Six months ago, in the immediate glow of their first title for 44 years, Manchester City chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak declared there would be no more ‘typical City’ moments. He omitted the caveat ‘except against Manchester United’.
Post-takeover the two sides have bristled and snarled against one another on ten occasions from which Ferguson and his band of despicable c***s have grabbed five injury time winners. This incredible sequence of heart-breaking, gut-wrenching melodramas is barely within the realms of possibility and that’s before we even consider the human tolerance of long-suffering Blues who view their hated rivals as the evil empire. On five separate occasions the Death Star have withstood the forays within its trenches and blew up the rebel alliance at the film’s finale. As the credits roll Lord Vader beams and chuckles in his post-match interview and there then follows the dispiriting prospect of enduring all the part-time stormtroopers at work on Monday morning. Try and shift your toys for that one Lucas.
Even more implausibly three of these at-the-death deaths befell Manchester City in a single season. In September 2009 ‘Fergie Time’ was stretched into illegality to allow little Micky Owen to dink home a 97th minute decider. It’s worth recalling that Craig Bellamy had fired a last-minute equaliser for City and I was still being peeled from the ceiling when suddenly the ground opened up and enveloped me deep within the bowels of hell instead.
I remained there festering in misery and takeaway pizza until the beginning of a new year offered me hope but in January Rooney knocked in a Carling Cup semi-final winner in stoppage time to take them to Wembley and me back to the abyss. That April Manchester United travelled the short distance to Manchester to play out a game that had 0-0 written all over it. That was until Paul Scholes found himself criminally unmarked in the six yard box and dropped a 93rd minute Damoclean sword savagely into my skull.
I staggered outside where a friend attempted to console me with a hug. I could see him clear as day right in front of me yet was unable to feel the arms around me. From boots to roots I was as numb as Amanda Holden’s face. I’m not embarrassed to admit that this trio of late heartbreaks affected me greatly. In the following season’s goalless stalemate I even found myself thinking ‘Just score you f***ers but please God who I don’t believe in make them do it in normal time’. Throughout the closing minutes of that game I was as tremulous as a 70’s DJ after an early-morning knock at the door. Each promising attack or corner had me gnawing on fingers that had long since lost their nails and by the final whistle I had damn near reached the fist.
The fourth last-gasp soul-crusher came in the 2011 Community Shield as Nani completed a two-goal fightback and as I reeled down Wembley Way it was now painfully apparent that, although Manchester United cannot and will not quieten its noisy neighbours, they at least have the ability to pull the plug at the stroke of midnight when the party spills over into next door.
So Robin van Persie’s injury-time set-piece at the Etihad yesterday should have floored me. I should be incapable of speech, unable to type, and presently unscrewing my third bottle of cheap spirits. But, to paraphrase John Cusack in High Fidelity, if you really wanted to screw me over Robin you should have gotten to me earlier. The damage has already been done and a macabre acceptance has seeped into my derby day mentality. This seems to be how it is now, aside from the occasional 6-1 fantasia. This is our grit in the oyster and Ferguson is the man who whispers into our ear with whiskey fumes gleefully reminding us we are mortal. We are fated for fortune but destined to come unstuck when facing our bitterest foes in the cruellest manner imaginable.
In the great scheme of things, if that is to be our karmic bathos inflicted upon us for being lifted from the gloom, then so be it. It still hurts mind. Besides, what made this particular defeat at least bearable – okay, perhaps not bearable but at least there is no suicide note in sight - was the undeniable fact that Manchester United deserved the three points. They did. It f***ing pains me to say so but they did.
Despite a legitimate goal being ruled out and Martin Atkinson giving Manchester City most of the decisions – seemingly inconsequential 50/50s but they amount to a significant advantage in tense, tight local affairs - the home side failed to capitalise on such providence and once again resorted to pedestrian probing, narrow tippy-taps that was easily nullified whilst looking desperately vulnerable to a break. It’s been the same old story since August and though this properly needs exploring now it not the time. Because it’s getting late.
And where Manchester City and Manchester United are concerned I have – understandably – become fearful of the clock.