It has to be time to show defiance

Tuesday 08 March 2022 07:00

Sunday's derby marked very nearly 10 years since my last visit to Manchester City's Etihad Stadium.

For logistical reasons at work, I tend not to cover the Reds' shortest away trip and so this was my first game there in attendance since 2012, and only my third overall after also seeing England beat Iceland in a friendly with Wayne Rooney taking centre stage.

And it was a chastening experience but one that did make me recall my other time at the Blues' home, watching a United side play.

Almost a full decade ago, I covered the Manchester Senior Cup final and the circumstances, to put it frankly, were far from ideal. A few days earlier, City had won the title with Sergio Aguero's injury-time winner against Queens Park Rangers, while I was sat at the Stadium of Light in Sunderland, pretty oblivious to all that was going on in Manchester until the dying seconds of our 1-0 win in the north east.

Seconds after hearing it was 2-2 in stoppage time, the Black Cats fans made it clear what had happened at the death at the Etihad.

Luke Giverin and Jesse Lingard with the Manchester Senior Cup at the Etihad Stadium in 2012.

City showed replays of their dramatic comeback on the big screens before the Reserves clash and, as if to rub things in further, somebody there reckoned they'd displayed the full-time scores of the other games before their QPR match had finished on those same huge TVs, ensuring the message had got to the Londoners that they were safe regardless of the result.

I still don't know if that is true or not but it is fair to say those of a United persuasion were in dire need of a lift on that night after such a gutting finale to the campaign. And what really struck me, and has stayed with me ever since, was the sheer defiance of those Reds in the stands cheering Warren Joyce's side on.

I felt it took such character to make the journey to the scene of such a knife in the heart within a few days, knowing our local rivals would be mercilessly gloating (and understandably so). Yet the away supporters remained buoyant and bullish and, in a game that clearly did not mean too much in the overall scheme of things, were rewarded with a 2-0 win and the trophy.

The young players celebrated in front of the away supporters who had kept the faith and it did, to a degree, lift the spirits a little.

A lot has happened, of course, since then. Will Keane, who scored the first and set up the late clincher for Luke Giverin, is now scoring regularly for Wigan Athletic and helping fuel their promotion bid from League One. 

Paul Pogba insisted on playing that night, even though his Bosman move to Juventus was pending, and both he and Jesse Lingard were involved in the 4-1 defeat on Sunday, with Jesse coming off the bench in the 64th minute, when Pogba made way for Marcus Rashford, proving that some continuity is always possible at United.

The latest derby match itself was a painful experience after an impressive run of results, four wins in five, at the Etihad Stadium. The Blues fans waited until there was some breathing space before rubbing it in, maybe showing a little bit of tension after the way we had first hit back through Jadon Sancho, and how Tottenham had beaten them at home recently.

The fact VAR eventually allowed Riyad Mahrez's fourth strike, after it was disallowed for offside, only rubbed salt into the wounds and the closing stages did not make pleasant watching for anybody associated with United.

What's happening at United this week?


An FA Youth Cup semi-final, a big Premier League clash, and the Foundation celebrates 15-year anniversary.

There is certainly no denying it was a comfortable victory for Pep Guardiola's men in the end and one that will take some getting over, particularly with no senior action until next weekend, when Tottenham come to Old Trafford.

Arsenal's win has taken the Gunners above us into the top four, with three games in hand, and it is important that everybody regroups and prepares for the battles ahead - there will be a sizeable break after Atletico Madrid follow Spurs at the Theatre of Dreams.

There simply has to be defiance and a determination to start getting back on course - as soon as possible. However, I know this is a trait that the supporters have in abundance. As that Reserves game 10 years ago showed, their backing will endure even the most crushing of disappointments and it will be required again in these two must-win home fixtures.  

The opinions in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Manchester United Football Club.