MANCHESTER – Being shut out of the Manchester derby might not have seemed so bad for fans after all.
United and City drew 0-0 in a drab Premier League encounter that saw the rivals manage only two shots each on target between them on Saturday.
How different from 279 days earlier when a United victory produced raucous celebrations from the victorious side on what turned out to be the last weekend with full stadiums allowed.
The easing of England's coronavirus restrictions has yet to reach Manchester, with Old Trafford among the 10 Premier League clubs not even allowed 2,000 fans unlike the other 10 stadiums.
So the 183rd Manchester derby was the first one in an empty stadium. It was only the second time since 2010 that the rivals have played out a scoreless draw, reflecting their struggle to make an impression in the league this season.
“No fans is a different atmosphere,” City defender John Stones said. “The derby is a massive occasion for us as players and more for the city and fans. It’s frustrating not be able to have anyone in the stadium at this time."
United is seventh, four points behind leader Tottenham, and City is a point behind in eighth.
It's unsurprising United was so ineffective in front of goal, given Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side has scored only three times in its six league games at Old Trafford — with two coming from penalties.
United thought it had won a penalty at the start of the second half but Marcus Rashford was then spotted by the VAR to have been offside before being fouled by Kyle Walker.
Having been eliminated from the Champions League on Tuesday, United did at least avoid another damaging defeat.
But for City, the ambitions are about much more than just scrapping to get back into the top four as Pep Guardiola's side tries to regain the trophy from Liverpool.
“We are a bit frustrated we haven’t come away with much but we fought so well,” Stones said.