Tevez double haunts Fergie
THE noisy neighbours just got louder. Inspired by the outstanding Carlos Tevez, Manchester City showed real character in seizing the initiative at the halfway stage of this epic last four clash.
Tevez scored twice, celebrating the second by cupping his ears as if questioning Manchester United's taunts.
Any lingering vestiges of restraint disappeared. Two seats were thrown on the pitch from the away end. The air filled with sulphurous sounds. Next week's second leg at Old Trafford promises more fireworks. Welcome to 'Madchester'.
The atmosphere had been crackling from before the off, the enmity between these neighbours inescapable. Already a guttural roar, the noise intensified when City paraded some greats of yesteryear, members of their 1969-70 side, including Franny Lee, Mike Summerbee and the peerless Colin Bell.
Unfortunately for City's impassioned support, the heirs to Nijinsky's thoroughbred tradition were too slow out of the starting gate, sitting too deep, seemingly too imbued with caution.
Not until Craig Bellamy began running at Rafael did City exude real danger, a development that set the scene for Tevez's penalty three minutes from the break. Until then United had dominated. Drawing on all of their rich European experience, Ferguson's side, a collection far more seasoned than anticipated, simply kept the ball and dictated play, their supremacy soon reflected in Ryan Giggs' goal after 17 minutes.
Missing Dimitar Berbatov, the Cup holders were configurated in a 4-4-1-1 formation, Anderson playing in the hole behind the tireless Wayne Rooney. Antonio Valencia and Giggs worked the flanks while Patrice Evra, particularly, raided energetically from deep.
Mancini's initial tactics were flawed, particularly with Bellamy too detached from Tevez, the lone front-runner predictably derided by those who used to revere his name. Hell hath little fury like a fan spurned. This was a test for City, collectively and individually. Giggs ran at Micah Richards, operating here at right-back and making a perfectly-timed dispossession as United's captain threatened.
His confidence growing, Richards suddenly ventured forward, making a surging run after 13 minutes, stopped only by Darren Fletcher's foul. City supporters loved it, enjoying the sight of their idols taking the game to United. But Ferguson's men swiftly regained control, taking the lead.
Evra began the move, delivering a superb crossfield pass that caught City cold. Valencia controlled the ball, eluded Bellamy and raced for the line.
Spotting Rooney's dart to the near-post, Valencia drilled the ball in.
Rooney met it firmly, bringing a terrific close-range save from Shay Given.
As the ball fell free, Giggs reacted sharpest, turning the ball over the line.
As United celebrated, City fans had seen what was wrong: the team were too deep. Supporters leapt from their seats, waving the players forward, urging them to support Tevez more. Finally feeding on the adrenalin of the occasion, City responded, building towards Tevez's equaliser. Shaun Wright-Phillips came to life, skipping past Evra, whipping over a cross that Tevez misjudged, heading into the ground rather than towards goal. No matter.
The positive new intent was there. Still City attacked, Richards meeting Bellamy's cross with a firm header held by Van der Sar.
United's Dutchman then saved from City's Dutchman, parrying away Nigel de Jong's shot.
Then controversy. Rafael clearly held Bellamy back when the Welshman was brilliantly released by Tevez's teased pass. United's Brazilian right-back, clearly caught out by the pace and angle of Bellamy's break, clutched a chunk of the City man's shirt. Bellamy tried to keep his footing, entering the box but unable to lay the ball off accurately as he fell off balance.
United dissolved into apoplexy when Mike Dean awarded the penalty, Ferguson's players arguing that Rafael had ceased his offence fractionally before Bellamy arrived in the box. In such a blur of movement, Dean needed to have the eyes of a hawk yet he pointed unhesitatingly to the spot.
Rafael was booked, so was Van der Sar for trying to put Tevez off, although the Argentinian's emphatic penalty certainly silenced United's keeper.
Studiously ignoring the United fans and their countless abusive gesticulations, Tevez wheeled away in celebration, although he seemed to suggest United talk too much when spotting Gary Neville and the rest of the visiting subs warming up.
City began the second half confidently, soon forcing a succession of corners that set alarm bells ringing in the United box. An inswinger from Gareth Barry caused real concern until Wes Brown headed out for another corner.
Bellamy took this one, driving the ball to the near post, leading to a Richards shot cleared by Evra. Valencia conceded another corner before United finally managed to clear their lines.
United, hustled out of their stride, looked to menace on the counter.
Rooney, always a threat, always a willing outlet, charged to the goal-line before standing up a cross to the far post. Giggs' header was pushed away by Given, who then watched a Rooney shot sail over.
But then came Tevez again, triggering joyous tumult at Eastlands, launching endless ironic chants of "Fergie, Fergie sign him up''.
When Bellamy lifted in another corner, Van der Sar palmed the ball out, but Zabaleta caused real problems with a headed pass into the path of Vincent Kompany. The centre-half hooked the ball across, and there was Tevez heading home before sprinting away in celebration.
Ferguson sent on Michael Owen, who immediately set up Rooney for a strong shot beaten away by Given. Owen fired the loose ball back in but Nedum Onuoha cleared off the line.
These were nervous times for City, Given defying Rooney with a marvellous tip-over save. Then Valencia turned Evra's cross wide. (© Daily Telegraph, London)