United win the battle of Manchester

Manchester United are through to the Carling Cup final after a charged 3-1 victory over rivals City.

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As Sir Alex Ferguson, his players and supporters celebrated, it was as if Manchester United had won the Carling Cup, not just reached the final. That is how much the 3-1 semi final second leg victory against neighbours City meant to them. Extra time beckoned when Wayne Rooney struck in the second minute of injury time to settle an enthralling encounter, a 4-3 aggregate finish and a Wembley meeting with Aston Villa on February 28. Ferguson saluted the quality of Rooney, whose goal - his 21st of the season - proved more decisive than the one for his former United teammate Carlos Tevez at the other end. "I thought Rooney was much better than he was on Saturday [against Hull] and yet he scored four goals on Saturday. His control, leading of the line and penetration was absolutely fantastic. It was a true world-class performance. "I am proud of the team. It's a derby game, and you like to win your derby games. The fact we scored so late in the game brought a special type of celebration." Memories of the Premier League encounter in September at Old Trafford between the teams came flooding back. There was similar passion, controversy, incident and a breathless finale. Neither side held back, Rio Ferdinand was fortunate not to see red for a flailing elbow that caught Tevez in the face, and Craig Bellamy was hit on the back of the head by a coin as objects, including bottles, were thrown at him from the United end as he prepared to take a corner. In the league game, Javier Garrido - an unused substitute - was struck by a coin in the tunnel and the Football Association are sure to launch an inquiry. That day too, Michael Owen scored a dramatic winner in stoppage time to clinch a 4-3 victory. This time it was his England colleague who was the hero, despite having spurned a glorious chance earlier when he bundled wide from close range. Rooney said: "We were deserved winners. We started well and when we went at them, they didn't know what to do." After a tense and tight first half, Paul Scholes and Michael Carrick put United 2-0 in front with second-half strikes. Then came Rooney's 73rd minute miss. It could have been costly as three minutes later City swept forward and pulled a goal back to level the tie on aggregate. Emmanuel Adebayor - back from the Africa Cup of Nations with Togo where rebels shot and killed three members of his team's travelling party - released Craig Bellamy and his left-wing cross was finished with a clever flick by Tevez with his back to goal. At this point, Roberto Mancini, the City manager, felt his side could win the tie in normal time. "I thought we could score another goal. I absolutely did not think we would concede in the last minute," he said. "I am sorry for my players and supporters because we have not made the final, but this is football and sometimes when you make mistakes, you lose." He is now hoping City can bounce back quickly. With a fifth-round tie against Stoke to come, Mancini targeted the FA Cup and a top four finish in the league. And why not? They might have been second-best in terms of chances, but they matched United for effort and endeavour and without key players like Kolo Toure, Joleon Lescott and Wayne Bridge. Despite the constant jeers, Tevez was tireless in the lone role up front and the City keeper Shay Given deserved better too. He made a fantastic point-blank save to keep out a Darren Fletcher header. But, from the resulting corner, Giggs curled in a cross from the left and an unmarked Rooney planted the header past Given. Mancini said: "Next time we will have to pay more attention because Wayne Rooney is one of the best strikers in the world. If you give him a chance to score he will take it. I am very disappointed because, apart from 10 minutes, we played very well. "For me, we played better than the first leg at home. But the Carling Cup is finished now. We must keep our heads held high and win the FA Cup. It's important we win on Sunday [against Portsmouth] because we want to stay at the top. "Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Adebayor are back with us now and Joleon Lescott is nearly fit. With those players I think it is possible for us to get into the top four." The Brazilian Robinho, who was left out of the squad on Wednesday, is unlikely to play a part as a move to Santos could be finalised before the weekend. Mancini added: "It is possible that he will go to play for Santos or another team, so we preferred not to risk him." City could have a new addition too with the arrival of Adam Johnson, the talented Middlesbrough winger. United might not need to strengthen further in the transfer window. They showed once more that they still possess the quality to overcome their rivals when it matters most and remain very much in the frame for the big prizes. akhan@thenational.ae