Last updated : 16 January 2006 By Ed

They were serving blue ketchup in the hospitality suites. Manchester City's dislike of Manchester United is so extreme they do not even allow red company cars. "If we win I'll jump off the roof of the stadium with a parachute," Mike Summerbee, that esteemed old Blue, promised before kick-off. "If we lose I won't bother with the parachute."

A touch melodramatic, perhaps, but everyone understood. At City this is the most important fixture of the season. To Sir Alex Ferguson it is not even the most important game in January. Ask Ferguson to rank United's rivals and he will list Liverpool (Sunday's opponents), Arsenal and even Leeds before throwing in City. At one press conference recently he did not even seem to know where United's neighbours play. He mentioned Maine Road and when he remembered they had moved to a new ground he changed it to "Eastville".

Such a slip might once have been ignored but these days there are anti-Ferguson factions among United's support who are seizing on every mistake. Ferguson may have blamed the referee Steve Bennett but the more pressing concern among United's followers relates to the inadequacies of the team and since Saturday there have been searching questions, for example, about his use of Mikaël Silvestre and specifically his explanation behind it. Whereas Silvestre has become a danger to his own team this season, Wes Brown has been immaculate since returning from injury. Yet Ferguson explained he had chosen Silvestre "because he's French" and could help Patrice Evra, the £5.5m signing from Monaco making his debut at left-back.

Silvestre responded with a performance so inadequate he looked as though he was playing in a straitjacket. Evra's withdrawal at half-time, nursing a black eye and a bruised ego, has been the subject of intense scrutiny, but the real question was: how did Silvestre last 90 minutes? Discarded long ago by the French national team the centre-half looked vulnerable nearly every time the ball was played in his direction. Watching a once highly competent defender turn into a bran tub of nerves made for excruciating viewing although, in mitigation, Silvestre was confronted by two renascent forwards in Andy Cole and Darius Vassell, both of whom epitomised City's approach, as laid down by Stuart Pearce, "to win the 50-50s and do the dirty stuff better".