The England international has struggled to impress Jose Mourinho since the Portuguese coach’s appointment to prompt speculation surrounding his long-term future at the Old Trafford outfit.
Smalling made a nervous start to Saturday evening’s derby and allowed Vincent Kompany to outmuscle him to break the deadlock with a thunderous header in the first half at The Etihad.
Kompany’s opener was similar to the Manchester City captain’s winner in a 1-0 victory over Manchester United back in 2012 when he escaped Smalling to score what proved a vital goal in the title race.
Ilkay Gundogan made it 2-0 to the hosts on Saturday evening before Paul Pogba scored two goals in quick succession in the second half to restore parity before Smalling went from zero to hero.
The England centre-half produced a composed finish from a set-piece to bag the winner and silence his critics in emphatic fashion.
Former Manchester United defender Neville was delighted for Smalling after a difficult season for the England star.
“He is a diligent, responsible professional,” Neville told his Sky Sports podcast.
“It was a difficult moment for him. What a turnaround for him. Pogba and Smalling would have had most voices against. The second half it came round. It can turn.”
Manchester United are in second place in the Premier League table but 13 points behind Manchester City in the title race.
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