Okay, so it’s a bit hit and miss but what isn’t?
As far as football goes, it has one of the quintessential English rivalries. Red versus blue, United versus City. One determined to let the other live in its shadow, whether it’s relegation by a backheel from a player who had crossed the divide, or the number of big trophies won far exceeding the others haul, or just who has been more successful of late, there’s no doubt it has ebbed and flowed over the years.
Right now, City are the ones on top. Champions three seasons ago, runners up two seasons ago, and fourth placed last season, City are nine points clear of United in the league even now. United had to settle for the Europa League this season, not somewhere they are accustomed to playing from their years of dominance under Sir Alex Ferguson, after finishing just behind City on goal difference last season.
This season is the first time we’ve played City competitively, and so it’s out first trip to the blue half of Manchester. Our two previous trips to Manchester had been to take on Fergie’s side, and although both would end in defeat it was clear which of the two was better.
But they weren’t without controversy.
In 2006/07, our opening group game saw us travel to Old Trafford and eve take the lead. Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink’s opener was cancelled out by Louis Saha’s penalty after Artur Boruc was adjudged to have fouled Ryan Giggs. I think the best we can say here is that Giggs hamstring gave way at just the wrong time and he went down as Boruc came out. He was subsequently substituted off with that very injury before the penalty was taken.
Or you could say he dived and our old “friend” from Seville, referee Lubos Michel, fell for it.
Saha then gave them the lead but a Shunsuke Nakamura free kick levelled the game before half time. Unfortunately, almost immediately after the break, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer got the winner on the night for a 3-2 that would ultimately come back to us as a favourable head to head after we won 1-0 at home. Those away goals meant we were in the last sixteen with a game to spare, though many didn’t realise it until much later on.
Two years later, we were back at Old Trafford again, although this time was far more grim reading. Mind you, if you think the penalty was harsh on our first trip there then it should be noted that both of Dimitar Berbatov’s goals were offside in this game! His first was a clear offside from a John O’Shea pass, and his second was offside from a Cristiano Ronaldo rebound. Only Wayne Rooney’s goal for the third should have stood in a game where, admittedly, we looked second best for most of the night.
But for all those injustices in Manchester, it was our first trip there on European business that really took not just the biscuit but the whole tin.
We weren’t even supposed to be there. It was the second round of the Cup Winners’ Cup and we had beaten Rapid Vienna 4-3 on aggregate. It had been a terrific turnaround after losing the first leg 3-1 in Austria, but goals from Brian McClair, Murdo MacLeod and Tommy Burns ensured we booked our place in the third round on merit.
Or so we thought.
The Austrians were annoyed the third goal had stood as they felt there had been a foul on the goalkeeper in the build up. But since they didn’t get that, they decided to attack the scorer of that goal instead. Reinhard Kiensat was sent off for punching Burns in the penalty area, but only after the linesman had pointed it out to the referee who then didn’t even give a penalty for it.
The goalkeeper was then next to attack Burns, which was incredibly strange behaviour considering it was a Frank McGarvey challenge that had annoyed them so much in the first place, and all sorts of mayhem ensued. The Rapid players surrounded the weak referee to complain about anything and everything and by this point the fans were sick of these cheats and were becoming vitriolic.
To the point that someone threw something onto the park.
I’m not condoning that behaviour, but they must have been pretty drunk as the aim was terrible and missed everyone. That didn’t stop the cheats feigning injury from it of course, with Rudi Weinhofer being well bandaged up as part of the lies. There was a good fifteen minute delay in all of this, and somewhere along the line Peter Grant even missed a penalty before the end of this bad tempered game.
UEFA rightly fined us for the the thrown object, rightly fined Rapid Vienna even more for their cheating behaviour, and rightly laughed their claims about the object hitting anyone out of their judgement. You’re out, go home and don’t go back.
Except then Rapid changed their story again and appealed. Somehow that appeal was upheld to the point that our 3-0 victory in the second leg was thrown in the bin and a replay was ordered to take place at least 150 miles from Celtic Park.
And so, a little over a month later, it was off to Old Trafford.
We were on a hiding to nothing by this point, once again trying to make up a 3-1 deficit and feeling hard done by, so when Rapid scored in the first fifteen minutes any hope the travelling “home” support had soon evaporated. The ill-feeling towards these cheats which was always bubbling away returned, someone from the “home” support attacked their goalkeeper and by that point it probably wouldn’t have mattered if we’d been able to turn it around on the park or not.
They say cheats never win, but clearly they did in that tie. If that’s not bad enough, Rapid Vienna actually went on to reach the final in Rotterdam. You have to wonder what we could have achieved that season if not for their antics. Fortunately for the football world, Everton were there to stop the greatest injustice of them actually winning the trophy and deservedly beat them 3-1.
Hopefully our fourth European trip to Manchester is less controversial than the previous three. It may be a meaningless match in terms of final group positions, but there’s pride at stake, there’s a cash windfall at stake which would mean far more to us than it would to City, and if nothing else it would be nice to go out on a win. It may all depend on how Brendan Rodgers looks at this game in the context of our busy December schedule as well as the context of wanting to further enhance our squad’s experience before our next European campaign.
But it should definitely be noted that the highlight of this group campaign came in the first game against City where two teams played some wonderful attacking football and served up a 3-3 draw. That’s the kind of thing everyone wants to see, not dodgy penalties, dodgy offside goals, and dives from projectiles that don’t hit anyone but let cheats off with their own despicable behaviour.
If we can get some more of that tonight, and even though Manchester City are expected to rest a good few players tonight they’ll probably still be of decent quality and definitely of high price, then I’m sure we can serve up another fantastic game as we bow out of this competition for another year.
Krys (Twitter @krys1888)