MANCHESTER CITY v MANCHESTER UNITED, 0-1 Sat 5 May 2007May 5, 2007
Cristiano Ronaldo demonstrated his resilience to inspire Manchester United to a derby victory which leaves them on the brink of clinching the Barclays Premiership title.
The Professional Footballers’ Association and Football Writers’ Association Player of the Year was the centre of attention as early as the third minute when he was left needing treatment after a stamp from Michael Ball.
The City full-back escaped punishment as the incident occurred outside of referee Rob Styles’ eyeline, but Ronaldo exacted a fitting punishment when he drew a foul from the same player to earn the penalty from which he scored the only goal.
Ball later won a spot-kick at the other end but Darius Vassell was denied by Edwin van der Sar as City drew yet another blank to pick up an unwanted record for the fewest home goals – 10 – in a Premier League season.
They were the first team to threaten, though, as Vassell’s shot looped off Nemanja Vidic harmlessly into the arms of Van der Sar.
The giant Serbia defender then crashed a close-range header against the crossbar from Ryan Giggs’ cross, but was adjudged to have climbed on Richard Dunne in any case.
Alan Smith’s poor clearing header allowed Emile Mpenza his first sight of goal on the quarter-hour, but the Belgium striker lashed his effort straight at Van der Sar.
Rio Ferdinand’s raking long pass almost played in Ronaldo shortly afterwards, but the Portugal winger’s first touch let him down for once and Ball cleared at the expense of a corner.
Sylain Distin then had to show good strength to prevent Smith taking advantage of a similar Ferdinand pass. Ronaldo flicked on the resulting Giggs flag-kick to Ferdinand, whose header hit the bar with Andreas Isaksson helpless.
City were struggling to cope with United’s lofted passes and Nedum Onuoha and Michael Johnson had to combine to shepherd another, delivered this time by Paul Scholes, away from Wayne Rooney.
On a rare City breakaway, DaMarcus Beasley tried his luck with a 25-yard snap-shot which flew straight at Van der Sar. Johnson’s poor touch then failed to find Mpenza at the end of a flowing move.
Ronaldo struck from the spot – his 50th goal for United – after his dancing feet had won the opportunity, bamboozling Ball into bringing him down in the box.
Dunne threw himself in the path of Ronaldo as he readied himself for another shot before Rooney fired wildly over the bar.
Beasley’s cross then caused alarm in the United defence as a ricochet off Johnson fell to Mpenza, but he delayed too long and Vidic recovered his ground to clear his cross-cum-shot.
Distin needlessly cleared a ball against Ronaldo when seemingly in control of the situation but recovered to bring the ball clear as the half drew to a close.
Scholes made thumping contact early in the second half after Ronaldo rolled a free-kick square to him, but Isaksson stood firm and gathered the driven shot.
Mpenza met substitute Sun Jihai’s corner with a towering header but saw the ball flash high and wide.
Stuart Pearce threw on Trevor Sinclair and Paul Dickov as his side chased an equaliser, and they were handed a golden chance when Ball went tumbling under Wes Brown’s challenge.
Van der Sar was booked for delaying the taking of the penalty but his tactics paid off as the pressure increased on Vassell, whose drilled effort down the centre of the goal cannoned to safety off the keeper’s left knee.
That save extended City’s record of not having scored at the City of Manchester Stadium since New Year’s Day.
More significantly, though, it also saw the Red Devils take a significant step towards the title, sparking jubilant on-pitch celebrations at the final whistle from Sir Alex Ferguson and his men for the second week in succession.