Manchester United underlined their determination to hold off the challenge of title rivals Manchester City as Nani’s last-gasp winner clinched a 3-2 victory in the Community Shield on Sunday.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s side trailed 2-0 at halftime after big-spending City took advantage of poor goalkeeping by new signing David de Gea to score through Joleon Lescott and Edin Dzeko, but United had been the better side for much of the first period and the champions tore into City after the break, equalizing thanks to goals from Chris Smalling and Nani, before the Portuguese winger snatched the stoppage-time winner.
It was the perfect way for United, who have won the curtain-raiser to the English season four times in the past five years, to conclude their pre-season program ahead of the start of the Premier League campaign next weekend.
“I couldn’t believe we were 2-0 down at halftime after it looked like we were controlling the game, but credit to the players, they kept their heads,” Ferguson said. “They have courage to keep the ball and are not intimidated by rough tackling.”
City boss Roberto Mancini said: “I’m disappointed because we had a 2-0 lead, but I think they played better than us. When you go up 2-0 you need to control the game.”
Ferguson has always played down the significance of the Community Shield, but the bitter memories of last season’s FA Cup semi-final defeat against City provided United with more motivation than usual.
England winger Ashley Young, making a confident start after his move from Aston Villa, took advantage of his license to drift infield to link up with Wayne Rooney and he advanced to a threatening position before Lescott came across to block the shot.
This may have been a friendly in name, but the derby factor and a feeling FA Cup winners City will be the main challengers for United’s title gave an added spice to the occasion.
Some of the tackles were laced with venom and City defender Micah Richards was lucky to avoid becoming a rare Community Shield dismissal when he caught Young with a nasty studs-up lunge.
In among all the aggression, Ferguson’s side looked the more cohesive unit. Yet it was City who opened the scoring against the run of play in the 38th minute.
David Silva was the provider with an inswinging free-kick and Lescott, edging in front of Rio Ferdinand, found just enough room to glance a header past de Gea, who was caught flat-footed as the ball came in.
Nani saw a free-kick deflected just wide as United tried to hit back, but City were transformed. A previously disjointed attack buzzed with menace and Dzeko increased their lead in first-half stoppage-time.
If de Gea was partly at fault for the first goal, the Spaniard will surely feel he should have done much better with the second.
Dzeko took possession 25m from goal and, when United’s defenders backed off, the Bosnian tried his luck with a long-range effort. There was power and swerve in Dzeko’s strike, but de Gea should still have saved it. Instead, he dived late and the ball flashed past his outstretched arm.
Ferguson made three changes at halftime, hauling off Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Michael Carrick, and United were back in the game within seven minutes when Dzeko undid his earlier good work.
When Young curled in a free-kick, Dzeko allowed Smalling to run free and the defender had meters of space to volley past Joe Hart from close-range.