Robin Scott-Elliot: Sky no longer feel the need to go hell for leather

View From The Sofa: Souness was a curmudgeonly comfort but this was a rather softer Super Sunday
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The Independent Football

Payback, as Sky chose to call yesterday's inter-city stramash, sounds like an option in a World of Leather sale, not the billing for the season's day of days. Never in a month of (Super) Sundays would you have expected the station that can find the meaning of life and death in Stoke against Wigan to morph into a bashful costermonger when gifted such an afternoon.

"Well," began Ed Chamberlain, the shiny, polite, safe young man who has replaced Richard Keys, "the title won't be won or lost today."

Since the departure of Keys and Andy Gray, there has been a less triumphal tone to Sky's coverage. But this season there also seems a realisation that actually there really is no need to reach for the broadcaster's bumper book of hyperbole. The Premier League may be vain, cash-obsessed, brash and flash but it is always entertaining. It's Russell Brand.

For the first hour of the new firm encounter at the Etihad Stadium there was a hint that it might be turning into a bad hair day for the nation's premier brand. Minds strayed from the pitch; was an advertising hoarding for City's shop promising "further reductions on selected items" a coded message to Carlos Tevez's suitors? Is it really a good time for a travel company to sell cruises?

Mario Balotelli may soon have time to book a sunshine break of his own, following a capricious cameo in a breathtaking second half of the first half of the afternoon. Sky's post-match man failed to broach the subject of the stamp while speaking to the Italian – self-preservation perhaps? – but Gary Neville was in no doubt about its impact.

"That's a huge moment in the title race," judged Neville of the Italian escaping punishment. Alongside Neville, Graeme Souness exuded an air of refined menace. "Gareth Barry's a girl's blouse," is a summary of his view of the City midfielder's part in Tottenham's second goal. Then he chewed up and spat out Howard Webb too.

There is, in Souness's punditry, a suggestion of why he has not matched his playing success in management. Here is a man who cannot fathom weakness nor understand anyone failing to match his standards. Manchester United, he said, would win because that is the only result any team with title aspirations could entertain and if you doubted him he would see you round the back.

The second half of the double bill lacked the drama of the opener, but went as demanded by Souness and matched the Premier League norm for improving as it progressed. Despite second-half flurries, it cannot have been easy viewing for the home support.

Yesterday was about the season's big three and which of the north London neighbours sit among that rank was adroitly captured by a shot of Arsène Wenger after Robin van Persie shot wide. Wenger placed his head in his hands. And kept it there. There was no payback, just a world of lather for the Frenchman.