MANCHESTER - Sir Alex Ferguson saluted Michael Owen after the Manchester United striker's stoppage-time goal gave the champions a sensational 4-3 win over Manchester City in one of the most dramatic derbies of all time.
Owen has spent most of his time at United on the substitutes bench since joining from Newcastle while he strives to reach peak form and fitness.
But the former Liverpool star made himself a permanent hero at Old Trafford yesterday when he came on to break City hearts with a fine finish in the sixth minute of stoppage time to cap a clash Ferguson claimed was arguably the best derby of all time.
United had led three times through Wayne Rooney and two Darren Fletcher headers, but City hit back through Gareth Barry and two goals from Craig Bellamy, with the Wales striker's second coming in the 90th minute.
"To be fair, we noticed in the last two weeks that Michael has adjusted to training and has been sharper," Ferguson told Sky Sports. "We were saying that we were going to have to get him on and get him game time because he's been doing very well."
Ferguson has seen more than his fair share of classic matches in his 23-year reign at United, but the Scot admitted none had surpassed this encounter.
"What can you say? We've given three goals to them. It could have been an embarrassment, 6-0 or 7-0, if we defended our proper way. We could have won by a big score, but by making mistakes we probably were in the best derby game of all time," he said.
City boss Mark Hughes was fuming after watching fourth official Alan Wiley signal for four minutes of stoppage time, only for referee Martin Atkinson to allow six minutes, giving Owen time to hit his winner.
"In the end we feel really frustrated and robbed because the ref has played seven minutes," Hughes said. "Alan Wiley tried to explain he added the time for our celebration but I looked at the video and that lasted 45 seconds. Where he got the extra minutes from I have no idea."
Other results yesterday: Chelsea 3, Tottenham 0; Everton 3, Blackburn Rovers 0; Wolverhampton 2, Fulham 1. Saturday: Arsenal 4, Wigan 0; Aston Villa 2, Portsmouth 0; Bolton 1, Stoke 1; Burnley 3, Sunderland 1; Birmingham 1, Hull 0; Liverpool 3, West Ham 2. - Sapa-AFP