|photo by Perfecto Insecto
It's a strong side picked by Sir Alex to face QPR at home, in a game that Manchester City Manager Roberto Mancini predicted would hand the Reds the title if they were successful in vanquishing the visitors. The lineup offered only two small changes from the squad that faced Blackburn six days earlier, with Paul Scholes in for Phil Jones and Danny Welbeck preferred to Chicharito. It's Easter Sunday in Manchester, and off to Old Trafford we go:
QPR are under the kosh right from the game's opening whistle, pinned back by relentless pressure of the home side as the game is compressed almost exclusively into the half United are attacking. Although punishment for QPR's negative setup is certainly in the offing, when it's granted it's a bit unfair, indeed: the visitors are reduced to ten men when Ashley Young is hauled down in the box by Rangers' Captain Shaun Derry. Never mind that Young is a yard offside, or that his theatrics could less generously be called simulation. Nevertheless, it's Wayne Rooney to the spot, and a 1-nil lead is in the books before the visitors can even protest the harshness of the decision.
It's as if the the air has been taken out the stadium by the Referee's decision, a good game spoiled, as the (in)action drifts along somewhat aimlessly afterward. Goal now scored, United take their foot off the pedal, and QPR continue their quixotic gameplan, ceding nearly 80% of the possession to the home side.
Rooney comes close to grabbing a brace after some fine give and go in the box, before the Englishman's pass into the net is blocked by a desperate QPR defender. Although they don't see much of the ball, the visitors offer a good account of themselves, keeping their shape defensively, and walking the very fine line between being physical and overly aggressive. When Referee Lee Mason blows his whistle to indicate the interval, neither Manager is particularly happy, although for different reasons: Mark Hughes likely feeling hard done by the linesman's decision, and Fergie for having seen his team transform temporarily into Arsenal: thirty passes with no end product.
Danny Welbeck's early second half tally is correctly denied, and United appear betwixt and between as the home crowd grows a bit restless -- yearning for a second goal that would undoubtedly seal the day's points. The Reds are more than willing to let fly in the second 45, likely an area of focus during the Manager's half time talk. Rafael is denied by a combination of Paddy Kenny's leg and the crossbar on the closest call since the earlier offside tap in, but when Welbeck is denied a short while later by the QPR 'keeper, the belief builds inside Old Trafford that a second goal is near -- and this time they're correct.
Ryan Giggs replaces Young as Sir Alex grows impatient, the Manager astutely realizing that veteran heads will be necessary to finish the job. It's a age-old veteran who finally seals United's break through, but it's not Giggs with the goal -- rather, it's a dipping Paul Scholes' laser that beats Kenny and sees off Rangers. The goal is the Ginger Prince's last action of the day, as Fergie now seeks to conserve his key midfielder's energy: Tom Cleverly and Phil Jones replace Man of the Match Scholes and Rafael.
Michael Carrick rattles the woodwork from distance, as the home side seeks to pad their goal total in the final fifteen minutes. Welbeck narrowly misses again, dragging the ball just wide of the frame. Although there are no further goals, it's the fifth shutout in a row for the Champions. And with City's 1-nil loss to Arsenal following the result, the once and future Champions are now a remarkable eight points clear at the top.
It's the Reds' title to lose, and with City's current form the race may as well be done and dusted. Manchester is indeed Red again, and it's an ectstatic farlieonfootie for April 9th.