Steve McManaman and Gary Neville clash in the 2004 Manchester derby

No love lost on Valentine's Day: United 4 Man City 2

Thursday 14 February 2019 17:30

Somewhat appropriately, Manchester United have played 14 matches on 14 February and the last of these Valentine's Day fixtures was a firecracker, 15 years ago. On that occasion, the red and blue sides of our city went head-to-head... quite literally!

We’ve trawled back through the club’s media archives to relive a combustible clash at Old Trafford that saw United dump City out of the cup at the fifth-round stage. But that was only half the story – there were goals galore, a red card and, rather surprisingly, a strong Merseyside influence on the Mancunian proceedings.
Here’s how it all unfolded…
Both sides headed into the 141st Manchester derby – and the first cup meeting between the clubs since 1996 – under clouds of concern and criticism.
United were five points off the leaders (and eventual champions) Arsenal at the summit of the Premier League, having going down 3-2 at home to mid-table Middlesbrough three days before the derby, while City were just three points above the relegation zone.
"It’s quite right that there is criticism,” acknowledged Sir Alex Ferguson in his pre-match press conference. “We’ve lost four goals in the last two games from set-pieces. There has been a slackness in our defending, but I don’t think you can put that down to the absence of Rio Ferdinand and Gary Neville. We should be defending better – we want to get to the root of that.”
Ten-man United win cup derby Video

Ten-man United win cup derby

Watch all six goals from our 4-2 success over Manchester City in the 2004 FA Cup.

City had not won at Old Trafford for just shy of 30 years, but they did have the succour of what Sir Alex – in his United Review programme notes – described as “the greatest comeback in FA Cup history” to embolden them.

In the previous round, they had trailed 3-0 away to Tottenham Hotspur, only to mount a remarkable second-half comeback. Despite being reduced to 10 men on the stroke of half-time, when Joey Barton received a second yellow card, the Blues stormed back, and found a remarkable winner from a former United youth player, the Blackley-born striker Jon Macken, with just seconds remaining.
The Reds' manager mused that the result “must have been a big release for them” before cautioning that his side “must be aware that they will again be looking to the FA Cup to give themselves another lift."
Sir Alex prosaically informed the attending media that cup-tied Louis Saha was his only absentee, before making an uncanny Valentine’s Day prediction: "There won’t be a great deal of love, but there will certainly be plenty of tackles.”
Old Trafford welcomed a giddy 9,000 City fans into the Scoreboard End ahead of the lunch-time kick-off.
Birthday boy Kevin Keegan was without cup-tied new signing David James and the injured Nicolas Anelka, but his team did contain what our match report cheekily dubbed “the unholy trinity” in three Merseysiders - Robbie Fowler, Steve McManaman and Joey Barton.
But it was the boys from Manchester who sparked the game into life in the 34th minute. A teasing Ryan Giggs cross from the left eluded American midfielder Claudio Reyna at the near post, but did find the perfectly-timed run of Paul Scholes – making his 400th United appearance – who easily slotted home United’s opener.
“He’s a little gem for us,” cooed Wilf McGuinness in his column on “He has a knack of starting a move and then finishing it off. Typical Scholes play.” 
United had the lead, but minutes later, Keegan’s men had their own advantage. As the champions chased a second goal before the break, Gary Neville raced into the area and fell after a challenge from German full-back Michael Tarnat. “Neville thumped the ground furiously when a penalty wasn't given,” recorded United Review, and when an equally enraged McManaman approached the defender, the pair butted heads.

