THE OBSERVER - FERGUSON EXPOSED BY UNITED SHAMBLES
Quite where do you begin analysing and describing this latest United setback in a season that has so far produced so many? Is it by talking of the indiscipline throughout Sir Alex Ferguson's team, the embarrassing, curtailed debut of Patrice Evra, the dismissal of Cristiano Ronaldo, the almost unspeakably bad performance of Mikael Silvestre, or the lack of guile and belief in midfield?
Perhaps, statistics speak volumes for United's inadequacies. By this afternoon, they will presumably trail champions-elect Chelsea by 16 points and, however much Ferguson tries his diversionary tactics of speaking of rebuilding and the bright future for his young players, that is, surely, unacceptable for the self-styled world's biggest football club.
For some time, Ferguson has put forth the disingenuous argument that United are playing as well as ever, that it is only Chelsea's metronomic consistency that is preventing them making a more concerted challenge for the title. That, of course, misses the point - professional sport is about competing with, and beating the field.
Surely, nobody is fooled by Ferguson's smokescreen any more. And, if they were, this defeat should have put paid to such sleight of mouth once and for all. United cannot have lost many games on Ferguson's watch in quite such a shambolic fashion. Goals from Trevor Sinclair, Darius Vassell and, late in injury-time, Robbie Fowler inflicted the damage, while a Ruud van Nistelrooy reply gave a glimmer of hope near the end after Ronaldo, frustrated at not being awarded a foul by Stephen Jordan, launched his studs at the knees of Andy Cole in the 65th minute.
Not that any of this should detract from a super City performance, coming on the back of one point from the past 12 and no goals in the past three League games. 'When you look at all that, it would have been easy for my players not to have given what they have today,' said a delighted Stuart Pearce. 'But people were talking about us as if we're Burton Albion.'
Burton Albion? There is a thought, with the non-League side next up for United in Wednesday's FA Cup replay. 'This team has bounced back before,' said Ferguson, defiant to the last. 'I'm not worried about them bouncing back again.'
THE TELEGRAPH - ROONEY'S TUNNEL TANTRUM ADDS TO UNITED DESPAIR
As if their day was not humiliating enough, Wayne Rooney and his Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson could face Football Association charges after a remarkable half-time confrontation with referee Steve Bennett.
Rooney, who had been booked late in the first half for swearing at Bennett, apparently came off shouting and cursing, before kicking and punching a set of double doors leading to the dressing-room in front of astonished television crews and stewards.
It was another example of Rooney's ferocious temper, though Ferguson did nothing to placate him when he came off the pitch, instead launching an attack on Bennett for allowing City's first goal, which he thought was offside and allegedly suggesting that he would need a police escort to get out of the ground.
The only consolation for Ferguson after the game was that Roy Keane is no longer on the Old Trafford books since his comments on this shocker would have left no first-team ears un-burned. It is also probably a good thing that club owner Malcolm Glazer, already moping over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' failure to make the Super Bowl play-offs, does not attend real football games. Otherwise he might be asking awkward questions about the way Ferguson is spending his money.
Patrice Evra, a £5 million signing from Monaco, who was described by Ferguson as one of the best left-backs in Europe, had such a dreadful introduction to English football that he was pulled off at half-time. Not that he should be sent to the stocks, since he got absolutely no support from Rio Ferdinand, who had another of his forgetful days, this time allowing all the basics of defending to slip his mind, nor the ineffably poor Mikael Silvestre.
Ferguson could forgive his side's first Premiership defeat since October, even in Manchester's version of the Super Bowl, if they had displayed any competitive instincts. Instead, they allowed City to out-muscle them and out-fight them and when United did summon up some aggression of their own, it led to the sending-off of Cristiano Ronaldo in the 66th minute for a studs-up challenge on Andrew Cole.
The only surprise was that Rooney, who was booked just before half-time for one of his Tourette's-style swearing binges at Bennett, was not the one to see red. His team-mates barely contained their temper, either, a posse of them surrounding Bennett after the sending-off, reminiscent of that ugly scene involving Andy D'Urso a few years ago.
THE INDIE - BLUE IS THE COLOUR
Light blue was the colour for once in the Manchester derby yesterday, when City achieved only their third victory in 18 Premiership meetings against the oldest enemy. United, after five wins in the last seven meetings on their rivals' patch, left red-faced and with any last pretensions to a serious championship challenge having well and truly gone for a Burton.
