The Blues and the Reds of Manchester may have had a number of memorable clashes down the years but none more so than what was the 127th staging of the fixture commonly known as the Manchester derby. This was to be the last ever derby to be played in Maine Road, the famous old home of Manchester City. This was also Peter Schmeichel ‘s twelfth appearance in a Manchester derby; only this time he would be line up against Manchester United, the team he so heroically represented for nine years. With such intriguing subplots in the buildup to this fixture, it was always going to be an emotionally charged explosive affair. And fair to say, it did not let such expectations down.
After Gary Neville, the Reds’ skipper for the day, sparked hostilities off by giving his ex-teammate Schmeichel the cold shoulders, the game got off to a lightning start. Phil Neville and Rio Ferdinand between them committed the first of many defensive howlers of the day which led to Shaun Goater’s strike being fumbled by Fabien Barthez on to the path of Nicolas Anelka to tap in. Next up it was City’s turn to demonstrate how not to defend when Ole Gunner Solskjaer capitalized on Lucien Mettemo’s hesitancy to bring United level with just eight minutes on the clock.
But City fans’ joy would not be suppressed for long as their team would retake the lead midway through the first half thanks to a calamitous error from Gary Neville of all people. While trying to shepherd the ball out, Neville, under pressure from Goater, would inexplicably try to pass the ball to Barthez and in the process present the City striker with the simplest of chances. Neville’s reaction told its own story as City fans broke into the chant ‘Gary Neville is a Blue’.
Goater, who ironically started his professional career at United, was not finished though. Early in the 2nd half he would heap further misery on his former team when he broke free to chip the ball over Barthez to double City’s lead and score his 100th goal for the club. United’s misery was further compounded when John O’Shea would somehow contrive to miss an open net from a yard out in the dying minutes.
The defeat represented the lowest ebb in United’s season. It may sound ludicrous – bordering on heresy – now, but there were even talks regarding Sir Alex Ferguson’s future at the club. The club though would ultimately turn it around to land their 8th Premier League title in 11 seasons. United fans would soon willfully castigate the memories of the derby defeat to the darkest recesses of their minds. But City fans would forever cherish Maine Road’s last ever derby.