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United lose 1-0 at Derby in semi-final first leg

MANCHESTER United was upset 1-0 in the League Cup semifinals by Derby yesterday, with a sublime strike by Kris Commons ending a 14-match unbeaten streak in all competitions.

In their first major cup semifinal since 1976, the League Championship strugglers dominated the English, European and world champions, who were fortunate not to be going into the second leg at Old Trafford in two weeks needing to recover a greater deficit.

"It was a fantastic result for us considering the performance," United manager Alex Ferguson said. "We could have lost four goals."

Commons provided the decisive touch in the 30th minute when he collected a pass from Mile Sterjovski and from 25 meters (yards) lashed it past Tomasz Kuszczak.

"It will be tough to go to Old Trafford and hold on to the 1-0," Commons said. "We'll enjoy it this week _ just to beat Manchester United and be able to say that to your kids and grandkids is going to be very special."

It was David Lowe's one and only game as caretaker Derby manager before Nigel Clough takes charge today.

The son of famed Derby manager Brian Clough, who turned the club into English champions in 1972, was introduced to the Pride Park crowd before the match, and it seemed to invigorate his new players.

Nigel Clough, who left non-league club Burton after a decade in charge, was now 90 minutes away from reaching the final of the competition his father won four times with Nottingham Forest.

Holder Tottenham was favored to be the opponent in the March 1 final after trouncing Burnley 4-1 in Tuesday's first leg.

Undaunted by United, the Rams raided the visitors from the outset without resembling the side that was 18th in the 24-team League Championship. Derby has been battling to return to the Premier League it left in May with the top-flight's lowest-ever points tally.

Stand-in United captain Nemanja Vidic prevented Derby striker Steve Davies from bundling Rob Hulse's header into the net in the 6th, and minutes later Vidic's defensive partner Jonny Evans had to clear Mile Sterjovski's volley off the line after the Australian connected with Commons' corner.

Despite starting Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo on the bench, United still had Carlos Tevez spearheading the attack with Danny Welbeck, the 18-year-old Englishman who scored in Sunday's victory at Southampton in the FA Cup.

But former United goalkeeper Roy Carroll had a quiet night, with the first-half threat limited to a neat interchange between Nani and John O'Shea ending with the Ireland defender's shot being easily collected.

Midfielder Paul Scholes had a couple of efforts from distance.

Tevez, who had just returned from a trip home to Argentina, made no impression, further threatening his United future as he waits for a permanent contract.

But not even the arrival of Ronaldo and Rooney in the 63rd could provide the missing spark.

Ronaldo struck wide twice with the best chance coming from a free kick, while Derby pressed to extend its lead.

The best chance of that came with 10 minutes remaining when Commons cut into the penalty area after racing past Evans. His shot was parried by Kuszczak, but Hulse scooped over from the rebound.

"It was a tough game, we didn't have a great game and didn't have many chances," said Vidic. "It is not a great result, but we have the second game at Old Trafford and we can score two goals and win the game."

And Ferguson has vowed to retain emerging players like Rafael da Silva, Darron Gibson and Welbeck in that Jan. 20 match.

"I think we'll persevere with our younger players," Ferguson said. "They deserve to be in there, I felt they were our better players tonight. Gibson certainly was one of the better players.

"I have sympathy for Welbeck, he never really had any service in the game so it would be unfair to judge him."


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