Sergio Aguero did not score a goal that won the league for Manchester City tonight, as he did on that famous day last May; he did not whip off his shirt in celebration and disappear under a pile of his team-mates in front of a crowd who knew they were witnessing history. But if you are going to lose the title to your most despised rivals by some distance, then this was by far the best way to do it.
At City they have one Argentinian striker who is obliged to help tidy up Manchester at the discretion of the probation service, and another who has a habit of cleaning up on the big occasions. Aguero's winning goal will not change the course of the title race but it has put a dent in the killing machine at Old Trafford that has crushed so much before it this season.
When they wake up in the morning, City will still be 12 points behind United, and they will have to steel themselves for handing over the Premier League trophy next month. A win at Old Trafford was small consolation in the great scheme of things, especially for a club that has City's lofty ambitions, but it did not feel that way last night.
At the end, the City players celebrated in front of their fans while Ryan Giggs, for one, turned on his heel and walked off without a look back. When the dust settles, City may well ask themselves why they found themselves so far behind United before they discovered the kind of form and verve to put together a performance like the one tonight.
Roberto Mancini later blamed it on the number of injuries his side had been forced to deal with over the season, naming the likes of Vincent Kompany and Yaya Toure as critical absentees. He would not accept that he has a big enough squad to deal with it but this was not a night to search for the disguised meaning in Mancini's words, it was one to admire the performance of his side.
As for United, they will pick themselves up and come 18 May they will have their 20th title. It changes nothing in that respect. They have been by far the best team in the league this season - there can be no argument with the gap at the top of the table. Yet this result does pose more questions about the quality of this particular side and what they need to push on again next season, especially in Europe.
Robin Van Persie drew another blank and Wayne Rooney went two-footed on James Milner in the first half with the kind of challenge that might, have made a more edgy referee consider the red card. He was substituted before the end. United's best player was Phil Jones whose header was deflected in off Kompany for United's goal. It was Jones who made the despairing, unsuccessful last challenge on Aguero as he set himself to score.
United are currently playing as if the season has already finished and Sir Alex Ferguson's flurry of late substitutions after Aguero's goal suggested even he was caught in two minds about his approach to the match. It was hard to pick out an outstanding attacking player in his side with Ashley Young a marginal figure and Danny Welbeck only slightly better.
By way of contrast, City had many more who performed well, starting with Kompany and Matija Nastasic and onto Gareth Barry and Milner. In fact Barry, crucial in Milner's opening goal just shaded it as the most influential player on the pitch for his sheer application and willingness to put himself in the centre of things. That included a row with Rio Ferdinand towards the end of the game when tempers frayed.
The game promised a lot more at the start when, for 15 minutes, both teams found themselves carried along, perhaps against their better instincts, to attack one another blow-for-blow. It shaped up to be a classic. Then when the storm abated it was a match without a theme for much of the remaining 75 minutes.
City had the best of it and in the first half they had a lot of possession without ever properly threatening the United goal. The home side started poorly, discounting a very promising break from Welbeck from Young's flick in midfield on four minutes. United had City outnumbered but Rooney could not persuade Welbeck to pass him the ball and Gael Clichy reacted well to get a tackle in.
Just before half-time a timid little shot from Rafael Da Silva, running onto Van Persie's flick from Michael Carrick's ball into the box, clipped the angle of post and bar. It sounded more impressive than it looked and Joe Hart watched it all the way. You might have thought that City had missed their chance but they came out for the second half with purpose.
Milner's shot, deflected in off Carrick, from the edge of the area started when Giggs lost the ball out on the left wing trying to essay a backheel. Barry nicked it away and turned possession into an attack. He carried the ball down the left channel and crossed where Samir Nasri was able to tee up Milner for the goal.
In the immediate aftermath it was difficult to see United finding that extra gear that would enable them to force their way back into the game. Certainly they had failed to do so up to that point. Their equaliser, just before the hour owed much to the award of a free-kick on the right side that looked borderline, for a wrestle between Yaya Toure and Rafael
Van Persie's free-kick had such whip and pace on it that Jones did well to get around it and head the ball back where it clipped Kompany's back and went in. The game opened up and City, with Aguero on for Nasri, did not lose their nerve.
Taking an innocuous pass from Yaya Toure just outside the box, Aguero broke right, getting across Jones and Rio Ferdinand before lifting a right foot shot past De Gea from close range. Magnificent. Rooney, poor all night, was hauled off for Javier Hernandez and Shinji Kagawa came on for the injured Young but this was City's night. United have had most things their way this season, but not all of it.Reuse content