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Manchester derbies: the top-5 most memorable matches

From Denis Law’s silky but devastating back-heel to an Eric Cantona-inspired comeback, this clash has seen it all.

Manchester City 5-1 Manchester United, 23rd September 1989

In the summer of 1989, United spent heavily to bring in Danny Wallace, Neil Webb, Paul Ince and Gary Pallister and they began the season well.

There was a 4-1 win against Arsenal on the opening day with Webb getting on the score-sheet. But three successive defeats quickly followed. After a 2-3 loss to Everton, they were in 16th place but confidence came bouncing back in their next game. At home to Millwall, Mark Hughes scored a hat-trick and United romped to a 5-1 win. It seemed the perfect preparation for the derby seven days later. But it proved the calm before the storm.

Fergie Source: S&G/S&G and Barratts/EMPICS Sport

City were in front after just 11 minutes as Pallister – then the most expensive player in the top-flight – misjudged a cross and David Oldfield finished to the net. Two minutes later, Trevor Morley added a second after Mal Donaghy made an inexplicable mistake in the area. Before the break, it was 3-0 when Pallister was beaten to a ball by Oldfield who crossed for Ian Bishop to head home.

But there was a lifeline after the interval when Hughes thumped a spectacular scissors kick to the top corner after a cross from Russell Beardsmore. But any hope of a Lazarus-like comeback were ended when Oldfield grabbed a second after 58 minutes before Andy Hinchcliffe headed home a fifth shortly after.

Source: mcfcvideos/YouTube

Afterwards, there was a numbness around United. Ferguson went home, closed the curtains and buried his head in a pillow. As Pallister left the ground, fans tore into him.

There was no security and when I walked from the dressing room there were four burly United fans waiting for me outside the door. They told me I wasn’t fit to wear a United shirt, we shouldn’t have sold Paul McGrath, I was a ‘disgrace’ to the club, the whole treatment. I thought it was just me but it turned out that all the lads had got abuse from these guys. They really ripped into us and it was quite frightening.”

A few months later, Ferguson was close to the sack. Between the 19th November and 3rd February, United didn’t win a league game. But some relief came in the FA Cup and on a famous night at the City Ground in early January 1990, Mark Robins scored the winner for them in a 3rd round tie against Nottingham Forest.

Many still consider the goal to have saved Ferguson’s job. In May, they won the tournament, the next season they were crowned Cup Winner’s Cup champions and finally, in 1993, they won the league for the first time since 1967.

Manchester United 0-1 Manchester City, 27th April 1974

In Tommy Docherty’s first full season in charge, United struggled badly. It had been a long-running battle against the drop but a late rally (unbeaten in six matches) gave everyone hope that a miracle survival could be conjured from somewhere.

In the penultimate game of the campaign, United faced their local rivals and required snookers having suffered defeat against Everton just four days before.

Adding intrigue to the fixture, United had released iconic striker Denis Law the previous summer after 11 incredible seasons with the side. He was offered a contract by City so lined up against his former team-mates at the stadium he had graced for over a decade.

Inevitably, after 81 minutes, he proved the difference. Sammy Lee crossed for Law who nonchalantly back-heeled it to the net. He turned around in a state of anguish. There was no celebration. He seemed ashamed.

Source: Adrian Houghton/YouTube

Moments later, spectators ran onto the field and interrupted proceedings. After the temporary suspension, Law was substituted and solemnly trudged to the dressing-rooms – not the farewell to Old Trafford he had imagined.

With five minutes left, more United supporters invaded the pitch. They held scarves above their heads and embraced the players. Martin Buchan, placing an arm around one, escorted him off the pitch. But it was inevitable that the game would have to be stopped, which it was minutes later. United were down (and would’ve been down anyway after Birmingham beat Norwich in their final game) and their era of success and trophies and happy memories had come to a shuddering halt.

TheKing Denis Law is mobbed by spectators after scoring a crucial goal against Manchester United in April 1974. Source: PA/PA Archive/Press Association Images

Manchester City 2-3 Manchester United, 7th November 1993

Four days beforehand, the reigning Premier League champions had been knocked out of the Champions League after a brutal 0-0 draw against Galatasaray in the self-proclaimed ‘Hell’ of the Ali Sami Yen stadium.

They still seemed to be suffering the consequences at Maine Road in their next fixture because City were 2-0 up after half an hour thanks to Niall Quinn’s brace. The Irish striker was inexplicably left unmarked at the far post after 21 minutes and Mike Sheron picked him out with a pinpoint cross. Quinn planted a firm downward header past Peter Schmeichel.

Ten minutes later, United paid for their passive first-half approach, allowing Steve McMahon time and space to thump in a marvellous delivery and Quinn got above Pallister to head home his second.

Source: M Leonard/YouTube

After the restart, United were a different team but did receive an incredible gift inside the opening few minutes that allowed them get back in the game.

