Manchester City sought to defuse an embarrassing and inflammatory pre-derby incident last night, in which a member of the club's groundstaff posted anti-Manchester United messages on his Facebook page.
City have been working all week to maintain a sense of decorum heading into the first Manchester derby since 1968 in which both clubs are contenders for the title, heeding Greater Manchester Police requests for Carlos Tevez's contribution to the pre-match debate to be limited.
However, United fans detected the Facebook page run by 31-year-old groundsman Ged Coyne under the avatar "F*** MUFC" yesterday. The page included a barrage of invective against United.
In one of the last posts before the page was taken down, Mr Coyne said the 159th derby was taking place "at the theatre of complete tosspots – manchester united scum 1-3 Premier League Champions-elect Manchester City. We're City, F*** United!"
The temperature leading into the lunch-time fixture had been raised by suggestions that former United defender David May was using a charity event in Manchester this evening to commemorate 35 years since City last won a trophy. May has since insisted that his joke had been misinterpreted and expressed disappointment that the event had now been cancelled.
Mr Coyne's Facebook page seized on the news that the event would not be taking place. "This was due to the fact that Manchester is completely blue and the fact that fans were [going to] burn the s***hole down as well," it read.
City immediately ordered that the page be taken down and have issued guidance to all staff, reminding them of their responsibilities in social networking. City are also keen to ensure that their fans desist from chants about the 1958 Munich air crash in another derby that is close to the anniversary of the disaster.
The return of most of City's international contingent meant the first full training session of the week yesterday and defender Micah Richards was able to join in – his first session with the main group of players since suffering concussion in a collision at Birmingham City last week. There was a minor scare when Richards and reserve goalkeeper Stuart Taylor clashed heads in training and were rendered flat out on the Carrington pitch, but no lasting damage appeared to have been caused to the 22-year-old.
Midfielder Nigel de Jong remains 50/50 for the derby. He was unable to train because of the ankle injury he sustained against Birmingham. Mario Balotelli's chances of playing in the fixture appear to be receding as he is still to be involved in a full training session.
City's assistant manager Brian Kidd has denied suggestions that Roberto Mancini is tactically negative. "I think it's unfair on the boss," he said, "because he's never prepared a team not to win and he's never restricted any player. I can see traits of Sir Alex [Ferguson] because he's not afraid, he's passionate and he loves football; it's not for effect."
Kidd reiterated his belief that this is United's title to lose, though in a discussion of why captain Carlos Tevez's performances at City are vastly superior to those he delivered at United, Kidd avoided the claim that the Argentine needs to be more than a squad player. "With Carlos, we're talking about a player who's like a street footballer," said Kidd, who also played for both clubs. "He just loves his football, like a throwback. Nobody is privy to what went on at Old Trafford but all I can say is that he's just a fantastic footballer and we see it every week, every time he goes over the white line."