All that double training Carlos Tevez says he hates so much; all the "shadow play" sessions with Roberto Mancini taking his players out, minus a ball, and arranging them into shapes in readiness for the next Premier League opposition – and yet still the most fundamental winning principle about Manchester United has not permeated the club who aspire to ascend above them.
A clue lay in Michael Owen's goal in last September's Old Trafford Manchester derby six mintues into added time, another in Wayne Rooney's late diving header which deprived Manchester City of a place in this year's Carling Cup final, and the latest came from the head from Paul Scholes, the oldest and one of the shortest players on the field, as Mancini was rather brutally reminded after he had sat down, stunned, for his post match conference. The secret is that United are never beaten.
That Scholes should have made the afternoon's decisive and final contribution was significant not only because he, sitting in the holding midfield position, stunted Tevez, the player who has made City a one-man team for most of this season. It was because Scholes has proved in a difficult season for United that he remains the midfielder who, above any other, possesses the signature quality to win games for them.
His last goal before this came at Molineux on 6 March, another messy, error-strewn business when he stepped up to secure another late 1-0 win, which Sir Alex Ferguson identified as perhaps the most significant result in his side's title chase remaining intact. That was a day when Rooney (below) was missing and yesterday he was present in body alone, even though Ferguson was so desperate to avoid a figurative changing of the guard in his adoptive city that he deployed him on the basis of one day's training. Rooney looked less of a threat to City than to Bayern Munich 11 days ago and the tragedy for Mancini's side was that when the moment arrived to write their names across potentially the most defining Manchester derbies of all time and to break a United side so lacking form and belief, they passed it up so meekly.
Mancini put that down last night to football's mysterious ways. "Football; that's it," he said, not daring to cast that disciplined football mind of his back to the way that, with 17 seconds of the game to run, City surrendered midfield possession to Ryan Giggs and allowed him to develop a threat which became dangerous when Patrice Evra was allowed to run, unhindered down City's right, and critical when Stephen Ireland permitted Scholes two yards of space to spin his immaculate header into the turf just in front of Shay Given's line and onwards, to a resting place inside the net.
But City did contribute to their own demise. They were hesitant when the chance to counterattack arose, frequently advancing in twos and threes when six or seven were needed, and the quality of their final cross and pass was excruciating at times.
When Tevez sent Craig Bellamy scampering away down United's undefended left, shortly before the hour, the mind returned to him pouncing on a Rio Ferdinand error and racing the length of Old Trafford to score, last September. This time, he blasted a foot wide of Edwin van der Sar's right post as Tevez stood in the box, pointing to the place where he needed his pass returning.
Wayne Bridge was in equal space after nutmegging Scholes and advancing down the same flank, but blazed a wild cross over the box, while the afternoon billed as Adam Johnson's chance to take a step closer to South Africa left Fabio Capello with no more certainties about him. The 21-year old looked like another talented English winger in need of some crossing practice. The only man in blue on his game was Brian Kidd, usually an unwelcome presence in Mancini's technical area, but damned if he was going to stay out of it and not press the qualities he knew were needed of a derby competitors.
City might have received a penalty 15 minutes from time after a fine interchange of passes between Gareth Barry and the generally anonymous Emmanuel Adebayor sent Barry into the area, where Gary Neville appeared to clip him, but City's players lacked as much energy to appeal as Mancini did to complain afterwards. By then, the game's balance had shifted from a first half in which Antonio Valencia, running at Bridge, provided the one absorbing axis.
When Bridge was deceived by the flight of a ball, Valencia was able to head to Rooney who ushered the ball around Kolo Touré, only to screw badly wide of Given's left hand post. Valencia beat Bridge again just before the interval and squared for Giggs, whose weaker right foot could not manufacture any strength in his shot. Tevez's 10th minute free kick provided Van der Sar's only serious exertion.
The United ecstasy when Scholes' goal went in and the celebrations before their fans after the whistle looked like those of a side who had won the League, which the symbolism of this win probably exceeds. New money, new names in Manchester but as so often, the old truths about success prevail.
Referee: Martin Atkinson
Man of the match: Scholes
Match rating: 6/10
Man for man marking
Shay Given 7/10
There was little the Irish goalkeeper could do to prevent Scholes' goal in time added on, but generally had less to do than his opposite number, so wayward (Rooney, Fletcher etc) was United's shooting, but had to block Giggs as the Welshman broke though.
