The inference that Sir Alex Ferguson had his eyes on other prizes was scarcely believable but he tried it anyway. "I am not looking for extra time tonight because we have an immense game against Arsenal on Sunday and I must make sure I pick the right team for that one," he stated in his programme notes – as if to say that this match was just another in a busy schedule.
On the face of things – or on the manager's cold-pinched face at least – it was an ordinary night; the usual inscrutable, metronomic chewing throughout from him in the dugout, but there were four words echoing in his ears. "This City is ours, this City is ours..." Never has a Manchester City chant carried such resonance as it did around Old Trafford.
Ferguson's real feelings had actually been laid bare in a decision he took at the start of a momentous day. It was suggested to Rio Ferdinand in a 10am meeting with the club's advisers at Carrington that he should plead guilty to an FA charge of violent conduct against him and miss the game. But Ferdinand insisted that he must face City and risk a three-game exclusion being extended to four. Ferguson's programme notes had actually suggested he would be rested last night – "the plan is to have him fit for Arsenal; we'll see" – but the desire to see off City got the better of both of them. Carlos Tevez lay in wait at 8pm so the FA be damned. Ferdinand must be the man to stand in the way of the danger. Tevez won this particular battle, as things transpired. Games can turn on moments like the one served up by the 24th minute, when the Argentine took a ball and found his first opportunity to race, face on, at his old team-mate. The jinking run took him one yard into the box, and then another, and another. Ferdinand was right behind him and Old Trafford held its breath when the defender took the plunge, placed an awkward challenge and Tevez tumbled to earth. But the Argentine had taken the ball a fraction too far, out of his own control, and Howard Webb justifiably declined a penalty.
Neither was Ferdinand's sense of poise enhanced when he appeared to throw out the back of his arm at Tevez as they ran for a ball together. Webb, for whom this was another fine night, rightly adjudged it accidental, though there was nothing of that kind about the Tevez goal which revived City hopes. He began the move and concluded it by flicking home a ball which should have been the England centre-half's. On occasions like this a manager looks for security in tried and tested places. Rooney will take the headlines today, but the clues to the way United suddenly flooded the last third and overwhelmed their opponents after the interval lay further back up the pitch.
It is a sign of his own failure to discover players in the transfer market over the past few years that Ferguson should have Paul Scholes out there on a night like this while Anderson twiddled his thumbs on the bench. Scholes' night didn't lack moments of recklessness: his was the first name in Webb's book for a lunge from behind at Shaun Wright-Phillips. But the way he policed the ball around the midfield with Darren Fletcher made a nonsense of the suggestion he made last month that this season should be his last in a United shirt.
His goal was serenity, Scholes stroking right-footed beyond Shay Given the ball which Ryan Giggs had recycled into the area. An old routine which they work almost by osmosis now, sending their manager to his seventh League Cup final. Ferguson was taking a dig at City in those notes when he declared that "the impact, the strength of a football club lies not just in what happens on the pitch but with the fellowship of the people who have contributed to its history." But it was an observation which befitted Scholes' contribution.Reuse content