It was the best of times, it was the worst of times… and few who witnessed Sir Alex Ferguson’s ecstatic dance down the touchline as Manchester United’s Michael Owen wheeled away from the vanquished’s goal could doubt which it was for the Scot. Owen, the free-transfer striker picked up on a whim and against all sane advice, became an Old Trafford hero in an instant. How stark the contrast then at the other end, where Carlos Tevez – Owen’s predecessor – crouched prone in disbelief.
Unsurprisingly the Argentinian’s every step was loudly jeered by the home support. United fans, ill-prepared for players jumping ship, turned tables on Tevez. No longer the total support offered towards the end of last season. And as Tevez walked out of the Old Trafford tunnel just short of the 1.30pm kick-off he looked genuinely surprised by the reaction.
The Argentinian was his usual self – all hustle and bustle – harrying Ben Foster into a mistake for City’s first equaliser. The City striker nearly scored too, striking the post with a first half shot. But the £25.5 million striker – or £47 million depending on which report you believe – then fluffed his best chance of the afternoon. The kind of miss Ferguson was not ready to pay over-the-odds for.
Owen by contrast waited patiently on the bench for his opportunity. Up front Wayne Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov were causing significant trouble to City’s outrageously over-priced central defensive partnership of Joleon Lescott and Kolo Touré, benefiting from another magical display from the evergreen Ryan Giggs.
Then came Owen’s moment, collecting Giggs’ sumptuous slide rule pass and striking it past Shay Given in the City goal with the outside of his right boot. It was a fabulous finish for which Owen can now be forgiven his Liverpool past. Something which the player is acutely aware.
“If there was any doubt before then maybe this has sealed the deal,” Owen said after the match.
“Me coming to Manchester United was always going to create a bit of noise but even if they didn’t take to me it is still a privilege to play for Manchester United. The fact I’ve scored the winner in the Manchester derby hasn’t sunk in yet.
“It’s one of those few moments in my career that I’ll look back on and see it as one of the highlights. To score in a derby is great, but for it to be as dramatic as that, you’d have to see it to believe it. It was such an entertaining game and it must be one of the best televised games of all time.
“As soon as they scored I heard the announcement which said there were four minutes, so immediately I thought that we might get a couple of chances. When they score, you think ‘that’s it, it’s probably going to be a draw’, but you never stop believing that you can do it.”
Manager Sir Alex was typically effusive in praise of former Liverpool, Real Madrid and Newcastle player. A manager who is always ready to back his own judgement, Ferguson was hardly going to do anything else.
“Michael was only on for something like 17 minutes,” said the Scot. “He was the best man to be on there when the game is going to be in their penalty box. There is no one better at taking chances.
“His positional play, first touch and finish were absolutely superb. World class.”
A lot more than could be said for Tevez.