United relish grand finale that turns Manchester red

Manchester United 3 Manchester City 1(United win 4-3 on aggregate)

Sam Wallace,Football Correspondent
Thursday 28 January 2010 01:00 GMT

The exuberant somersault in his celebration was a reminder of the 18-year-old who took Euro 2004 by storm; the goal itself was further evidence that when it comes to the big occasion, no one does it better than Wayne Rooney.

There were times last night when you wondered whether Carlos Tevez's goal had stolen the show but these days muscling Rooney off centre-stage is becoming impossible. His 13th goal in as many games was the decisive act in a fabulous Carling Cup semi-final second leg in which the balance of power in Manchester swung one way and then the other, before returning to where it has resided for the best part of two decades.

It was a monumental effort from City to haul themselves back into the game from two goals behind to take it to the brink of extra time. There were impressive performances from Craig Bellamy and Tevez; there were equally important contributions from Ryan Giggs and Darren Fletcher but in the end there was Rooney and only Rooney who really mattered.

Four years ago amid Chelsea and Arsenal's dominance, when United had not won a Premier League title for three seasons, Rooney won his first trophy as a senior professional, the Carling Cup final against Wigan Athletic. It was regarded as the beginning of this most recent United team's run of success; the day that they finally got the taste for winning.

Three Premier League titles and one Champions League later – not to mention last season's Carling Cup – it was not the trophy itself that mattered last night so much as the principle of maintaining United's dominance of the city. To Roberto Mancini's team's great credit they ran United very close, but joining the elite takes rather more than getting just one good result against Sir Alex Ferguson's team.

It was the kind of tie that will be talked about in Manchester for years, a match that looked to be going United's way with goals from Paul Scholes and Michael Carrick before Tevez stole in front of Rio Ferdinand and evened the aggregate score. Every one of the Argentine's touches were booed but, were it not for Rooney's late goal, Old Trafford would this morning be examining the wisdom of letting Tevez walk out.

It will be United who face Aston Villa at Wembley on 28 February, but then City still have the FA Cup to keep them occupied. They are a good side who got the best of most of the first half last night but, like that emergent United team of four years ago, they will have to claim a trophy sooner or later if they are to build the winning habit that Sheikh Mansour's investment demands.

Had he not arrived on the end of Giggs' cross on 92 minutes, Rooney would still have been asking himself how he missed when Patrice Evra cut the ball back to him on 73 minutes. Rising out of his seat in the dugout it was not hard to lip-read Ferguson's "How did he miss that?" as he watched the ball dribble wide.

Yet when it mattered, Rooney delivered and the game itself did not fail to meet expectations either. There was needle, like the occasion when Fletcher went nose-to-nose with Micah Richards, although that never quite spilt over into anarchy. The only time Old Trafford let themselves down was when Bellamy was pelted with coins and bottles by the corner flag and took one on the head that even he could not ignore.

That was just one sign that City had their neighbours rattled. The very fact that United have appealed against Ferdinand's three-match ban for violent conduct so he could play last night – and also leave him open to getting an extra game on top – demonstrated that Ferguson was nervous of playing without his best players.

Nemanja Vidic and Dimitar Berbatov were on the bench, the only evidence that Ferguson had one eye on Sunday's game against Arsenal. With a few exceptions he threw the best he had at City in a game he had to win. Luis Nani's performance against Hull City earned him a place in the team. Even now Scholes is preferred to Luis Anderson on nights such as these.

The first half was notable for the individual clashes all over the pitch that spoke of frustration on United's part. Nani was horrifically late on Pablo Zabaleta on seven minutes. By the time Scholes went through the back of Shaun Wright-Phillips on 35 minutes, the referee Howard Webb had no alternative but to get the yellow card out.

A flailing arm from Ferdinand caught Tevez in the face and the City man was not slow to go down clutching himself. Intentional? It was certainly clumsy in the current circumstances. Tevez missed with a diving header from Bellamy's cross on 29 minutes just as City were getting into their stride. Come half-time, Ferguson's men were struggling.

After the break, they were a very different side. Their first goal on 52 minutes was fabulously taken by Scholes, who got the ball at his feet with a split second to spare and beat Given at his far post. The original chance had fallen to Giggs but when he failed to take it, Nani recycled the ball to Carrick who picked out Scholes instantly. United were up and running and suddenly they were all over City.

Before then Van der Sar had to save from Richards but once United scored they came alive. Dedryck Boyata, the Belgian Under-21 international, only narrowly stopped Rooney with an interception. On 70 minutes, United scored again: Nani played in Fletcher, he was tackled by Boyata but when the ball ran loose the Scot toed it to Carrick. He beat Given from inside the area.

Just as it looked like the dream was over for City they replied with a goal that asked serious questions of Ferdinand's sharpness. On as a substitute, Emmanuel Adebayor got the ball from Tevez and picked out Bellamy on the left wing. When the cross came in Tevez got ahead of Ferdinand and toed the ball past Van der Sar.

Somehow, having been so impressive for much of the match, Vincent Kompany lost track of Rooney when Giggs' cross came over in injury time. Boyata was marking Fletcher and the man who was waiting beyond those two was the last person City should have left unmarked in their own area.

Manchester United (4-3-3): Van der Sar; R Da Silva (Brown, 74), Ferdinand, Evans, Evra; Fletcher, Carrick, Scholes; Nani (Valencia, 89), Rooney, Giggs. Substitutes not used: Kuszczak (gk), Owen, Berbatov, Park, Vidic.

Manchester City (4-3-3): Given; Richards, Kompany, Boyata, Garrido (Ireland, 64); Zabaleta, De Jong, Barry; Wright-Phillips (Adebayor, 72), Tevez, Bellamy. Substitutes not used: Taylor (gk), Onuoha, Sylvinho, Petrov, Ibrahim.

Referee: H Webb (S Yorkshire).

Carling Cup final

Aston Villa v Manchester United

Sunday 28 February, 3pm, Wembley

TV: BBC 1, Sky Sports 1

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