Are local derbies losing their sense of occasion?

This week’s London derby which ended 3-3 at White Hart Lane was described by many as the most entertaining demonstration of ruthless attacking and woeful defending, but as with anything in football, there are always winners and losers. Even though the majority of viewers were satisfied just observing the showpiece spectacle, the game’s result only served to benefit both halves of Manchester, leaving Arsenal six points behind United in the race for the Premier League and Tottenham Hotspur two adrift of City in the chase for the final Champions League place.

Spectators may feel they reaped the most out of their Sky subscriptions on Wednesday, but for United and City it’s the result that counts, and both clubs can now re-evaluate the importance of November’s 0-0 Manchester derby, which at the time was criticised for a conscious lack of risk, but the shared points could prove vital to each clubs’ pursuit of their respective targets this campaign. Many believed that Roberto Mancini’s reluctance to gamble on that night at Eastlands supported the view that whilst City may be noisy neighbours, they are far from being loud, an interpretation which was dispelled when the Blues triumphed over the Reds at last week’s FA Cup semi-final and will be further eroded should City break in to the top 4 next month.

But is it enough that both clubs are content with achieving results by neglecting the traditional intensity and entertainment that local derby matches usually stipulate? Even though Harry Redknapp and Arsene Wenger will be disappointed to have lost ground on their respective rivals in the League, shouldn’t they both be applauded for encouraging their sides to produce two of the most memorable games of the 2010/11 season, in addition to a 5-goal exhibition in the Carling Cup last September?


It is worth noting that football’s greatest rivalry reached the second leg of a Spring/Summer quadruple not long after kick-off at the Lane. There aren’t many events better than Barcelona v Real Madrid, and luckily The Only Way is Essex was scheduled to start after full-time, but on Wednesday, all eyes were in London and rightly so.

Arsenal v Tottenham may be the most fun derby in the Premier League schedule, but isn’t the only local fixture to present fans with compelling, goal-laden football this season. Newcastle’s promotion to the top flight added two Tyne-Wear derbies to the League timetable, the Magpies announcing their return to the Premiership with a 5-1 victory over the Black Cats in October. The second fixture wasn’t quite as one sided, but was perhaps just as exciting, when Asamoah Gyan struck a 94th minute equaliser to propel Sunderland within reach of European qualification after 23 games.

Derby matches should always be played a noticeable distance from the League, which is why when local pride is at stake, observers tend to comment that the form of each team going in to such games bears no relation to the action which takes place. The pressure on managers and players to achieve results in any fixture gets more intense year on year, but it is refreshing to see at least some of these fixtures retain their sense of occasion.

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