Roberto Mancini angrily pinned the blame on the referee Chris Foy and insisted Manchester City could regard their 3-2 FA Cup defeat against Manchester United as a moral victory and a demonstration that his team are in a position of strength to win the Premier League.
Mancini was so incensed with Foy's decision to send off Vincent Kompany he initially said he would not talk about it on the basis he did not want to incur a Football Association disciplinary charge and preferred to "stay on the bench for the next month". The City manager could not help himself in the end and also accused Wayne Rooney of deliberately influencing the referee by running to him and demanding a red card. "Rooney told him his decision," he said pointedly.
City will appeal, with Mancini confidently claiming the decision would be overturned, but the mood was not only of bitterness and anger. The City manager was so encouraged by the way his team had threatened a replay after being 3-0 down at half-time he delivered his most confident speech yet when addressing the impact it could have on the title race.
"The feeling is good," he said. "I'm not frustrated at all. I'm disappointed for the result but I'm happy with our performance and proud of my players. We played for 80 minutes with ten men and, unless I make a mistake, we didn't concede any chances at all in the second half. We knew it wouldn't be impossible but very difficult to score three goals but, in the end, we had a chance and I think this is important for us for the league.
"We have taken a big move forward today. We have really played well and I think we can win the league now. United are the top squad in England and if we can play like that against them with ten players, show the same attitude and the same strength in every game, we will win the league."
Sir Alex Ferguson's jubilation about gaining some form of revenge for October's 6-1 defeat at Old Trafford was certainly tempered by what happened in the second half. "We made them better than they were," the United manager said. "It was ridiculous. We were so careless in the second half. We took our foot off the pedal from a position when we should have battered them. They waited for us to make mistakes. We made them and it turned it into a score it shouldn't have been. This does us no good [in terms of the title] as it was a careless performance. We should have been home and dry."
Ferguson could be seen angrily berating Foy at the final whistle for denying United a penalty when the score was 3-1, and he dismissed Mancini's defence of Kompany, arguing that the defender's challenge on Nani was a clear red card. "I have seen him [Kompany] do it before," Ferguson said. "He has got away with it before. If there had been contact with Nani then it would have been a bad one. He [Nani] is lucky because the intention was there. It was a two-footed tackle, off the ground, and a red card. So the referee was right on that one."
Mancini disagreed. "No, it's impossible. Every person has his opinion and I respect his [Ferguson's], but a red card for Vinnie? No. I'm sure we will win an appeal."
The former Premier League referee Dermot Gallagher, speaking on radio, defended Foy's decision, pointing out how officials are under instructions to clamp down on potentially dangerous tackles. Mancini rejected their reasons. "If I am talking about the players, I will defend the players. If a referee is talking about the referees, they defend the referees. I even heard a referee on the television say the Gareth Barry sending-off (in the 3-0 defeat of Liverpool) was correct."
Kompany faces a four-game ban because it is the second time he has been sent off this season, meaning he could miss both legs of the Carling Cup semi-final against Liverpool and the league games against Wigan Athletic and Tottenham Hotspur. The Belgium international posted a message on Twitter after the match saying: "Thanks for the support I'm getting from everyone. Surprised at Sir Alex Ferguson's post match comments. Maybe that's a sign..."
Sergio Aguero tweeted: "I seldom try to find excuses or comment on the referees. But the unfair expulsion of Vincent Kompany conditioned the whole game."