Vincent Kompany’s header from a corner kick in first-half stoppage time secured the home win at Etihad Stadium last night that lifted the Blues past United atop the standings on goal difference with two games remaining.
“It’s still neck and neck,” City midfielder Gareth Barry, who was named man of the match, said in a televised interview. “We can’t just think this is it.”
The Manchester rivals both have 83 points after 36 of 38 games, though City holds first place because it has scored 61 more goals than it has conceded, while defending champion United’s goal difference is 53. The last time the first- and second-ranked teams in English soccer’s top division finished level on points was in the 1988-89 season.
City trailed United by eight points following a 1-0 defeat at Arsenal on April 8. While City has won all four games since that loss, the Red Devils have taken four points out of a possible 12 as they chase a record-extending 20th championship. City claimed the last of its two English league titles in 1968, when it beat defending champion United in a late-season match widely seen as title decider.
“As long as there are games of football to play, it’s not over,” United manager Alex Ferguson said. “We have the same number of points, but they have an eight-goals advantage and that’s a big advantage at this time of the season.”
City visits fifth-place Newcastle next on May 6 before ending the season at home seven days later against Queens Park Rangers, which is 17th out of 20 teams and fighting to avoid relegation. United hosts 12th-placed Swansea before wrapping up the campaign at Sunderland, which is 11th.
While the Blues are favored to take the title with U.K. bookmakers including Coral Racing Ltd., their manager said United still holds the upper hand.
“They have easier games,” City manager Roberto Mancini, who had a touchline argument with Ferguson during the game, said on his club’s website. “Not because Swansea and Sunderland are bad teams, but because we have Newcastle who are fighting for Champions League and QPR who are trying to avoid relegation.”
City had three times as many shots as United last night in a match that was available to more than 650 million homes in 212 territories, according to the Premier League. Diego Maradona was among the crowd of 47,259 at Etihad Stadium to watch City striker Sergio Aguero, the son-in-law of the World Cup-winning Argentine.
Kompany, City’s captain, got the only goal just before the break, outjumping United’s Chris Smalling to power the ball past goalkeeper David De Gea with his head. It was the Belgium international defender’s third goal in the league this season.
“I guess a lot of predictions go wrong, but I remember someone texting me and saying, ‘You’re going to score the goal today,’ and I thought he was a lunatic,” Kompany said. “It’s far from over and we know that. We have to finish it off.”
City had chances to extend its lead in the second half. Yaya Toure went close with two shots, Aguero fired into the side netting from a narrow angle and Gael Clichy had an effort saved by De Gea.
United, which failed to test home goalkeeper Joe Hart, couldn’t muster a late rally as City secured a sweep of this season’s Manchester derbies in the league following its 6-1 rout at Old Trafford on Oct. 23.
It was City’s first so-called double against its crosstown rival since 2007-08 and only the second time in Premier League history.
City, owned by Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, will now try to become the fifth team in the Premier League’s 20 years to win the competition after United, Blackburn Rovers, Arsenal and Chelsea.
“It’s a fantastic result and a confidence high, but Newcastle have had a great season and they’ll be desperate to put one over on us,” Barry said. “We’re in the driving seat now. If we can go there and get the three points, we’re in a great position.”
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