Manchester United go six points clear in Premier League with 3-2 derby win
Robin van Persie scores late winner against second-placed champions City
Wayne Rooney put United 2-0 up inside the first half hour at Etihad Stadium
City leveled through Yaya Toure and Pablo Zabaleta before injury-time free kick
Racist abuse, missiles from the crowd, a pitch invader and five goals in an action-packed thriller – Sunday’s 164th Manchester derby epitomized all that is good and bad about English football.
On the field, Manchester United snatched a 3-2 victory that gave Alex Ferguson’s team a healthy six-point lead from second-placed Premier League champions City.
But the non-sporting incidents continued – in tune with more than a year of controversies that have plagued arguably the world’s most lucrative and widely supported domestic soccer competition, starting with the John Terry-Anton Ferdinand racism incident in October 2011.
Hooliganism was once known as the “English disease” – but the game’s malady is more pervasive than mere violence.
This time Ferdinand’s older brother Rio was involved, being hit in the face by a coin as he celebrated Robin van Persie’s injury-time winner.
While the former England international wiped the blood from his face, City goalkeeper Joe Hart intervened to confront a fan who had invaded the pitch – police then hauled him from the ground.
The Greater Manchester force also reported after the match that another man had been arrested inside City’s Etihad Stadium on suspicion of chanting racist abuse.
“It’s disappointing that after a great game and advert for the Premier League that we are discussing this issue,” said the English Football Association in a statement on Sunday.
“We will work with the clubs and authorities to identify those responsible and support the strongest sanctions available, including life bans.
“We condemn any such acts and it is simply unacceptable that any player is exposed to injury in this way. To witness Rio Ferdinand leaving the field with a cut above his eye to receive treatment is appalling.”
United manager Alex Ferguson also condemned the transgressions, calling for action by the authorities as he cited similar problems during October’s controversial clash at Chelsea – which saw ref Mark Clattenburg accused of racism before being cleared, and John Obi Mikel fined and banned for confronting the official after the match.
“It was disappointing that a supporter ran on the field after Rio had been hit by a coin in the eye,” Ferguson told MUTV. “It’s a bit disappointing. The game didn’t deserve that.
“I don’t know whether they’re going to stitch it or not. The same thing happened at Chelsea with all the carry-on when half a seat hit Michael Carrick and coins and lighters were thrown on. The game doesn’t need that.”
City released an apologetic statement afterwards promising to investigate, but Ferdinand laughed off the coin attack as he posted on his Twitter account after the game.
“What a result, 3 points! Sweet! Whoever threw that coin, what a shot! Can’t believe it was a copper 2p….could have at least been a £1 coin!,” the 34-year-old wrote.
“Respect to Joe Hart for protecting that idiot who ran on!! Love the banter between fans but there is a point when it goes too far…calm it!”
The problems also extended to the internet, with the Greater Manchester Police reporting on Twitter that it is investigating reports of racist tweets.
Earlier it had reported that a man had been arrested outside the Etihad Stadium on suspicion of ticket touting, but a prematch prediction from the man in charge of policing the game proved wide of the mark.
“I have every confidence this match will mirror the two derbies last season and the football will be the only talking point,” Superintendent Craig Thompson said.
Last season City thrashed United 6-1 at Old Trafford on the same day that Terry clashed with Queens Park Rangers’ Anton Ferdinand.
The fallout from that incident cost the Chelsea player the England captaincy, then he was cleared of racial abuse in court before being fined and banned by the English Football Association.
Roberto Mancini’s team won 1-0 in the home derby on April 30 before claiming the 2011-12 league title on goal difference from Ferguson’s men on the final day of the season.
Mancini’s role at the Abu Dhabi-owned club has become more precarious since then, with City crashing out of the UEFA Champions League at the group stage for the second season in a row.
Sunday’s defeat ended City’s 21-match unbeaten run in the EPL, 15 of those this season, and halted a run of 37 matches without defeat at home which stretched back to December 2010.
Van Persie scored a last-gasp winner for United, firing in a free-kick that was deflected past Hart, whose team had fought back from a 2-0 halftime deficit.
“It’s very hard to lose a derby, but even more so in the last minute, so I’m very disappointed,” Mancini said. “We dominated the second half, and for this reason I am really disappointed.
“They scored from their first two goal-scoring opportunities but after that we dominated the game and fought back really well – but we can’t then give a goal away after working so hard.
“I think we made a mistake for the Van Persie free-kick at the end by only putting three men in the wall. I wanted four but I couldn’t get the instruction over and I think that cost us the goal. We should have defended this free-kick better and we had chances to win this game, but there is nothing we can do about it now.”
United had conceded first in 15 of 23 games so far this season, but a double inside the opening half hour from Wayne Rooney – which made the 27-year-old England striker the youngest player to score 150 in the EPL – put Ferguson’s team in the driving seat.
United winger Ashley Young had a goal disallowed for offside after Van Persie hit the woodwork just before the hour, and City reduced the deficit 60 seconds later through midfielder Yaya Toure before defender Pablo Zabaleta drove in a low shot from an 86th-minute corner.
However, Van Persie had the final say as he netted his 11th league goal since signing from Arsenal for $38 million in August, with City midfielder Samir Nasri guilty of backing away in his position in the defensive wall and sticking out a leg to divert the ball past a helpless Hart in the second of four extra minutes.
City substitute Carlos Tevez, who came on for Mario Balotelli seven minutes after the break, was lucky to avoid punishment after aiming a wild kick at United’s Phil Jones late in the match.
Meanwhile, Everton moved up to fourth place with a 2-1 victory at home to Tottenham on Sunday thanks to injury-time goals from Steven Pienaar and Nikica Jelavic.
Clint Dempsey had opened the scoring in the 76th minute for Spurs, who dropped to fifth above West Brom on goal difference.
Liverpool claimed 10th place with a 3-2 victory at West Ham, as James Collins conceded a late own goal after Glen Johnson and Joe Cole scored against their former club.