World back at Wayne's sublime feet
Manchester Utd 2
Manchester City 1
It was, in the parlance of Wayne Rooney's old Merseyside schoolyard, a "worldie".
It was a goal that fell from the heavens, a moment of sporting beauty that reminded those wearied by the modern game's cynicism why they first succumbed to football's allure.
It was a day when Rooney took home a bottle of bubbly and Manchester United fans sped to the pubs to celebrate his goal and another stride closer to the title. It was a moment when Roberto Mancini had only one piece of advice to his stunned Manchester City players. "Go home and have a drink," Mancini told them.
So much of sport is decided by fine margins, from a tight offside call here, to a great touch there. The thin line between acclaim and blame were seen in Rooney's performance. The United striker had not played well, being largely shackled by Vincent Kompany. The headlines might not have been flattering had he not produced that moment of magic.
Contact. Lift-off. Suddenly, Rooney was being hailed as a combination of Marco van Basten, Denis Law and Dennis Tueart. Suddenly, all that recent criticism of him was forgotten. Suddenly, all United's post-Molineux blues were blown away. By one touch.
The questioning of Rooney this season has been bizarre. He was undeniably poor at the World Cup, clearly distracted by off-field travails and still shaking off his ankle problem. But class will out. The nature of Rooney's contributions has been overlooked this year, critics focusing on his lack of goals for club and country but he was always working for the team, tracking back or creating chances. He's a team player who is capable of individual brilliance.
So as United head towards a 19th title, their frustrated neighbours should reflect that only one touch separated the sides at Old Trafford. City are building, slowly but surely under Mancini. Nobody can deny that.
The Italian was phlegmatic afterwards, praising Rooney's strike as "one of the best goals I have seen in my life" and also lauding his own players for their contribution. Vincent Kompany, Micah Richards, David Silva and Carlos Tevez certainly did not deserve to finish amongst the vanquished.
"I told the players to go home and have a drink," said Mancini. "They should be disappointed by the result, not the performance. We are very close to United now, very close."
As if to emphasise his belief in the neighbours' proximity, Mancini held two fingers narrowly apart. "United are this much ahead of us and ahead of the others. Just by this much. It's very close."
If Mancini can take heart from some of his players' football, particularly when Tevez and Silva were on the ball, he knows City need time to acquire the resilient "mentality" in individuals like Rooney that makes United so indomitable. "United didn't play well in the second half but some players think that if they score a goal they can change a game," said Mancini. "This is the mentality that comes when you have been winning a long time.
"I think we have the character. If we come here and play like this against United then we will be okay. I am very proud of my players and I have told them this."
Mancini's defence has been good this season but were caught out for United's first, allowing Ryan Giggs to release Nani with a brilliant first-time pass. Nani's touch and finish were similarly exceptional but City should have been more alert.
Mancini's side deservedly equalised, Edin Dzeko's shot diverting in off Silva, but there is a defiance to United that means they never give up lightly. Rooney's overhead kick sensationally captured that determination.
"It was a special feeling for the United fans because they deserved that from me," Rooney said. "I've not had the best of seasons and know how big this game is for Manchester United fans, so I hope they enjoyed that.
"There are plenty of big games to come and hopefully I can better that, keep scoring and help us get the title back. We know how to get over that finishing line. We have that experience in the manager and the players."
Rooney dismissed the visitors' talk that United had been fortunate.
"I don't think City were unlucky," added Rooney. "They played okay and moved the ball well at times but didn't really hurt or penetrate us."
Mancini, naturally cautious, really needs to give his No 10 Edin Dzeko a run of starts to build up his partnership with Tevez. "He will be okay," said Mancini. "We have three months of the season left and we will find a solution." Manchester's other No 10 certainly found a solution to settle a game and probably the title race. (© Daily Telegraph, London)