Nedum Onuoha 7/10
For much of the match the young defender looked composed at right-back, although United did not use a left-winger as such until the introduction of Nani in the last half-hour. But Onuoha was out of position as Evra found time and space to cross for the only goal.
Kolo Toure 7/10
An assured performance at centre-back despite Rooney's liveliness in the opening exchanges. Made a telling interception in the 14th minute after Kompany's mistake, but then his own misjudgment gave Rooney a chance. The Ivory Coast international did not unduly trouble the opposition at City corners.
Vincent Kompany 6/10
Although the Belgian defender was a competent enough foil for Toure, enough cracks appeared in the understanding to make one wonder how secure the partnership would have been if faced by a fully-fit Rooney.
Wayne Bridge 7/10
The former England left-back returned after a hernia operation and lasted the 90 minutes well. As an attacking force had one chance, a minute before Scholes' winner, but shot weakly.
Nigel de Jong 6/10
Outnumbered in the centre of the pitch, where City were outmanoeuvred, the Dutch midfielder was unable to impose any fluency on his side's attacks and was replaced by Ireland for the last 12 minutes, but to no great effect.
Gareth Barry 6/10
The England man did not get to grips with the match, it seemed, until the second half. Went down in the United 18-yard box in a very hopeful penalty appeal. Has had more effective games.
Adam Johnson 6/10
The left-footed winger used on the right promised much but did not provide enough dangerous crosses. Booked for pulling back Valencia before being substituted.
Carlos Tevez 7/10
As willing and energetic as ever, the former favourite of United fans ran himself into the ground but the closest he came to a goal was an eighth-minute free-kick saved well by Van der Sar.
Craig Bellamy 6/10
Despite his pace, never really got the better of United right- back Neville, who was ably supported by Valencia.
Emmanuel Adebayor 7/10
Although City were able to play on the break because United needed the win more, never got himself into a goalscoring position.
Patrick Vieira for Johnson (64 minutes) on as City gave up width to bolster central midfield. Shaun Wright-Phillips for Adebayor (74 minutes) only found space for two direct runs. Stephen Ireland for De Jong (79 minutes).
Edwin van der Sar 7/10
Called on only once in the first-half to keep out a Tevez free-kick, the United goalkeeper coped with other City efforts until he flapped at an 86th-minute cross to spark a frantic scramble eventually cleared by Fletcher.
Gary Neville 7/10
Had the better of the expected red-blooded contest with Bellamy as the Welsh winger attacked United's right. The veteran right-back had fewer chances than usual to support his attack and provide crosses but got valuable support from Valencia.
Jonathan Evans 7/10
In for Ferdinand, and on a day when some of the United old guard rolled back the years, the young defender acquitted himself well enough in both halves with Vidic taking the dominant role and Scholes providing a careful and largely effective screen in front of the back four.
Nemanja Vidic 7/10
Despite the pace evident in the City frontline, and the absence of his senior centre-back partner, Vidic had one of his better games of late and was rarely tested by a side whose talents only flickered. Dominant in the air, but failed to trouble City at corners.
Patrice Evra 7/10
Another key area where City perhaps hoped to do better, but United's left-back mostly had the measure of City's young winger Johnson and got forward to cross for Scholes' goal. Booked for a foul on Wright-Phillips.
Antonio Valencia 8/10
There was a finely-balanced confrontation on City's left flank as Valencia, the former Wigan winger, faced a full-back just returning from a hernia operation. He got in several useful crosses, but won extra points for the amount of work he did in supporting Neville's battles with Bellamy.
Darren Fletcher 7/10
The Scot typically gave his all in the midfield battle but after a fourth-minute shot was less effective in attack; in defence cleared a goalmouth scramble as City's chances ebbed away.
Paul Scholes 9/10
Man-of-the-match exhibition, even without the game's only goal. Scholes played the deep role in a five-man midfield and kept the ball moving well when his side was in possession to prompt the attack. But that winner, a strong, well-placed header in a rare charge into the opposition penalty area, could be priceless.
Darron Gibson 6/10
Did not match previous performances in midfield which won both praise and his place in this starting line-up. First player to be subbed.
Ryan Giggs 7/10
Often pushed forward from the five-man midfield to support Rooney and should have given United a 44th-minute lead from Valencia's cross, but his flick was weak.
Wayne Rooney 7/10
Lone striker Rooney toiled in vain, should have scored when Touré missed a tackle but the England man shot wide.
Nani for Gibson (58 minutes) and made more of an impression on United's left. Dimitar Berbatov for Rooney (74) Missed a header. Gabriel Obertan for Valencia (79).