Geovanni’s lucky strike

While one team from Manchester can boast an immaculate record of achievement, the other is still looking for its first victory of the season, with only one goal in three games and still to face a side with realistic aspirations of finishing in the top six, writes Daniel Taylor.

“If you could have points for possession of the ball and for shots, on and off target, we would have lost,” Sven-Goran Eriksson reflected at the end of a match in which not even the most impassioned City supporter could truthfully recall a five-minute period when the team in blue managed any form of superiority. “But we scored a goal and they didn’t.”

Even Eriksson wanted to express sympathy with City’s opponents as he tried to make sense of a game that could be replayed a thousand and one times and would never cease to amaze.

“It will take a long time to explain,” Sir Alex Ferguson acknowledged, and there was crushing disappointment in those rheumy eyes. “When you consider the number of chances we have had, plus our possession in the final third of the pitch, we really should have made it count. We’ve just been wasteful in front of goal, and that’s the nuts and bolts of it. I don’t think we can even say City were lucky.”

Ferguson may change his mind when he considers Kasper Schmeichel’s jitters in the home goal and, again, when he analyses the decisive deflection that Geovanni’s 20-yard drive took off Nemanja Vidic’s instep for the game’s only goal, in precisely the area of the pitch that Owen Hargreaves, making his debut, was supposed to be protecting.

United attacked with pace and purpose, they stretched their opponents, forced corner after corner, rattled the woodwork and laid siege to Schmeichel’s goal. In many ways, it was the most one-sided derby here for years — a comprehensive 0-1 thrashing, if you like — but Eriksson will not mind if the victory was fortuitous.

All of which means United have taken only two points from their first three games and are languishing in 16th position on the Premier League table. “We’ve got ourselves in an uphill fight now,” said Ferguson. “Ten years ago we could have handled that because we have always been good in the second half of the season, and now we are going to have to be. The most important thing is to get that first win under our belts. Our next home match against Tottenham is a very important one.”

Only the seriously deluded could believe that the damage is irreparable but this is still a deeply worrying time for Ferguson. His complaints about missed chances have been a recurring theme in their opening programme and, having spent so much money on bringing in English football’s version of the galacticos, it is peculiar, to say the least, that it is such an issue.

His dismay was exacerbated because City, for the most part, were completely ineffectual when going forward while Schmeichel was, at best, vulnerable and, at worst, a danger to his own team. The young Dane may have a famous surname but he was frequently stranded in his six-yard area, particularly when dealing with Ryan Giggs’s corners. His promotion from fourth to first choice has clearly come too soon.

How did he get away with it? Largely because United were missing Wayne Rooney, Louis Saha and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer through injury and Carlos Tevez was too eager to impress, snatching at two very presentable chances. Patrice Evra and the otherwise impressive Nani missed even easier opportunities but it is difficult to begrudge City.

What they lacked in quality, Eriksson’s side made up for in endeavour, from Dietmar Hamann and Michael Johnson in midfield to Richard Dunne and Micah Richards in defence.

Richards, in particular, produced a colossal performance, making at least half a dozen telling interceptions or saving tackles.

The only downside for City was the news that Valeri Bojinov might face a lengthy lay-off after his early departure on a stretcher.

That apart, however, this was Eriksson’s “perfect day” and City’s supporters will not care whether the win was lucky as they flick through the record books to find out the last time they were seven points better off than their most despised rivals.

While one team from Manchester can boast an immaculate record of achievement, the other is still looking for its first victory of the season, with only one goal in three games and still to face a side with realistic aspirations of finishing in the top six. Eriksson is enjoying his honeymoon period, but who could have foreseen it would coincide with United enduring their worst start to a season for 15 years?

The Results

August 19: Blackburn 1 (Dunn 72) drew with Arsenal 1 (Van Persie 18). Half-time: 0-1; Liverpool 1 (Torres 16) drew with Chelsea 1 (Lampard pen-62). Half-time: 1-0; Manchester City 1 (Geovanni 31) by Manchester United 0. Half-time: 1-0.

August 18: Birmingham 0 lost to West Ham 1 (Noble pen-70). Half-time: 0-0; Fulham 1 (McBride 16) lost to Middlesbrough 2 (Mido 55, Cattermole 88). Half-time: 1-0; Newcastle 0 drew with Aston Villa 0; Portsmouth 3 (Kanu 16, Utaka 30, Taylor pen-88) bt Bolton 1 (Anelka 12). Half-time: 2-1; Reading 1 (Hunt 44) bt Everton 0. Half-time: 1-0; Tottenham 4 (Malbranque 2 & 6, Jenas 14, Bent 80) bt Derby 0. Half-time: 3-0; Wigan 3 (Heskey 19, Landzaat pen-62, Sibierski pen-69) bt Sunderland 0. Half-time: 1-0.

August 15: Birmingham 2 (McShane o.g. 28, O’Connor 82) drew with Sunderland 2 (Chopra 75, John 90). Half-time: 1-0; Fulham 2 (Healy 23, Smertin 26) bt Bolton 1 (Helguson 12). Half-time: 2-1; Manchester City 1 (Johnson 43) bt Derby 0. Half-time: 1-0; Portsmouth 1 (Mwaruwari 53) drew with Manchester United 1 (Scholes 15). Half-time: 0-1; Reading 1 (Bikey 30) lost to Chelsea 2 (Lampard 47, Drogba 50). Half-time: 1-0. Wigan 1 (Sibierski 55) bt Middlesbrough 0. Half-time: 0-0.

August 14: Tottenham 1 (Gardner 26) lost to Everton 3 (Lescott 3, Osman 37, Stubbs 45). Half-time: 1-3.

© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2007