Manchester Derby: Classic Clashes

Manchester United goalkeeper Alex Stepney is beaten by a penalty kick scored by Francis Lee for Manchester City
© Getty Images

Manchester City 3-3 Manchester United
*November 1971, First Division, Maine Road *

Over 63,000 assembled to watch the table-topping visitors take on their third-placed neighbours. City, with Franny Lee dazzling, created a number of early chances, all of which were thwarted by the courage and agility of United goalkeeper Alex Stepney. When Lee was booked for a foul on George Best, however, the man renowned for diving – and nicknamed because of it - suggested the Northern Irishman had taken a leaf out of his copybook and to ram home his point to the referee, flung himself to the floor to the laughter of the crowd!

Best didn’t let it get to him. Instead, he got up and cunningly crafted the opener for 17-year-old debutant Sammy McIlroy. After the break, Best crossed, McIlroy dummied, and Brian Kidd put United 2-0 up, before Lee won a penalty, converted it to slice the deficit, comically hugged the referee to celebrate and finally glared menacingly at Best as he retreated to his own half. Lee’s defence-parting through-ball then allowed Colin Bell to round the outstanding Stepney and equalise, but Gowling swiftly restored United’s lead.

With four minutes remaining, Mike Summerbee slalomed his way past two United players before unleashing a thunderbolt that seemed destined for the top corner, only to see Stepney’s outstretched arm come from nowhere to tip the ball behind. Summerbee collapsed to his knees in disbelief, but seconds later he was jumping for joy. Indeed, when the resulting corner was cleared off the line, the City No7, under pressure, crashed the ball in off the underside of the crossbar to snatch a 3-3 draw. A testament to the thrill magnitude the game had provided was seen at the final whistle, as the players, such ferocious rivals over the preceding 90 minutes, respectfully hugged one another. 

Manchester United 0-1 Manchester City
*April 1974, First Division, Old Trafford *

Denis Law and Manchester City had a 15-month fling in the infancy of the striker’s career. The Scotland international and Manchester United revelled in an intensely passionate 11-year love affair thereafter. But when the Red Devils released the then 33-year-old in 1973, the Citizens were the only club to offer him refuge.

Physically, Law moved to Maine Road. Emotionally, his heart remained firmly at Old Trafford. Fast-forward to City’s last game of 1973/74. Their opponents were United, who effectively required victory to avoid the unthinkable: relegation to the second tier. With six minutes remaining, it was goalless. United were probing for a winner; City appeared drained. From a rare attack from the visitors, however, Franny Lee crossed the ball towards Law, who was closely marked, with his back to goal, six yards out. There appeared no way for the former Torino man to engineer a shot, but employing cerebral improvisation and perfect execution, he back-heeled the ball into the United net. Law bowed his head in devastation.

He immediately walked off the pitch. He would never kick another ball as a professional footballer. The United fans invaded the field. The referee abandoned the game. The result nevertheless stood. As it transpired, happenings elsewhere would have condemned Tommy Docherty’s side to demotion anyway. Still, Law didn’t know that. “I was inconsolable,” he later recalled. “I was in a state of complete devastation. I loved [United]. Their players were my pals. So were the coaches, the backroom staff. I have never got over that goal.” 

Manchester City 2-3 Manchester United
*November 1993, Premier League, Maine Road *

United, four days earlier, had crashed out of the UEFA Champions League after blowing a two-goal cushion against Galatasaray. City were unbeaten at home since Brian Horton assumed their reins three months earlier. That run appeared destined to continue when skyscraping striker Niall Quinn headed them into a 2-0 lead. Eric Cantona capitalised upon a calamitous mistake to halve the deficit, but they had Peter Schmeichel’s hands to thank for keeping them in the game thereafter.

With 12 minutes remaining, just moments after Alex Ferguson had yelled at Cantona for dropping deep, the French wizard, in midfield with eight team-mates to his north, controlled the ball on his chest and charged forwards doing keepy-ups. He played it to Roy Keane, before the ball was worked out to Ryan Giggs, whose exquisite first-time cross was tapped in at the back post by Cantona in what was a conventional conclusion to a truly unconventional move. Then, with three minutes remaining, a breathtaking flick from Lee Sharpe sent Denis Irwin racing down the left and the latter’s cross was turned home by a sliding Keane. 

Manchester United 4-3 Manchester City
*September 2009, Premier League, Old Trafford *

The once cosy relationship between Sir Alex Ferguson and his former pupil Mark Hughes had, by now, degenerated into a cantankerous one between proud leaders of fierce enemies. The pair swapped verbal jibes in the lead-up to a match intensified by the presence of Dimitar Berbatov, who ridiculed City’s attempt to snare him as he penned a United contract 12 months earlier, and Carlos Tevez, who had recently swapped a red jersey for a sky blue one in controversial circumstances.

Gone was Cristiano Ronaldo from a side pursuing an unprecedented fourth straight English top-flight crown. Gone was the theory that this was a David-versus-Goliath clash, a circumstance of City’s colossal spending. Gone, at least, for two minutes. That was all it took for Patrice Evra to cut the ball back to Wayne Rooney, who wonderfully conned his way inside two sliding opponents just outside the six-yard box before cleverly poking the ball past Shay Given. City took less than a quarter-hour to respond.

Tevez, a perpetual chaser of lost causes, robbed goalkeeper Ben Foster of the ball down the left and cut the ball back for Gareth Barry, who cutely curled the ball around the outstretched leg of Rio Ferdinand and into the unguarded net from the edge of the box. Just after half-time, United were back in front, Darren Fletcher soaring above Wayne Bridge to head home a high, hanging Giggs cross, but once again the lead was short-lived, with Craig Bellamy rocketing the ball into the top corner. The hosts looked to have clinched victory with ten minutes remaining, when Fletcher nodded home another Giggs centre.

In a game of once agains, however, City managed another equaliser on 90 minutes when the hypersonic Bellamy capitalised on a Ferdinand mistake, accelerated clear of the England centre-back, took the ball past Foster and cut it home from the skinniest of angles to make it 3-3. Four minutes of added time had been awarded, but City’s passionate, prolonged celebrations meant six would be played. And in the last minute of those, a crafty Giggs pass found Michael Owen, who poked home a dramatic winner to spark an even wilder, longer passage of hugs and fist-pumping. Ferguson described it as “probably the best derby of all time” before reasoning: “What would you rather have, a 6-0 win or the greatest derby of all time?”

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