Three times last season Manchester United crushed Manchester City in the final minute of a close game. Yesterday the blow, although inflicted earlier, was no less dram-atic, as Wayne Rooney threw himself at Nani's cross to score with the most spectacular of overhead kicks. It was by then becoming the game we had hoped for, both managers belatedly having put an extra attacker on the pitch.
City had started with Carlos Tevez as their one striker, United responding disappointingly by leaving out Dimitar Berbatov and matching up with their rivals' 4-2-3-1 system. That strategy was better suited to the visitors, successful here only once since Denis Law's famous back-heeled winning goal in 1974. They had started the better and had the best of what chances there were until conceding to Nani just before half-time. From there, they lost momentum and confidence for a while, before Edin Dzeko came on to set up a fluke of an equaliser off David Silva's back. Sir Alex Ferguson immediately sent on Berbatov and within 11 minutes the leaders had Rooney's spectacular winner.
That goal apart, it was not a game of any great quality, partly because some of the passing was so poor – United being the worse offenders in that respect. The implications, however, are considerable for the Premier League table, in which United now sit eight points ahead of their neighbours with a game in hand. That game may be away to Chelsea, but Arsenal now look the only team who can prevent them from regaining the title.
Their manager was looking fora response after what he called a "pathetic crash" at Wolverhampton Wanderers last weekend and was naturally delighted with the outcome even if he could not reasonably have complained at being held to a draw. But when did reason ever come into it? "City made a bright start and caused us a bit of bother but we deserved to be in front at half-time," he said. "They got a lucky break with their goal, which gave them the impetus as it does in big games like this."
United were certainly more solid in defence than last week with Chris Smalling doing much excellent work in place of Jonny Evans. Silva should have scored as early as the third minute and, unlike some other big occasions this season, Roberto Mancini could not be accused of negativity. He is what he is, a man steeped in 27 years of Italian football, but it was understandable that he should not throw Dzeko in from the start. He spent much of the interval consulting his coaches David Platt and Brian Kidd about how to right the perceived injustice of the scoreline, before sending on Shaun Wright-Phillips and, later, Dzeko.
"We didn't deserve absolutely to lose this game," Mancini said. "I thought we could have won because at 1-1 we had a good chance. But a fantastic goal changed the game."
Silva, a contender for the game's individual honours along with Chris Smalling and Nani, could have altered its pattern in City's first attack.Neat interplay down the rightinvolving the Spaniard eventually left him clear but onside when receiving Tevez's pass, and although the angle was sharp, he rolled the ball beyond the far post.
For the first 40 minutes, Ferguson's assistant Mike Phelan spent more time than anyone from either side in the technical area, doubtless echoing his master's voice insome measure of disapproval. Impressive as City were, hustling when not in possession and pro-ducing good movement whenthey were, chances panned outmore evenly. Silva appealed in vain for a penalty as did Yaya Touré,their respective shots having struck Patrice Evra and Smalling; at the other end Nani hit one of his fierce drives just over Joe Hart's crossbar and Darren Fletcher arrived at the far post to head Ryan Giggs's cross at the goalkeeper.
Then, five minutes before the interval, came the goal the game needed, though not from the team that deserved it more. Edwin van der Sar punted long and as Rooney challenged Joleon Lescott the ball flicked off the defender for Giggs to play Nani in. The controlling touch was perfect and the finish immaculate.
It took City a while to regain their composure and required Vincent Kompany's saving tackle on Rooney to prevent further damage, before the £27m Dzeko appeared and brought about the equalising goal. He scuffed a shot from a cross by the other substitute, Wright-Phillips, which bounced off Silva's back and past a helpless Van der Sar.
The visiting supporters' joy, and taunts, lasted no more than 13 minutes before the player they had been jeering silenced them with the goal of the season. The build-up included a lucky touch from Rooney, in finding Paul Scholes, who passed to Nani. A slight deflection on the cross sent the ball behind Rooney, who leapt with his back to goal and hit a bicycle kick of the ferocity that only Mark Hughes in his prime could match.
Hughes would have been proud of it and although he must have scored one or two like it on this ground, Ferguson could not remember a better one. "I wasn't too pleased with my overall performance," Rooney admitted, "but a few of the lads just said 'stay in the box and you'll get a chance'. That is my best goal. It was such an important game and to score the winning goal in that way was a great feeling – indescribable."
His team-mates could not have imagined the nature of it and, like everyone else here yesterday, will never forget the manner of the execution.
Referee: Andre Marriner
Man of the match: Nani
Six spectacular scissor-kicks
1. Trevor Sinclair: QPR vs Barnsley (1997)
Won Match of the Day's Goal of the Season for this acrobatic thunderbolt from the edge of the penalty area. With his back to goal, Sinclair leaps and pulls off a remarkable overhead kick.
2. Ronaldinho: Barcelona vs Villarreal (2006)
The Samba magician surprises even himself at the Nou Camp. After a seemingly awkward chest control, the Brazilian improvises to hook the ball back in the opposite direction, and lob the goalkeeper.
3. Peter Crouch: Liverpool vs Galatasaray (2006)
The tall guy puts Liverpool in control in this Champions League tie, producing unlikely heroics to hammer home.
4. Paolo Di Canio: West Ham vs Wimbledon (2000)
The Italian won the goal of the decade award in a Sky Sports News poll after this sublime piece of skill. As the ball is played over to the left-hand side of the penalty box, Di Canio sets himself up for the most superb scissor-kick, volleying it perfectly into the far corner from an acute angle.
5. Mark Hughes: Wales vs Spain (1985)
The striker amazes everyone with a wonder goal as the Welsh win 3-0 at Wrexham. As the ball bounces in the area, and under pressure from defenders, Hughes nets a flying scissor kick – one of the great goals.
6. Wayne Rooney: Manchester Utd vs Manchester City (2011)
The England striker gives a reminder that in terms of ability, he remains one of the world's most talented footballers. The ball is played into the area, behind Rooney. Nonetheless, he shows incredible gymnastic ability to power home an outstanding overhead kick.