Manchester City 1 Manchester United 0, FA Cup semi-final, April 16, 2011
Ask a group of Manchester City fans what they would rank as the most exceptional, noteworthy consequence in the last few decades, and most would surely pick the 6-1 demolition of Manchester United at Old Trafford in 2011.
That was the day the ‘Noisy Neighbours’ came to Sir Alex Ferguson’s fortress with a wrecking ball and planted a huge sky blue flag in the centre course of action to show United that their grip on Manchester, and English football in general, was over.
Any Blues not picking the 6-1 might instead fast forward to their infamous last-day win over QPR. ‘You’ll never see anything like this again,’ bellowed Martin Tyler as Sergio Aguero wheeled away after his title-winning goal on 93 minutes and 20 seconds. Tyler was right, as no moment has come close to that one for drama, narrative and sheer joy.
The fact that City took the Premier League trophy from United’s waiting hands made it sweeter. Back in the early 2010s, City’s fortunes were just as connected with toppling United as establishing themselves as regular title contenders. If anything, their first aim was to end United’s dominance before establishing theirs.
So perhaps the most important consequence – already more so than the 6-1 or 93:20 games – was another derby in 2011 that started the time of action of achieving both aims in a single 90 minutes. The FA Cup semi-final win at Wembley.
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After City’s 2008 takeover, there had been eye-catching signings, some impressive one-off results, and a steady improvement from a mid-table side to one capable of mixing it with United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool on and off the pitch.
They had lost six of the past eight derby meetings with United since the takeover, with their only win coming in a League Cup semi-final that United would overturn in the second leg. City went into the 2011 FA Cup semi-final at Wembley knowing they needed a big consequence against the red half of Manchester soon.
There was additional pressure from their own fans, too. It was three years since the arrival of Sheikh Mansour, and they only had tenth and fifth-placed finishes in the league to show for it. City needed a cup.
Roberto Mancini named as strong a side as he could field – with the likes of Joe Hart, Vincent Kompany, David Silva, Nigel De Jong, Yaya Toure and Mario Balotelli in the side. United, who would go on to win the Premier League, were strong but not impenetrable.
As you would expect from a side completely at home in semi-finals, United controlled the first half with Dimitar Berbatov missing two golden opportunities in quick series. Sometimes, you just know it’s going to be your day.
And a fleeting rally before half-time gave City confidence, though, as they came out a different team in the second half. 52 minutes in, and Yaya Toure capitalised on a Michael Carrick mistake to race by and score, sending City’s fans into raptures.
The Blues were as good as United were flat after the break, and Ferguson’s side couldn’t muster a response for the rest of the second half. City fans had started the game ‘doing the Poznan’ in the stands, almost beginning their self-deprecating reaction to another expected derby defeat before it happened. They had seen this script before of building up hope before seeing it cruelly taken away.
But the 90 minutes that followed was instead the day that started the shift of strength in Manchester, with the Blues going on to beat Stoke in the final and win their first trophy in 35 years and tear down a mocking banner at Old Trafford.
Paul Scholes’ late red card and Mario Balotelli’s complete-time kiss of the badge to City fans, prompting a melee on the pitch, only made the win more enjoyable.
When City beat United at Old Trafford later that year, and won the Premier League 12 months on from the Wembley victory, it was built on this seismic win in the semi-final, each big game giving the ever-improving side confidence to win the next.
At Wembley, though, this was the game that gave City the belief they could win trophies, and beat United while they were at it. City fans had never been in that position before.
So if City fans are asked to pick the most important consequence of the last few years, there may be more glamorous wins than the semi-final at Wembley. There were certainly more important, too – the 1999 second division play-off final and 2000 promotion win at Blackburn spring to mind.
But for a consequence that can be traced back as the real moment Manchester City started to believe they could become the all-conquering club they are today, every fan will know just how important their trip to Wembley on April 16 2011 was.
Fans travelled down to London in hope, and came back believing.
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