasri.

Milner was waiting for the layoff and his left-foot effort took a deflection off Phil Jones to reach the bottom right-hand corner of De Gea's net. United, however, are not short of mental fortitude and their equaliser will anguish more than just the unfortunate Kompany.

Hart certainly picked a bad moment to remind us of his shortcomings this season, badly misjudging the trajectory of Van Persie's free-kick and punching at thin air. Jones was at the far post and really ought to have scored himself. Instead his header ricocheted off the back of Kompany and into the exposed net.

The bottom line, though, is that City always showed the greater penetration and it counted during an increasingly fractious finale. After 79 minutes, Yaya Toure slipped the ball into Aguero and the substitute burst past Welbeck, Jones and Ferdinand, running from left to right, before thumping his shot high into De Gea's goal.

It was a majestic goal even if, ultimately, it will probably just be a consolation prize. Guardian Service