any other Red in the 164-game history of the fixture.
United’s storming start was in stark contrast to the last time Sir Alex’s men visited the Etihad. Then, in what was effectively a title decider in April, United failed to manage a single shot on target. Admittedly, Sunday’s first half wasn’t exactly akin to a shooting gallery, but at least the Reds made each effort count.
In the build-up to Sunday’s match, Sir Alex bemoaned his decision to play cautiously in the last derby and leave Danny Welbeck out of his starting XI. The young Mancunian again had to make do with a spot on the bench, but United’s approach was far more positive on this occasion.
Robin van Persie led the line, while Antonio Valencia’s surprise return (he’d been ruled out for “weeks” just 48 hours before the game) and Tom Cleverley’s inclusion gave the Reds an added attacking dimension.
For long periods, though, it was the Reds’ defensive qualities that shone. City, boasting one of the most feared attacks in Europe, rarely tested David De Gea before the break, as Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans cleared everything in the air and marshalled the back four superbly.
When Ashley Young put the ball in the back of the net on 59 minutes it seemed the game was all over. But an offside flag (raised incorrectly), spoiled the party. As if to rub salt into the wound, City went straight down the other end and pulled a goal back.
Pablo Zabaleta then levelled scores with four minutes of normal time remaining. It seemed City had rescued the match. Their fans even sensed their side could push on and snatch victory.
But as far as old habits go, none are ingrained in Manchester United as deep as the ability to fight to the finish and score late winners. So when Robin van Persie’s injury-time free-kick clipped the end of the City wall and spun beyond Joe Hart’s despairing dive, it was, in many ways, exactly what everyone expected.