After giving up the opening three goals Roberto Mancini's side roared back into the tie with a remarkable second half display despite the first half sending off of Vincent Kompany
A brace from Wayne Rooney along with a tremendous volley by Danny Welbeck sent the visitors into a stunning 3-0 lead in the first half, with City captain Vincent Kompany dismissed for a challenge on Nani.
But Roberto Mancini’s side roared back with 10 men after the break and goals from Aleksandar Kolarov and Sergio Aguero brought them agonisingly close to an incredible comeback.
City started the match at great speed, forcing Sir Alex Ferguson’s side to weather an early storm in the Manchester rain, but as that pressure began to subside the hosts were hit by a stunning double blow.
Rooney has had a disappointing few weeks to say the least but he looked ominously sharp as he sprung a United counterattack with the help of Ryan Giggs. Antonio Valencia, so often the Englishman’s partner in crime since his return from injury this season, found some space on the right and fired in a first-time cross that Rooney superbly converted from ten yards with his head.
If that was a setback for Mancini’s team, its hopes took a more devastating hit minutes later. Referee Chris Foy’s decision to show Kompany a red card for a challenge on Nani will ignite debate and divide opinions; the Belgian defender appeared to win the ball but flew into his tackle with two feet in a reckless enough manner to immediately draw the protestations of Rooney.
To its credit, City responded strongly with ten men. Aguero was frequently at the center of their attacking play and curled an effort shortly after Kompany’s dismissal that Lindegaard did well to palm around his post.
It was undoubtedly held back by the numerical disadvantage, however, with Milner withdrawn to right back and Micah Richards moved into the center of defense. United, looking comfortable when its opponents did get on the ball, gradually began to assert more control.
Its lead was doubled when Evra, attacking Milner aggressively down the United left-hand side, was able to send a low cross into the City box after Nani’s run inside left him with room to move. When that ball hit a leg and flew into the air, Welbeck was on hand to react quickest with a tremendous volley on the turn that sailed past Pantilimon.
United’s 6-1 loss to its Manchester – and now Premier League title – rivals at Old Trafford in October was apparently fresh in its minds, because Ferguson’s side were by no means content to see the game out with the security of a two-goal lead.
Welbeck had Richards and Kolarov for company when Giggs’ pass slipped him into the City penalty area but some neat footwork drew a clear foul from the latter. Foy had no hesitation in pointing to the spot, and after his penalty was well-saved by the unfortunate Pantilimon, Rooney reacted well to head home the rebound and extend his side’s lead.
Welbeck almost made it four when he just failed to touch home a superb Valencia cross and by the break Mancini had seen enough to acknowledge the game was well out of his side’s reach. David Silva and Adam Johnson’s legs were rested as they were withdrawn at halftime for Pablo Zabaleta and Stefan Savic. City reverted to a 5-2-2 formation with Zabaleta and Kolarov operating as wing-backs.
Kolarov made up for the error that led to the United penalty by pulling a goal back shortly after the restart and maybe offering the most optimistic of City fans a glimmer of hope. After Richards’ charging run forward was ended prematurely by Evra, the Serbian curled the resulting free-kick over the wall and beyond Lindegaard.
Not long after his goal, Kolarov again appeared to commit a foul in his own area. This time he impeded Valencia’s run but Foy was unmoved.
Ferguson was confident enough to introduce the returning Scholes on the hour mark, but one of his first touches was not the finest of his illustrious career. The 37-year-old weighted a simple pass from a throw-in incorrectly, allowing the tireless Milner to steal in. His cross found Aguero, who put City on the verge of a remarkable comeback by poking home the rebound after Lindegaard had saved his initial effort.
A reinvigorated Etihad Stadium might have thought the comeback was on but as the minutes ticked away the reality of City’s situation, with ten men, became more apparent. United began to retain the ball with increasing ease, with Scholes, unperturbed by his earlier error, dictating the play like he had never been away.
Kolarov, very much at the center of this match, had time to send in a cross that Phil Jones appeared to block with his arm before firing in a free-kick in the dying moments that caused panic in the United box but Ferguson’s side did just enough to ensure they moved into the fourth round.Follow GOAL.COM USA on