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Tevez cranks up the volume

AFTER all his dismissive talk about the "noisy neighbours", how must Alex Ferguson be feeling this morning?

A little sheepish, one suspects, after a vengeful Carlos Tevez ensured that the Manchester United manager left this madhouse with a raucous din ringing in his ears.

Ferguson and United are capable of noise pollution as well and, whatever his complaints about Manchester City's new-found confidence, there have been a few regrettable comments made from Old Trafford over the past six months or so.

Tevez overpriced? Try telling that to City's supporters after the former United forward scored twice to give his new club a 2-1 lead in the tie and put them within 90 minutes of their first leading final since they lost to Tottenham Hotspur in the FA Cup final in 1981.

You could say that Tevez enjoyed shoving Ferguson's and Gary Neville's words back down their throats.

He celebrated his first goal by mocking Neville, who had talked of the player's "financial demands", and then marked the second by cupping his ears at the directors' box, as if to remind the United board of how long he had to wait to hear from them while his contract wound down towards an acrimonious exit last season.

To gauge the importance of the game to Ferguson, it was not necessary to wait until his jubilant reaction to the opening goal, scored by Ryan Giggs in the 17th minute; the irrefutable evidence was there on the United teamsheet.



TALENT

With the talent on parade ranging from Edwin van der Sar, Wes Brown, Patrice Evra and Darren Fletcher to Antonio Valencia, Wayne Rooney and Giggs, as well as just the odd Carling Cup campaigner such as Rafael Da Silva and Jonny Evans, the starting line-up had an average age of 27 years, three months -- more than four years older, per player, than the team that faced Derby County at the same stage of last season's competition.

More than that, United's team was laden with experience of this sort of two-leg tie, usually in the Champions League. For the first 20 minutes, as City attacked breathlessly and United controlled the game at their own pace, it was like watching boys against men and, as Giggs gave the visiting team the lead with a simple tap-in, it was hard not to fear for City.

It was a simple, but well-worked goal, made possible when Evra switched the play to the right with a long diagonal ball that put Valencia up against Craig Bellamy.

Valencia jinked past the City forward and crossed towards the near post, where Rooney's shot was saved by Shay Given, but the ball bounced off Dedryck Boyata, the City teenager, and into the path of Giggs, who, three yards out, could not miss.

A familiar sense of anti-climax briefly loomed over the City of Manchester Stadium, with Tevez missing the target with a header from six yards out before lunging at Brown, for which he was fortunate not to be shown the yellow card.

United's supporters were having some fun at Tevez's expense, but it did not last. Four minutes before half-time Bellamy got behind Rafael, who, never afraid to concede a free kick when he is beaten, decided it was wise to tug the forward's shirt before he entered the penalty area.

Mike Dean, the referee, decided that a second tug had taken place inside the box and, much to the United players' fury, a penalty was awarded.



Lash

This was the moment Tevez had been waiting six months for. He put the ball on the spot, took a series of deep breaths and stepped forward to lash the penalty high into the roof of the net.

Up the touchline he charged and, spotting a grim-faced Gary Neville, who had talked on the eve of the game of the forward's "financial demands", he made a pointed gesture that said: "Stop your yapping."

Could it get any better for Tevez? Of course it could. It was his night and, after a tense start to the second half, in which Given saved well from Giggs, the City forward made it 2-1 in the 62nd minute.

It would have been a horrible goal for United to concede to any player, as they failed to clear Bellamy's corner and allowed Pablo Zabaleta and then Vincent Kompany to knock the ball back into the six-yard box, where the ball was neatly headed in by Tevez.

Tevez departed into the final stages, having run himself into the ground, and the arrival of Michael Owen gave United more impetus in attack.

Owen set up Rooney for one chance, which Given again saved well, and then the former England forward saw his scuffed follow-up cleared off the line by Nedum Onuoha.

There was still time for Valencia, albeit having been flagged offside, to produce a terrible miss from two yards out, but City, having clung on, will be wary about their trip to Old Trafford for the second leg next Wednesday.

And after their stoppage-time experience there last September, you will not catch any of their supporters saying they are only 90 minutes away from Wembley.

© The Times, London