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City 0 - 1 United

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Paul Scholes heads the United winner in injury time. (Picture from getty images).
Paul Scholes heads the United winner in injury time. (Picture from getty images).

Down, but not out. That was the message emanating from the club in the wake of another cruel injury time defeat that simultaneously delivered a blow to our top four hopes whilst breathing life into United's faltering bid for another league title.

After two late defeats already this season and neither side seemingly capable of landing the decisive punch, Paul Scholes strode unmarked into the penalty to head home with just seventeen seconds remaining on the clock. No questions about added-time on this occasion, but maybe bad things do happen in threes.

Beyond all of the usual derby hype, this fixture had received even greater billing heading in. Talk of a shift in power and of noisy neighbours dominated the column inches, but of importance was that both sides needed the points from the game. It wasn't just local bragging rights that were at stake.

At this crucial stage of the season, City, in the thick of a battle for Champions League qualification whilst United's title ambitions were almost receiving their last rites.

Perhaps the sense of occasion played a part, particularly in the first half. Whilst it was a surprise to see such a fast and aggressive start from United, there was too much unease in our play. The fluency and confidence from three previous convincing victories was nowhere to be seen.  The wide duo of Adam Johnson and Craig Bellamy - who I thought could be the difference makers - could not impose themselves on the game, and whilst Carlos Tevez and Emmanuel Adebayor were game and worked manfully, our attacking play was too forced in the opening forty-five minutes.

In defence, whilst not threatened from a marauding United side, individual mistakes and the curious decision to allow United so much space in the final third put us under pressure. Both Rooney and Giggs had good opportunities they should perhaps have done better with, whilst the often-maligned Kolo Toure came to the rescue on a couple of opportunities to cover for the nervy looking Vincent Kompany.

With United's need for a win so great, the longer the second-half remained 0-0 the more open the game threatened to become as United would be forced to press. Sensing a calm head was required, Roberto Mancini introduced Patrick Vieira for the struggling Johnson. Doubts over how Vieira would adjust to the fast pace were unfounded as the Frenchman - so used to battles with United of course - took a grip in midfield.

Whilst the game lacked quality, was certainly an absorbing contest with end to end play and some committed tackling on display. Both sides, however, struggled for fluency and the attacking spectacle many predicted never did materialise.

Hoping to crowd out the midfield, Wright-Phillips was then introduced for Adebayor. A scorer of important derby goals in the past, Wright-Phillips looked lively, drawing a booking from Evra and sparking some life into our play. Barry had an opportunity when through in the box, but seemed more content to try and win the penalty than to unleash the shot. With fifteen goals from corners so far this season, only misfortune prevented another as an almighty goalmouth scramble was somehow hacked away by United.

The superb de Jong made way for Ireland with little over ten minutes remaining and tails were up. Bridge had an opportunity, and United were forced back as we pressed and probed. 

Wright-Phillips broke once more, sensing one final opportunity, but lost the ball to Evra when well placed to allow a United break. As the ball was played into the box, Scholes, like so often before, escaped his marker and applied the killer blow. 

The final whistle saw players slump to the floor, utterly dejected. Regardless of results elsewhere today, we find ourselves well placed with four games remaining. 

Mancini will have to hope that the wounds received from the manner of the defeat heal quickly though.