In many ways, it was the best tribute that Manchester City could have paid to The Busby Babes. A minute of perfectly-observed silence, followed by an immense performance against a United team that looked strangely out of sorts after returning from international duty. Richard Dunne was immense at the back, a true captain’s performance, and City seemed to have got the knack of silencing Cristiano Ronaldo, who played as if he was wearing a ball and chain. They raised their game several times over, and proved again just how wrong the tabloids got it when they started criticising Sven Goran Eriksson over his tactical acumen whilst he was in charge of England. Eriksson has now coached eleven times at Old Trafford, and has only ever lost there once. Today, he out-thought Alex Ferguson on the bench whilst his team out-fought them on the pitch.
The pre-match was a mixed bag. The two teams were led out onto the pitch by a bagpipe player, playing “The Red Flag”. Two wreaths were laid by the managers, and then the minute’s silence, which was immaculately observed within the stadium, but still disrupted by some subhuman letting off fireworks outside the ground (I wouldn’t be so confident in stating this if I wasn’t so certain that this is what had happened). There are no blaming games going on here, by the way – the rumour mill is saying as about it having been Liverpool supporters as anyone else. The sad truth is that there is no shortage of suspects. There is really no accounting for how moronic some people can be, is there? Once they kicked off, there was only really one team in the game, and it wasn’t the home team. Vassell’s goal seemed to sum up his career fairly tidily – he required two chances to put the ball past Van Der Saar (and really should have scored with the first attempt). United tried to put players forward, but they stuttered and stalled when they got to about thirty-five yards out. The second City goal silenced Old Trafford – Benjani’s glancing header marking an exceptional debut after his transfer from Portsmouth – and effectively killed the game stone dead on the cusp of half-time. There was no way that this United team were going to get back into this match.
There were one or two nervous moments after Michael Carrick pulled one back after ninety-one minutes (with three minutes of injury time still to play and this being Old Trafford, anything was possible), but City hung on comfortably in the end. I don’t know if these rumours have been confirmed, by Alex Ferguson reportedly stormed out of Old Trafford straight after the match, leaving Carlos Quieroz to do interviews with the press. It’s a pity that, on a day that was notable for the solemn dignity with which most people carried themselves, Ferguson doesn’t appear to have been able to do the same thing himself when the going got tough. Much was made of the energy-sapping round of international friendlies during the week, and apparently (at the end of a week in which the Premier League announced its plans to add a match for everybody on the other side of the world) without irony.