Better late than never, Pete Sixsmith weighs in with his thoughts on a momentous day …
The East Stand went mad. The West Stand, containing new season card holders Mr and Mrs Horan, went mad. The Directors’ Box must have gone mad. One man went so mad that he attempted to French kiss Ji Dong Wan.
There we were 93 minutes into a game we were meant to lose. The City bandwagon had rolled into town, loaded to the gunwales with superstars and needing only a point to leave clear blue water between themselves and their friends from Old Trafford.
They left Balotelli in Manchester, presumably hoovering up vagrants and, Lord Snooty like, treating them to slap up meals. Mancini left Aguero, Silva and Richards on the bench, in order to keep them fresh for a tricky game against Liverpool on Tuesday.
But they still had Dzeko, Johnson, Barry, Yaya Toure and a whole bunch of others who had cost zillions. At full back they had Kolarov and Zabolete. We had Gardner and Colback.
At the start of the season, I though that these two might just make a go of it in the centre of midfield. I did not envisage them as full backs – and I am equally sure that they didn’t. Still, needs must.
I would imagine that as James McClean said goodbye to Brandywell and his Derry City colleagues, his thoughts would turn to his career in England. Play for the reserves, a few cameos off the bench, maybe a loan to Barnsley or Blackpool. But not playing against the league leaders.
Optimism was in short supply in the East Stand concourse before the game. It was felt by many that avoiding a heavy defeat was the best we could hope for and then we could regroup for as crucial game at Wigan on the Tuesday – a potential six pointer.
When Wes Brown limped off after 25 minutes and Matt Killgallon emerged from a freezing out that had lasted since May 2010, defeat seemed even more inevitable, although we had missed an excellent chance in the second minute when Bendtner failed to control the ball adequately.
The team looked far weaker than those we turned out in the supine defeats to Wigan and Wolves. No recognised full backs, a central defender deemed surplus to requirements, a goalkeeper wearing a face mask to protect a fractured eye socket and a novice Irish winger. And we won!!!
We won because each player had clearly been told by Martin O’Neill that he had to perform to the maximum of his ability. We won because we were committed and were prepared to put bodies in the way of the juggernaut. And nobody did that more than Lee Cattermole.
He was magnificent. He tackled cleanly, passed accurately and harried the City players to death. Perhaps he was in a comfort zone with Steve Bruce. They knew each other too well and Bruce’s influence on him was perhaps benign rather than focused. Along comes a new manager with a different approach and the captain knows that he has to convince.
He did well at QPR and against Everton. But here his performance can only be described as towering. No stupid tackles, no bookings just a performance that made City hard man De Jong look like Christopher Biggins having a hissy fit.
At the end of the game manager went over to captain and hugged him all the way off the pitch. He knew how important Catts’s performance had been. He is winning people over.
I thought he might well have been on his way out of the club pdq. I was wrong and I have enjoyed eating my words. We may even get a goal out of him now.
We played like a team. O’Shea was outstanding at the back, marshalling and organising and helping Kilgallon through his early stages. He looked a class act – far better than Lescott.
Vaughan, Larsson and McClean worked their socks off and never stopped. Vaughan was exhausted when he went off and Larsson had to drag himself around the pitch at the end. He passed a fitness test just before the game – you wouldn’t have realised.
Sessegnon filled in between midfield and up front and was busy, although there is still a tendency to choose the wrong ball or not to release it at the right time. But the balls he played to Bendtner in the first half and to Ji in the second were gems.
And then we come to the goal. It had people running along the seats, embracing strangers and generally going ape s***.
Larsson carried it out, realised that City defenders had given up and moved it forward. McClean, Ji and Sess took it to the edge of the box before the young Korean calmly walked it around Hart and into the net, earning him his first man kiss on Wearside.
So what if it was offside? It was a hairline decision and if City are too lazy to defend tough on them. These are the days that you go to football for; it makes awful goalless draws and embarrassing home defeats worthwhile. This is the kind of game that makes the Premier League the most exciting in the world; I doubt you would get a result like this in Spain or Italy.
Last minute goals are great when your team scores them. As I floated across the car park, I saw two glum City fans trudging back to their cars. I had seen them before the game looking confident that they would win and with big smiles on their faces.
A lesson in humility for them and a lesson in the restorative powers of Martin O’Neill for us.