MANCHESTER: Robin Van Persie marked his first Manchester derby with what was not only his 11th Premier League goal of the season but, more important, the winner for United by 3-2 against City.
United had been cruising at half-time after two goals in the first 28 minutes from Wayne Rooney but City stormed back after the arrival of energised Carlos Tevez in place of anonymous Mario Balotelli. Yaya Toure and Pablo Zabaleta thundered comeback goals only for United to respond in stoppage time.
Van Persie’s direct free kick, deflected slightly by Samir Nasri on the edge of the defensive wall, condemned City to their first Premier defeat of the season and their first home defeat in almost two years.
Rooney said: “It’s been a great day for us, we’re six points clear and we’ve beaten our closest rivals. After what happened last season we’ve waited a long time for this afternoon.
“City have had a great home record so to spoil it is a great feeling. We were hanging on a bit near the end but then a bit of magic won us the three points.”
Van Persie added: “Wayne asked me: ‘What are you going to do, shoot or cross it?’ I said: ‘I thjink I’ll have a shot.’ Good decision!”
Hollywood stars Tom Cruise and Robert Duvall were in the directors’ box to enjoy the theatrical drama of a derby in which the focus of pre-match attention had fallen on referee Martin Atkinson.
United manager Sir Alex Ferguson had complained in advance that City had been awarded 20 penalties at home in the last two and a half season while United had benefited from ‘only’ 13. He said: “If we got that number of penalty kicks there’d be an inquiry in the House of Commons.”
In the event Atkinson refereed the match superbly, condoning a certain level of physical commitment but never letting the tension sear out of control.
City dominated the opening exchanges but then United broke out of their own half for the first time, Van Persie chested a ball into the path of Ashley Young and he laid off the assist from which Rooney edged a shot low inside keeper Joe Hart’s right-hand post.
City suffered a significant further blow five minutes later when skipper Vincent Kompany pulled a muscle and had to be substituted in central defence by Kolo Toure.
Yet they might have equalised within minutes as Sergio Aguero wriggled through the heart of the United defence only for his shot to lack power and enable David De Gea to drop to his left and save.
The significance of that miss was exacerbated in the 28th minute when Rafael da Silva escaped down the United right and slipped in a low cross which Rooney whipped superbly beyond Hart.
It was his 10th derby goal, overtaking Sir Bob by Charlton’s record and his fourth in his second successive league game after only two goals in his previous 10 Premier appearances this term. The strike also took him to 151 in the Premier League, sixth in the all-time list.
United suffered their own defensive injury, bringing on Chris Smalling at the start of the second half for Jonny Evans, but the more important switch saw Mancini send on Tevez in place of Balotelli who – true to character – stomped straight off down the tunnel without waiting around to support his team-mates from the bench.
Tevez made an instant difference to City’s level of performance, adding to bemusement over why he had started the match on the subs’ bench. He played a key role in sparking the United defensive confusion on which Yaya Toure capitalised to shoot City back into the game in the 59th minute.
United might have felt hard done-by. Minutes earlier a mistaken offside decision had denied Ashley Young what would have been a third United goal after an angled drive from Van Persie ricocheted back out off the inside of Hart’s left-hand post.
But Toure’s goal had ensured that the majority of the rest of the match was played in United’s half. They might have equalised in the 79th minute when David Silva wriggled through on the right only to see his shot ricochet for a corner off the right shoulder of De Gea who knew very little about ‘his’ save.
City’s effort brought its due reward in the 86th minute when United failed to clear a left-wing corner from Tevez and the unmarked Pablo Zabaleta thundered home a low first-time drive from the edge of the penalty box.
The odds were now on City – until United escaped upfield in stoppage time. Tevez tripped Rafael to concede the free kick which Van Persie screwed inside Hart’s right-hand post.
“That was a fantastic game,” said Ferguson, “you couldn’t take your eyes off it. We played very well. City deserved their second goal the way they came back – they were fighting like hell. But in the end we deserved it.”
Mancini said: “We lost one game but we can still win the [league and cup] double.”
Asked about Balotelli, Mancini said: “It’s important for Balotelli to think about his job. He can’t continue to play like he did today. We want more from him. He can’t throw his quality out of the window.”
City have apologised to Rio Ferdinand for an incident near the end when a fan threw a coin which hit the United defender in the face. Another fan was arrested using for racist language and another arrested for running on to the pitch.
** Two goals in stoppage time from Steven Pienaar and Nikica Jelavic secured a dramatic 2-1 win for Everton over a Tottenham side who had been heading for their fourth league win in a row.
South African Pienaar rejoined Everton from Tottenham this past summer. His goal was Everton’s 1,000th in the Premier League.
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