Sergio Agüero seals derby delight for Manchester City

United finish the stronger despite sending off of Chris Smalling

Manchester City’s Sergio Agüero fires home a goal during the Premier League match against Manchester United at the Etihad Stadium. Photograph: Peter Powell/EPA

Manchester City’s Sergio Agüero fires home a goal during the Premier League match against Manchester United at the Etihad Stadium. Photograph: Peter Powell/EPA

 

Manchester City 1 Manchester United 0

It was a derby that left Manchester United a long way back in Manchester City’s wing-mirrors and, in the worst moments, straying dangerously close to being their own worst enemy. They had contributed heavily to their own downfall, most glaringly with the senselessness that ended Chris Smalling’s involvement, and they should know by now that the home side are not the kind of opponents who tend to pass up these kind of handouts.

Smalling’s red card towards the end of the first half had left an air of inevitability about what would follow and, if anything, it was probably just a surprise that City restricted themselves to Sergio Agüero’s goal once another of United’s defenders, Marcos Rojo, had been taken away with a shoulder injury.

It left Louis van Gaal’s team with a back four of Antonio Valencia, Michael Carrick, Paddy McNair and Luke Shaw. Carrick was playing his first football of the season. Valencia is a low-on-confidence right-winger by trade and McNair is a 19-year-old who has been fast-tracked from the youth academy after being spotted at Ballyclare Colts. This might not be City at their fully functioning best but it would have felt almost implausible if they had not found their way through.

For that, Smalling will have to spend his time grazing in the scapegoat’s paddock because his contribution here supplied hard evidence of a player lacking football intelligence. Smalling has previous on that front and it is difficult to find any mitigation for the way he scythed down James Milner when it was only eight minutes earlier that the first booking came for blocking Joe Hart’s kick.

Remarkably, United’s 10 men almost salvaged something during a late, spirited attempt to rescue an improbable point. They showed great competitive courage in that period and there were chances for Robin van Persie, Ángel Di María and Marouane Fellaini to punish City for not being more clinical with all their opportunities at the other end. Yet the truth is that City would probably have been home and dry by that point if the referee, Michael Oliver, had not turned down three separate penalties, at least two of which could be accurately described as certainties.

Wayne Rooney had spent much of the game remonstrating with Oliver about his own grievances and, in the interest of balance, there were certainly occasions when United had legitimate complaints. Oliver had an erratic and sometimes bewildering afternoon and maybe the visitors will wonder whether Hart should have been punished for putting his forehead uncomfortably close to the official.

Yet the reality is that City had the stronger grievances. United would have been down to nine men if Oliver had made the correct decision when Yaya Touré surged into the penalty area and Rojo, the wrong side of his man, took him down in the last piece of action of the first half.

Marouane Fellaini had already got away with a risky challenge in the penalty area on Agüero and he was guilty later on of the same again. City will feel nonplussed when they review the tape and we can only imagine the volume of criticism for Oliver had Agüero’s goal not made it feel like an irritating sub-plot rather than the main story.

The breakthrough came after 63 minutes from a spell of sustained pressure. Gaël Clichy was galloping down the left and when Touré played the ball between Valencia and Di María the United back line was terribly out of shape. Clichy picked out Agüero with a low cross and the Argentinian thumped his shot past David de Gea.

United’s response showed personality and Hart had to make some splendid saves. Yet this is now City’s sixth win in their last seven league meetings against United, including four in a row for the first time since 1970.

(Guardian Service)

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