Seconds later, the former Liverpool man recoiled animatedly, clutching his forehead. Jeff Winter, the referee, went to his pocket and brandished a red card to Neville, giving City hopes of another comeback and leaving Sir Alex with a rejigging job to do.
Phil Neville left his berth in a three-man midfield with Scholes and Keane to slot in at right-back, but the balance of the game looked to be shifting.
McGuinness wrote: “Gary Neville is a real favourite of mine, a local lad who has given great service to Manchester United. But Gary will look at that incident and think, ‘Wasn’t I an idiot’, and I’m afraid he was.”
Sir Alex, ever the loyal defender of his charges, suggested: “McManaman has been around a long time. I don't know what his role was in this match, but he certainly ended up intimidating Gary." The Daily Star Sunday evocatively labelled United’s no.2 ‘Nutter Neville’.
Referee Jeff Winter sends a furious Gary Neville to the dressing room.
After the break, the away fans roared their side on, "anticipating a second-half sensation to match the previous round" (United Review) while Reds legend Lou Macari admitted in his post-match column on “I thought we could be in a bit of trouble.”
That premonition looked shrewd at the start of the second period, as City looked to make their extra man count. But a series of stellar interventions from those clad in red meant it was United who grasped the initiative.
First, a trio of saves from Tim Howard denied Shaun Wright-Phillips, Joey Barton and the villain of the piece, McManaman. “That's what Tim's been doing all season,” said Sir Alex later. “He's made a difference.”
Then, United’s outfield players seized the cudgel. The boss felt City would enjoy rich possession due to their numerical superiority, and at half-time told his 10 men that pace on the counter would be key. And who better to have on your side in such a situation than Cristiano Ronaldo?
The Portuguese’s mesmeric feet delivered a spellbinding cross for van Nistelrooy in the 71st minute and then fired home United’s third strike three minutes later. Amazingly, the outnumbered Reds had a three-goal cushion.
Van Nistelrooy wheels away in delight after making it 2-0.
While van Nistelrooy and Ronaldo had delivered the goals, United’s heroic second-half effort inevitably owed much to the patron saint of lost causes himself – and the player later named Man of the Match – Roy Keane.
“One paper I read after the game said Roy only covers three quarters of the field after his injury, instead of the whole pitch,” laughed Wilf McGuinness. “Three quarters though, the way he does it, is terrific. Keano was the equivalent to two men in the second half. It was like having the full eleven on the field anyway. Roy was immense.”
The side from east Manchester did give the Reds a few jitters before full-time, however. First, Tarnat crashed home a rising volley from the left of the penalty area and then – after van Nistelrooy's second had restored the three-goal gulf – Fowler took a quick free-kick that had Howard forlornly scrambling to his left.
But it was not enough from City, and the game finished 4-2, to send M16 into raptures – bar that glum 9,000 away fans high in the Scoreboard End.
Inspirational captain Roy Keane wins yet another tackle for 10-man United.
“In the end it was, in my opinion, one of the most comfortable wins this season,” adjudged a delighted Macari. “You expected City to make lots of chances, you expect chance after chance on a regular basis because you're down to 10 men and chasing shadows. Roy Keane in particular got about the pitch and rallied the troops and, in the end, it was quite a remarkable scoreline.”
"I enjoyed every minute of it,” buzzed two-goal hero van Nistelrooy. “It was a great day for all the United fans and everybody at the club. Yellow cards, red cards, goals, saves, a good atmosphere. That is what football is all about,” he added.
"We showed how we react after a defeat and that is what being at Manchester United is all about. We are now looking forward to the next game but it was just great to be part of an atmosphere and a game like that.”
"They scored from half-chances and we missed gilt-edged chances,” bemoaned Keegan, but the Guardian’s Daniel Taylor praised United’s “merciless streak”, as evinced by Scholes, van Nistelrooy and Ronaldo. “Ruud rules the roost” chorused the Daily Mail.
As for Sir Alex, the only regret was the red card awarded to Neville, who had earned a suspension just a week after returning to the side after a month out injured.
“His red mist was quite out of character,” claimed the boss, “and he knows full well himself that it was bad timing, with automatic suspension for his sending-off adding to our defensive worries.
“But at the end of the day, we had scored four goals, three of them when we were down to 10 men, and that sounds pretty good to me.
“I was asked afterwards if we were taking the FA Cup seriously, but we have never viewed this competition with anything but the highest regard and respect.”
As ever, what eventually unfolded would bear out the tireless competitor from Govan's words. United would head all the way to the grand old competition’s final in Cardiff where – after a semi-final victory against Arsenal's 'invincibles' – Sir Alex's men would win the club's 11th FA Cup crown with a 3-0 triumph over Millwall.

That was all to come. But on Saturday 14 February, 2004, the red multitude left Old Trafford dazed and delighted, after the stormiest Valentine’s Day in the city's football history.


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