Despite narrowly failing in the quest for an unprecedented fourth successive Premiership and a record 19th League title overall, there were plenty of highlights for Manchester United fans to remember the 2009-10 season. From the fabulous goal grabbing campaign enjoyed by Wayne Rooney until suffering his ankle injury late in the season, to the winning double over fellow title challengers Arsenal there was above all else, those four enthralling derbies against Manchester City.
The derby completely lived up to its expectations with four titanic battles between the two bitter rivals including those epic home and away Carling Cup semi finals. The Reds clearly finished on top winning three out of the four encounters as they once again finished above City in the Premier League and took the Cup back to Old Trafford. The results were hardly surprising when you consider the attitude of most United players towards their neighbours
Although the seven goal early season thriller at Old Trafford, complete with it’s dramatic extended injury time climax was unlikely to be surpassed, the most critical had to be the mid April meeting at Eastlands with just three matches remaining. It’s without doubt the one best remembered by both players and fans alike, albeit for vastly different reasons.
Speaking in The Story of Our Season: The Official Manchester United Players’ Diary 2009-10, a number of Manchester United players remember their emotions on that unforgettable afternoon. Any further comments are not required because the recollections of their feelings can never be better explained.
Darron Gibson had already been substituted and was perfectly placed to witness the City fans reaction first hand when Paul Scholes grabbed the winner in the dying seconds of the game. “I was going mad on the bench near the City fans. They weren’t happy and there were nearly a few punches thrown in there. When we scored a few of them leaned over to try and get to us, but there’s nothing you can do about that. To be honest, I wouldn’t have minded being punched, so long as we won!”
John O’Shea was just as surprised as everyone else when Garry Neville planted a big smacker on Scholes’ mouth after finding the late winner “Nev did get some stick for that but Scholesy couldn’t do much could he? He was the poor victim who tried to push him off but it was too late. That’s Gaz for you, I don’t think it was for his benefit mind you. I think it was to make the City fans feel that little bit angrier!”
Paul Scholes “I know how much this will mean to our fans. I can assure you it means exactly the same to us. To win in a Manchester derby is a big thing however you do it. A kiss on the lips from Nev is worth it any time after a winner against City!”
Gary Neville was as usual never short of a word saying that “There was a lot riding on that game in the week leading up to it. You could tell at the start of the game that it was carnival time for them. There was a feeling around the place that it was their day, that they were going to win, that they were going to get fourth place and we were going to end up losing the championship. What they weren’t reckoning on was that they were playing United and it doesn’t quite happen that way.
They were up against 11 players who were determined to make sure we won the game. Paul Scholes was outstanding on the day and for him to pop up with the winner was unbelievable. For me it was the outstanding moment of the season. We knew we were out of the league if we didn’t win. We were the ones trying to win the game, whereas City were bringing defensive midfielders on for forwards. Three times we’ve shown them that we go to the last second of every match.
The mentality of the team is always to try to win every match so late winners aren’t luck. We got the break we needed with a great cross and a great header. It’s the hardest way to win of course but the best way. If you can score in the last minute there’s no comeback, they just don’t have the time.”
And that headline grabbing kiss he planted on Scholesy? “A few people have given me a bit of stick but I’ve spoken to a lot of my mates who said they’d have done exactly the same if they’d been able to get to him! I was just so happy.”
Ryan Giggs had another story to tell. In order to appear in what must be some sort of a record breaking 33rd successive Manchester derby he found it necessary to be selective with the truth. When evaluating his hamstring injury with the club’s medical staff ahead of the game he confessed that having “hurt my hamstring against Blackburn, I thought that my season was over. But I had treatment and it responded really well. I was desperate to play. I trained on the Friday and I could still feel my hamstring a little bit so I just kept quiet.”
The last word as always has to go to Gary Neville who frankly admitted that “City will be powerful over the next few years, we’ve got to get our heads around that but that was a sweet day. That’s not to say we haven’t suffered against them in the past or will do so in the future. You have your day and you celebrate, next time it could be their day. In that case you have to go and drink for sorrow rather than drink for joy. The players they’re signing, the manager they’ve got, the fanbase they’ve got – they will be powerful”
What was your highlight of last season?