However emphatically they may dismiss Nigel Clough's side from the FA Cup in Wednesday's replay, the Old Trafford club have been forced to turn to the domestic cup competitions for solace yet again. It was sensible from that point of view to field a strong side in the drawn Carling Cup semi-final at Blackburn in midweek, even if it took something out of them ahead of yesterday's game. There was certainly something missing - and not just the occasional defender in a reshaped back four, as City counter-attacked vibrantly. Andy Cole and Darius Vassell have been short of goals as well as inches but they dovetail well together, which can no longer be said of any combination in United's back line.
Wes Brown must have been miffed to lose his place to Mikaël Silvestre, on the basis that the Frenchman would be able to help out his compatriot Patrice Evra, making a debut at left-back. Evra-ready? Not on this performance, which raised the question of how fair it was to thrust him into such a game so soon after joining from Monaco.
Trevor Sinclair, local boy and City supporter from boyhood, took joyous advantage, forcing Evra's withdrawal at the interval, by which time most of the damage had been done. Goals from Sinclair and Vassell in the space of seven minutes just after the half hour gave the home side a huge advantage, the danger being that they would sit back and concede a goal. It happened, but not until the visitors had been reduced to 10 men, with Cristiano Ronaldo sent off for diving in with his studs up on Cole; and in added time Robbie Fowler finished the final move of the game with a flourish, as the City hordes proved that Eastlands stadium can generate an atmosphere worthy of their fervour.
By the final whistle, however, there were significant gaps in the away section, representing further disenchantment with United. Darren Fletcher and John O'Shea never quite commanded the midfield against the even younger pair of Joey Barton and Stephen Jordan, and the visitors missed Paul Scholes, still suffering from blurred vision.
THE SUNDAY TIMES - CITY ROMP TO VICTORY ON DERBY DAY
Perhaps it is just as well that the Glazers live on the other side of the Atlantic. Having sanctioned the investment of another £12.5m in their Manchester United portfolio in midweek, the club’s absentee owners would not have enjoyed this shoddy performance, let alone the result.
Not only have United ceased to be predominant in English football, they are no longer top dogs in their own back yard. City, who drew 1-1 at Old Trafford in September, fully deserved yesterday’s success, which was from the same rich vein as their 4-1 victory in the corresponding fixture last season.
After a Christmas slump, during which they were beaten by West Brom, Wigan, Chelsea and Spurs, the City team Stuart Pearce has constructed in his own combative image were back with a bang, spikily assertive in all areas.
United made much of the fact that they were down to 10 men from midway through the second half, when Cristiano Ronaldo was sent off for an ugly challenge, but by that time their local rivals were leading 2-0 and already set fair for a victory which has renewed their hopes of European qualification. Talking of Europe, Sir Alex Ferguson and his team are left further adrift than ever in Chelsea’s wake, clinging precariously to second place in the table, where they are vulnerable to Liverpool’s powerful resurgence.
Finishing third would condemn them to the qualifying stages of the Champions League.
United’s unbeaten run in the league, which had stretched back 11 games, was surrendered tamely by the error-prone defence Ferguson had been waiting to improve in the transfer window. To his embarrassment, the first of his newcomers, Patrice Evra, signed from Monaco for £5m, endured a nightmare debut at left-back and had to be withdrawn at half-time to spare him further punishment.
At least Evra can take some small crumb of comfort from the fact that he was not alone in his inadequacy. Mikael Silvestre will be lucky if he plays for United again after his own shocker, especially with Nemanja Vidic, newly recruited from Spartak Moscow, in line to take his place, and centre-back partner Rio Ferdinand was at his most frustrating, casually effete.
Form suggested a modest wager on United might be in order, but results gained elsewhere count for nothing in derby combat, and City were always better than the 4-1 chance they had been with the bookmakers.
MORE FROM THE TIMES - HALF TIME HYSTERIA PUTS UNITED IN THE DOCK
Sir Alex Ferguson and Wayne Rooney seem likely to face disciplinary action from the FA after an angry confrontation with referee Steve Bennett during Manchester United’s stormy 3-1 defeat away to Manchester City.
Ferguson and Rooney both exploded into a rage at half-time, swearing at Bennett, who was a late replacement for Mark Halsey. Rooney punched and kicked a set of swing doors leading to the away dressing-room at the City of Manchester stadium, calling the referee a "f****** disgrace" to his face, and witnesses allege that Ferguson then approached the Orpington official and called him a "f****** cheating bastard". Suggestions, however, that he went on to make threats against Bennett were dismissed by Manchester United as "nonsense".
In a statement, the club would confirm only that "there was an incident at half-time relating solely to the manager’s assessment of the referee’s first-half performance".
The referee left the ground without comment, but a close friend said later that he was "considering his options".