Date: 9th December 2007 at 12:33pm
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Giggs’ 100th league goal and a Carlos Tevez brace settled the contest against Derby who scored their first away goal of the season.

I don’t think there was a single person in the country who seriously thought Derby can take something from this game. Even though Hargreaves injured himself in the warm-up, his replacement Michael Carrick is still miles better than anyone he would come up against in this Derby side.

However, the gave a good account of themselves in the first 35 minutes or so, against an almost full-strength Manchester United. In the first few minutes they even kept the ball well and tried to attack us and though they were soon pinned back to their own half, they defended resolutely and denied us time and space to exploit the skills and pace of our players.

Taking nothing away from Derby’s admirable resolution, I must say that United were nowhere near their best. In horrible circumstances, with the wind blowing fiercely and rain pouring down, the champions did not find their rhytm and more often than not conceded possession out of silly mistakes and lack of concentration. Anderson was the only one who looked fully focused but Carlos Tevez, for example, was far too often outmuscled or committed technical errors.

But of course chances were bound to arrive with the pressure United were exerting on their opponents and the first came when Ronaldo worked his way down the left after a fine pass from Giggs, sent in a low cross for the lunging Rooney who was denied by a superb challenge from McEveley, I think. Had he managed to get to the ball first, it would have been a certain goal.

The 4-2-3-1 system appeared to be a little too difficult against a team defending with 10 men and particularly Rooney had problems with finding space on the wings while Tevez got regularly isolated. Yet the goal eventually arrived when Ronaldo’s shot from inside the box was only parried by Bywater and Giggs was there to fire home the rebound from close range.

Derby looked dejected for not reaching the break on level terms and they could have been further behind almost immediately as the excellent Giggs’s long ball found Rooney behind the last defender – he was clearly onside though – and the England striker controlled it expertly then attempted to lob it over Bywater what he managed to do but the ball hit the inside of the post and bounced clear.

However, there was no denying the Reds: before the half-time break, Ronaldo’s lobbed free-kick found Anderson in the area. His scuffed pass reached Tevez who violently miskicked it at first but the defender also missed the ball and Tevez grabbed his second chance and lashed hom from 6 yards out. Two up, the frustration of the first 40 minutes were forgotten quickly.

United weren’t keen on destroying Derby after the break. We were back to 4-4-2, passing the ball around calmly, trying to find a way in without any great urgency. Not long after the restart, Ronaldo crossed a beautiful ball into Giggs’ path and his first-time shot struck the far post – another lucky escape for Derby. But they could not do anything when contract-rebel Wes Brown, arriving on the right, set up Carlos Tevez who pulled the ball back and fired into the far corner of the net.

The game was over, really and it looked certain that United would add to their tally as they looked dangerous and threatening going forward, even after Giggs had been brought off for Saha and Anderson was replaced by Fletcher. But it was Derby who pulled of a great feat: they failed to score an away goal so far but now have one to their name, and they grabbed that at Old Trafford of all places – no surprise their supporters went wild with joy. They should be grateful to Edwin, though as the United keeper came out rather rashly for a long ball and was beaten to it, only to see the low cross somehow poked home by substitute Steve Howard.

The goal rattled United a bit, our players clearly didn’t expect the ineffectual Derby players to conjure up a consolation. But we had the last word as Ronaldo, with great effort, managed to make contact with Mears’s leg, fell over and the referee duly awarded a penalty which the winger converted, not giving Carlos Tevez the chance to claim a hat-trick. It was a good afternoon in the office and we should not begrudge Derby their away goal – we should celebrate another historical occasion: the 100th league goal of Ryan Giggs, the best winger of all time.