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Centre-back Michel Vonk tried to divert a header back towards goalkeeper Tony Coton but he got it all wrong. Instead, it rolled perfectly for Eric Cantona to race onto and he slid it to the far corner.

And from there, United picked City apart. With 13 minutes to go, Cantona picked up a ball midway between the half-way and eighteen yard line, deftly played a couple of keepy-uppys to himself and slipped it to Keane. He quickly fed Mark Hughes who spread it wide right to Ryan Giggs who curled in a superb low cross to the far post for Cantona to squeeze home.

Soccer - FA Carling Premiership - Manchester City v Manchester United - Maine Road Source: John Childs/EMPICS Sport

But United weren’t done. With four minutes to go, Ince played in Sharpe, whose instant flick for Irwin on the overlap changed the angle and opened City up. The full-back’s cross missed Hughes in the middle but there was Keane arriving right on cue at the far post to drill it home.

Manchester United 4-3 Manchester City, 20th September 2009

The biggest sub-plot to this clash was Carlos Tevez who had moved to City in the summer of 2009 after two seasons on loan at United in which he won two Premier League titles and played in two Champions League finals – winning one.

Sparky Source: Jon Super/AP/Press Association Images

When City announced the signing, they also launched a poster campaign across the city which featured Tevez’s face along with the words ‘Welcome to Manchester’. Sir Alex Ferguson took the bait, calling City ‘a small club with a small mentality’. It stoked the flames nicely ahead of the first derby meeting of the season.

And it was top-drawer stuff from the off. Wayne Rooney opened the scoring after just two minutes but not long after, Ben Foster made a dreadful mistake and allowed Tevez wrestle the ball from his grasp. He fed Gareth Barry and the sides went to the break level at 1-1.

But the second half was explosive – every time United made a breakthrough, City pegged them back. Darren Fletcher made it 2-1 shortly after the restart only for Craig Bellamy to level three minutes later. Fletcher netted his second with ten minutes to go and it looked certain that United would grab the win and the bragging rights. But Bellamy scored his second in the 90th minute after an awful error by Rio Ferdinand.


Source: Halby/Vimeo

However, like any good drama, this was gripping until the very end. In the sixth minute of injury time, United lobbed a harmless ball into the City area. It was cleared only as far as Ryan Giggs who played a brilliant pass through for substitute Michael Owen who expertly finished past Shay Given.

As Old Trafford erupted, so too do the United bench. Ferguson, in scenes reminiscent of his wild moves after another injury-time winner from Steve Bruce against Sheffield Wednesday in 1993, bounded along the touchline while Gary Neville, a non-playing substitute, infamously ran towards the City supporters to celebrate.

Soccer - Barclay's Premier League - Manchester United v Manchester City - Old Trafford Gary Neville celebrates Michael Owen's last-gasp derby winner. Source: Dave Thompson/PA Archive/Press Association Images

Afterwards, Ferguson said it was ‘probably the best derby of all time’ while he also offered his opinion on City’s renewed sense of purpose and optimism:

Sometimes you have a noisy neighbour. You cannot do anything about that. They will always be noisy. You just have to get on with your life, put your television on and turn it up a bit louder.”

Manchester United 1-6 Manchester City, 23rd October 2011

If Ferguson went home and blocked out the world after a 5-1 derby demolition in 1989, he rounded on the players in the aftermath of this collapse.

In his latest autobiography, he recounts:

‘I informed the players they had disgraced themselves. The last passage of play was a disgrace. It was comedy. That game was a watershed for Rio. He used to show the attacker where to knock the ball and then take it off him. Now he was trying that with David Silva and wasn’t able to beat him.”

City had Mario Balotelli score twice, less than 48 hours after emergency services were called to his home because a firework had exploded inside. The Italian tormented United and opened the scoring with a neatly taken goal after 22 minutes.

But it was really only after Jonny Evans got sent-off just moments after the restart that United fell apart. Balotelli grabbed a second on the hour mark before Aguero made it 0-3 with twenty minutes left. Fletcher conjured a magnificent strike to give United hope but as they pushed for a late, late miracle, City tore them apart on the break and added a further three goals in injury time.

Source: TheLovelyberry123/YouTube

Afterwards, a stunned Ferguson spoke to the press.

“It was a horrible defeat but it was suicidal. Jonny Evans’s sending off was a killer for us. With 10 men we kept attacking – it was crazy football and ended up being an embarrassment. We should have just said: ‘We’ve had our day’. We will react, no question about that. It’s a perfect result for us to react to because there is a lot of embarrassment in the dressing room and that will make an impact.”

He and the team kept their word. In what proved a brilliant Premier League season, the battle for the title went right to the final day. United thought they’d won it after a 1-0 win over Sunderland but back in Manchester, Sergio Aguero netted a momentous injury-time winner to claim a first league crown for the club in 44 years.

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About the author:

Eoin O'Callaghan

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