Ji-sung Park gamble backfires as Alex Ferguson's timid Manchester United surrender the initiative

City exploit United's packed midfield which leaves Rooney isolated and frustrated in attack

The Etihad Stadium

Sir Alex Ferguson had always said that this morning would be the worst if United lost – waking up, facing the music, the fans, the ice- cold reality that City share Manchester now. That his side lost a game they never tried to win will make the nausea that much worse.

They'd travelled a few miles across town, and yet it felt like one of those United sides built to survive in an inhospitable corner of Europe. This was not entirely unreasonable, considering that no team had left this place with all the points since a Christmas chill was in the air almost a year and a half ago. Yet it was not an entirely comfortable arrangement, either, for those who wanted to witness some lustre, a little champion class, a tide of red to stem the inexorable sense that a club able to tap into unlimited oil revenue can allow themselves some blue-sky thinking and to believe anything possible.

As the sun set on the stadium, the perimeter advertising promoted the exotic possibilities of Formula One at Abu Dhabi's shimmering Yas Marina racetrack this autumn but, as if in demonstration of the gulf between City and the club that owes £439m, Ferguson offered graft, resilience and other qualities taught on the Glaswegian shipyards. There was an appreciable sense of despair for who saw instead that Ferguson had indeed decided to Park something in a five-man midfield. All the talk of champion class – "We're United. We can only try to win," Ryan Giggs had said – and yet United stuck with functionality.

Giggs, Paul Scholes and Ji-sung Park had appeared in the same starting line-up only once in the past two years – this winter's FA Cup exit at Liverpool's hands. Scholes and Park's relatively rare combination had also included last year's 0-0 draw here and the FA Cup semi-final defeat. So this wasn't entirely new. United have long since known that they cannot come to bury Manchester City, nor to raze them.

It was workable for so long as the line held and in the display that Giggs put in, while City struggled to settle their nerves and lay a claim, there was something quite wondrous, even in its deadening impact on the game. The 38-year-old, built to create and to dictate, pressed City so punishingly that there was barely time to blink, let alone control the ball, look up and take a mental measure of the possibilities. Park, too, put his head down and grafted.

It was a treacherous gamble, though. The fault line had actually seemed to be Patrice Evra, a shadow of the former left-back, up against Samir Nasri, a Muslim whose prayers on the pitch before kick-off seemed to be answered. But it proved to be Chris Smalling, failing horribly to challenge Vincent Kompany's powering header on the brink of half-time. Disaster. United, set up only to resist City, had to redraw their plans entirely.

There is rarely more than one effect on Wayne Rooney when he is billeted as a loan striker – frustration – and the shake of the head, the mutterings, the arms thrown out in supplication for a pass which never came were all in evidence. One by one, United's defensive bricks were removed in favour of something more resembling what we have come to view as United, in their years of dominance.

Park couldn't race off fast enough. Scholes, unable to dictate this one as he did his hour of derby football he played on his first return from retirement, sprinted from the field, too. Yet United had nothing left within, no moment of class nor piece of brilliance. Rooney looked a hunched, lost soul; a player who seemed to know his side's number was up.

Ferguson offered as much as anyone when he leapt from his chair to jab at Roberto Mancini, over Nigel de Jong's challenge on Danny Welbeck. And when he took up his big blue seat again, he seemed lost in it, wondering what the answer might be, how he might repel the blue tide which this morning threatens to drown him.

News
peopleHowards' Way actress, and former mistress of Jeffrey Archer, was 60
Sport
Romelu Lukaku puts pen to paper
sport
News
Robyn Lawley
people
Arts and Entertainment
Unhappy days: Resistance spy turned Nobel prize winner Samuel Beckett
books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
people
Life and Style
Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson voice the show’s heroes
gamingOnce stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover
News
i100
Life and Style
Phones will be able to monitor your health, from blood pressure to heart rate, and even book a doctor’s appointment for you
techCould our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?
Travel
Ryan taming: the Celtic Tiger carrier has been trying to improve its image
travelRyanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?
News
people
Extras
indybest
Sport
Usain Bolt confirms he will run in both the heats and the finals of the men's relay at the Commonwealth Games
commonwealth games
Life and Style
Slim pickings: Spanx premium denim collection
fashionBillionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers 'thigh-trimming construction'
News
Sabina Altynbekova has said she wants to be famous for playing volleyball, not her looks
people
News
i100
Life and Style
tech'World's first man-made leaves' could use photosynthesis to help astronauts breathe
Caption competition
Caption competition
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

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash