Mark Hughes accused Gary Neville of acting like "a lunatic" yesterday after an extraordinary derby was won 4-3 by Manchester United with a controversial injury-time goal from Michael Owen.
Hughes said his team felt "frustrated and robbed" by referee Martin Atkinson's decision to play an extra six minutes and 47 seconds after the fourth official had earlier indicated a minimum of four minutes of added time. Owen struck in the 96th minute after Craig Bellamy had snatched a dramatic equaliser for Manchester City in the 90th minute of the game, levelling the score at 3-3.
Hughes stopped short of accusing his former United team-mate Neville of directly celebrating in front of the City fans, Emmanuel Adebayor-style, but he said United's relief at snatching the victory showed how much beating City now meant to them. "I saw Gary Neville running off like a lunatic," Hughes said. "What I saw reminded me of Sir Alex and Brian Kidd [against Sheffield Wednesday] in 1993. It shows what it meant to them. It shows we can compete."
As Sir Alex Ferguson claimed that United had silenced their "noisy neighbours", the Manchester City manager accused the referee of getting the timekeeping of the match wrong. Atkinson's fourth official, Alan Wiley, had signalled four minutes minimum of time added on, just before Bellamy scored City's third goal.
"I tried to get an explanation [for the added time] from the fourth official but it didn't sit comfortably with me," Hughes said. "He tried to say that he had added a minute-plus because of our goal celebration. We timed the amount of time from when we scored [to make it 3-3] to when we kicked off at 45 seconds. So he has got that wrong."
Owen scored on 95 minutes, 25 seconds. However, under Premier League rules, the referee is entitled to go 59 seconds over the added-on time displayed on the fourth official's board. Add that 59 seconds to the requisite one minute extra for a goal, plus 30 seconds extra for a substitution – Michael Carrick came on for Luis Anderson – and Atkinson was within his rights to play past the time Owen scored.
That did nothing to console Hughes, who admitted that Old Trafford was famous for mysterious added time when he was a player there. "Historically it has happened before," Hughes said. "There were times here when United had a bit of a benefit and I never really felt it was an issue when I was a United player. We didn't have a bad time from referees.
"I am not questioning the referee's integrity. I just don't know where he has got seven minutes [added time] from. It would be nice to get an explanation but I don't think I will. I have looked at the videos and I can't see where he has got it from. It is a shame. We came back three times and showed great quality and character as a team."
United took the lead three times, through Wayne Rooney and twice through Darren Fletcher, only for Gareth Barry and then Craig Bellamy on two occasions to score the goals that brought City back into the game. It was Owen's goal, laid on by Ryan Giggs, that ultimately decided the outcome of the game.
Bellamy could face a Football Association charge for appearing to hit a United fan who ran on to the pitch after Owen had scored the winning goal. Hughes said: "The guy should not have been on the pitch, that's not acceptable. I recall Brian Clough clipping someone round the ear for coming on the pitch at Nottingham Forest."
United made fundamental errors – through Ben Foster and Rio Ferdinand – for City's first and third goals, but Ferguson preferred to focus on his rivals' propensity for what he saw as self-promotion. "For us, it's unusual for us to accept that they [City] are the top dogs in terms of media attention but, sometimes you have got a noisy neighbour and have to live with it," he said.
"You can't do anything about them if they keep on making noise but what we can do is get on with our lives, put the television on and turn it up a bit louder. But as far as the players are concerned they showed their playing power and that's the best answer of all. These neighbours will always be noisy."
With the post-match adrenalin flowing, Ferguson also said he felt United should have won by a seven-goal margin. "I am unhappy about the goals we conceded because it spoilt a [potentially] really emphatic victory, we could have scored six or seven goals," he said. "The fact we made the mistakes probably made it the best derby game of all time so you're left wondering, what would you rather have had? Won 6-0 or won the greatest derby game of all time? I'd rather have won 6-0."
Hughes responded with a dig at the relative qualities of Foster and City's Shay Given, who two great saves from Dimitar Berbatov. "Maybe he [Ferguson] feels the need to say that [about the scoreline]," Hughes said, "but I don't think he needs to say that. I have an outstanding goalkeeper who is paid to save shots going into the net and that is what he does."
Owen said: "It's a privilege to play in a team like this and you're never going to pass up an opportunity like that. I thought the lads played really well, I thought we dominated most of the game, but there were a lot of individual mistakes that cost us the goals."