PERPLEXED Manchester United boss Louis van Gaal was forced to question the intelligence of one of his players for the second week in a row after Chris Smalling saw red during yesterday’s narrow defeat to bitter rivals Manchester City.
The former Fulham defender was dismissed for the first time in his senior career after committing two bookable offences in quick succession during the opening period of a frenetic derby, which was settled by Sergio Aguero’s clinical second-half finish.
The Dutch tactician had warned his players to guard against ill-discipline in the build-up to his first Manchester derby, with United’s tally of 13 points from 10 games the lowest since 1986, a sequence which ushered in the Sir Alex Ferguson era.
“The sending off is not one of those things,” said Van Gaal. “As a player you have to control your aggression. The second yellow card, you know as a player you already have a yellow so you have to handle it differently.
“I said that to the players. In the derby you have to be careful. The second yellow card was stupid. You cannot do what he has done with the second yellow. That is not very smart. It had a big influence on our opponent but also ourselves.”
Spanish stopper David de Gea twice came to United’s rescue midway through the opening half, first thwarting Jesus Navas following Aguero’s defence-splitting pass before denying the Argentine forward who ran onto Fernando’s exquisite cross with the outside of his boot.
United’s task became mountainous when Smalling saw red after a lunging foul on James Milner, following a more than avoidable booking moments earlier for standing in front of Joe Hart and preventing the City keeper launching a ball downfield.
City poured forward in the latter stages of the half intent on making their extra man count with referee Michael Oliver waving away strong penalty claims as Aguero and Yaya Toure looked to be felled by Marouane Fellaini and Marcos Rojo respectively.
With substitute Michael Carrick already pressed into unfamiliar centre-half duties, United’s defensive options were stretched further shorlty after the break as Rojo was withdrawn with a dislocated shoulder and replaced by teenager Patrick McNair.
The home side opened the scoring in the 63rd minute, Gael Clichy latching onto Toure’s pass before cutting the ball back to Aguero to fire past De Gea for his 10th league goal of the season.
United refused to buckle despite being a man light, with Hart deflecting Van Persie’s low effort behind while at the other end Navas struck De Gea’s near post from a tight angle.
With the game approaching the final 10 minutes, a surging Wayne Rooney run ended with Hart repelling Di Maria’s drilled shot while Fellaini was off-target with a header from the Argentine’s pinpoint free-kick.
Toure was close to settling matters with two minutes remaining, his flick deceiving McNair only for his curling attempt to fly wide of the post.