Ian Herbert: De Jong bares teeth to win his battle with Scholes

One of the most absorbing scenes in the wonderful Blue Moon Rising film which chronicles Manchester City's journey to the brink of last season's top four captures the dressing room scenes seconds before the players ran out for that vital and decisive spring encounter with Tottenham. "This is the only game they'll remember," Craig Bellamy bellows at the players. "No one cares about the rest. It's all for nothing if we lose this."

Bellamy, whose enforced departure from City remains a mystery to many, would have been mighty valuable on a night like this and that scene made you wonder who the new screamers have turned out to be. Not captain Carlos, for sure. He's not one to do much talking. That film scene and Joe Hart's interview earlier this week, told us that much.

The answer is Nigel de Jong, a player whose season and game was plunged into torment and turmoil two months ago with the tackle which broke Hatem Ben Arfa's leg here against Newcastle and saw him removed from the Dutch national side. You wondered whether the whole imbroglio would emasculate those aspects of his game which are quality, especially when Charlie Adam of Blackpool waltzed past him at Bloomfield Road a week later you and De Jong hardly seemed to blink.

Manchester has actually been deeply divided on the De Jong issue and some of the most ardent supporters of his game have been from the Old Trafford camp. Lou Macari was infuriated by Bert van Marwijk's axing of de Jong, remembering just the same kind of challenges coming in from Jimmy Case and Arthur Albiston in the days when men were men. The most absorbing battle of last night pitched De Jong against Paul Scholes, another with a habit of placing tackles where more angelic midfielders fear to tread. De Jong won that battle. He was one of the few players to have walked away off a derby pitch last night and claimed that he had had the better of one of this fixture's greatest campaigners.

Only three United players have scored more goals against City than the seven Scholes has managed in 21 derbies but this was an occasion when he was needed to command the central territory. It took Scholes precisely one minute and 50 seconds to signal his presence there. Bang: James Milner was upended and Scholes was walking away; the first of three such challenges which saw him booked.

But the 35-year-old's chances even to venture out of his own half and exploit space which can make him United's most wonderfully creative player, were deprived him by the advancing presence of De Jong. The sight of De Jong easing the ball away from Nani and skipping down the right touchline before he was felled by Berbatov in that period, provided some of the sense of perspective which is badly needed about the 25-year-old's qualities.

The margins for error were desperately narrow at times as the game wore on. De Jong allowed Nani about one yard of turf in front of the City box early in the second half, as City briefly seemed to tire. In the blink of an eye he had spotted Wes Brown, whose cross was met by Berbatov's scissor kick.

For an equally fleeting moment, it seemed that De Jong had returned the trouble with interest, when he dispossessed Nani with masterful timing and spotted Adam Johnson lurking down the left. But this, too, came to nothing. In the end this match mattered too much for either side to take hold of it and win. But De Jong made the right noises.

News
Lois Pryce... Life Without a Postcode. Lois lives on a boat with her husband.. Registering to vote in the election has prooved to be very difficult without a fixed residential post code. (David Sandison)
newsHow living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Sport
Steven Fletcher scores the second goal for Scotland
cricketBut they have to bounce back to beat Gibraltar in Euro 2016 qualifier
News
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing