Not that there was much that was friendly about last Sunday’s ill tempered Manchester derby, in which City especially in the first half perpetrated one displeasing foul after another.
Their tactics in the meantime were hardly a tribute to Robert Mancini’s sagacity. Though they led 2-0 at half time wildly against the run of the play, both their goals came from errors by United’s new expensive young Spanish keeper De Gea.
It is arguable that the burly super experienced Dutchman Edwin Van Der Sar would capably have avoided them both. Having come authoritatively off his line to claim the ball as it came high into the box on the first goal, and surely have dealt efficiently with the 30-yard shot by Dzeko which De Gea ineptly allowed to fly into the net.
But then this was a game with only one decent goal. More than decent, in fact, when, after a dazzling series of short passes, inspired initially by a Wayne Rooney in impressive form, Nani danced away from the opposition to beat Hart with ease.
As for his winning goal at the last gasp in injury time, the least said about the pitiful error by the usually commanding Vincent Kompany, the better. It seemed almost unthinkable that he should allow Nani to dispossess his him like that, dancing on to round Hart in cool style and, stroking the ball home, to spare us from the looming anticlimax of penalties.
But what possessed Mancini, even if his team so fortuitously and even illogically found itself 2-0 up at half time, to deploy such a negative formation. True, he wasn’t helped by the strange anonymity of Mario Balotelli, who showed not an atom of real response until he was sulkily and belatedly substituted. No wonder Sergio Aguero, in the stand, looked on in what seemed a state of some incredulity. And why did it take so long for Mancini to bring on Adam Johnson, who at once began to give City the enterprise and potential threat which James Milner lacked.
How in addition to explain Mancini’s decision when taking off Balotelli, presumably deputed to play “in the hole,” with the one paced midfielder Gareth Barry? We must wait to see whether Carlos Tevez, the greatest hope of City goals last season, is obliged to stay.
Frankly my dear, as Clark Gable said in Gone With The Wind, I don’t give a damn, believing as I do that both City and Chelsea with their patrons’ billions to be shockingly bad for football. In every sense, Mancini now has an embarrassment of riches.
As for United, with a goalkeeper like that, they can hardly justify the euphoria shown by their players after the Wembley win, but they still have, if all physically goes well, the splendidly incisive Chicharito to come back.
It was good to be at Falmer, at Brighton and Hove’s splendid new American Express stadium to see them after 14 tormented years at long last back in a proper stadium – and a fine one – after the long bitter exile from the historic Goldstone ground in Hove, where they had been playing since 1901; when they found themselves back in 1997, so suddenly and scandalously ejected, in favour of a supermarket.
And forced initially to play, absurdly far away from home, for two seasons at Gillingham. Followed by the long years at the tiny Withdean stadium, just outside Brighton, an athletics arena never designed for major soccer with attendance usually limited to some 6,000.
The fine new stadium can take 22,000 and had 20,000 there for the Doncaster match; the second Brighton had played there. It was indeed a glorious, exuberant occasion, though the game itself was mediocre, with Brighton going behind to a goal by Doncaster’s single striker, Billy Sharp, later alas to be ruthlessly fouled out of the game by a tackle from behind by Brighton’s centre back Dunk. That blunted the visiting attack, gave Brighton the initiative but their victory, such as it was, came only in the closing minutes, by which time further injury had reduced Doncaster to ten men.
Back in 1983, only an appalling miss by Gordon Smith almost at the death prevented Brighton from sensationally defeating Manchester United in the FA Cup Final. Smith soared on of course eventually to become Chairman or whatever of the Scottish Football Association. And Brighton, supposedly strengthened by the return of their powerful centre half Foster, lost the replay to United 4-0. Still, it’s splendid to see them back in the Championship and in so excellent a venue.