Manchester United 1 Manchester City 2 match report: Sergio Aguero goal slows United's Premier League title charge

James Milner opened the scoring at Old Trafford

Old Trafford

Sergio Aguero did not score a goal that won the league for Manchester City tonight, as he did on that famous day last May; he did not whip off his shirt in celebration and disappear under a pile of his team-mates in front of a crowd who knew they were witnessing history. But if you are going to lose the title to your most despised rivals by some distance, then this was by far the best way to do it.

At City they have one Argentinian striker who is obliged to help tidy up Manchester at the discretion of the probation service, and another who has a habit of cleaning up on the big occasions. Aguero's winning goal will not change the course of the title race but it has put a dent in the killing machine at Old Trafford that has crushed so much before it this season.

When they wake up in the morning, City will still be 12 points behind United, and they will have to steel themselves for handing over the Premier League trophy next month. A win at Old Trafford was small consolation in the great scheme of things, especially for a club that has City's lofty ambitions, but it did not feel that way last night.

At the end, the City players celebrated in front of their fans while Ryan Giggs, for one, turned on his heel and walked off without a look back. When the dust settles, City may well ask themselves why they found themselves so far behind United before they discovered the kind of form and verve to put together a performance like the one tonight.

Roberto Mancini later blamed it on the number of injuries his side had been forced to deal with over the season, naming the likes of Vincent Kompany and Yaya Toure as critical absentees. He would not accept that he has a big enough squad to deal with it but this was not a night to search for the disguised meaning in Mancini's words, it was one to admire the performance of his side.

As for United, they will pick themselves up and come 18 May they will have their 20th title. It changes nothing in that respect. They have been by far the best team in the league this season - there can be no argument with the gap at the top of the table. Yet this result does pose more questions about the quality of this particular side and what they need to push on again next season, especially in Europe.

Robin Van Persie drew another blank and Wayne Rooney went two-footed on James Milner in the first half with the kind of challenge that might, have made a more edgy referee consider the red card. He was substituted before the end. United's best player was Phil Jones whose header was deflected in off Kompany for United's goal. It was Jones who made the despairing, unsuccessful last challenge on Aguero as he set himself to score.

United are currently playing as if the season has already finished and Sir Alex Ferguson's flurry of late substitutions after Aguero's goal suggested even he was caught in two minds about his approach to the match. It was hard to pick out an outstanding attacking player in his side with Ashley Young a marginal figure and Danny Welbeck only slightly better.

By way of contrast, City had many more who performed well, starting with Kompany and Matija Nastasic and onto Gareth Barry and Milner. In fact Barry, crucial in Milner's opening goal just shaded it as the most influential player on the pitch for his sheer application and willingness to put himself in the centre of things. That included a row with Rio Ferdinand towards the end of the game when tempers frayed.

The game promised a lot more at the start when, for 15 minutes, both teams found themselves carried along, perhaps against their better instincts, to attack one another blow-for-blow. It shaped up to be a classic. Then when the storm abated it was a match without a theme for much of the remaining 75 minutes.

City had the best of it and in the first half they had a lot of possession without ever properly threatening the United goal. The home side started poorly, discounting a very promising break from Welbeck from Young's flick in midfield on four minutes. United had City outnumbered but Rooney could not persuade Welbeck to pass him the ball and Gael Clichy reacted well to get a tackle in.

Just before half-time a timid little shot from Rafael Da Silva, running onto Van Persie's flick from Michael Carrick's ball into the box, clipped the angle of post and bar. It sounded more impressive than it looked and Joe Hart watched it all the way. You might have thought that City had missed their chance but they came out for the second half with purpose.

Milner's shot, deflected in off Carrick, from the edge of the area started when Giggs lost the ball out on the left wing trying to essay a backheel. Barry nicked it away and turned possession into an attack. He carried the ball down the left channel and crossed where Samir Nasri was able to tee up Milner for the goal.

In the immediate aftermath it was difficult to see United finding that extra gear that would enable them to force their way back into the game. Certainly they had failed to do so up to that point. Their equaliser, just before the hour owed much to the award of a free-kick on the right side that looked borderline, for a wrestle between Yaya Toure and Rafael

Van Persie's free-kick had such whip and pace on it that Jones did well to get around it and head the ball back where it clipped Kompany's back and went in. The game opened up and City, with Aguero on for Nasri, did not lose their nerve.

Taking an innocuous pass from Yaya Toure just outside the box, Aguero broke right, getting across Jones and Rio Ferdinand before lifting a right foot shot past De Gea from close range. Magnificent. Rooney, poor all night, was hauled off for Javier Hernandez and Shinji Kagawa came on for the injured Young but this was City's night. United have had most things their way this season, but not all of it.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
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

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?