MANCHESTER // Manchester City had already lost the war but at least they have won the battle they prized most. A second successive victory at Old Trafford is theirs with Sergio Aguero, the man who denied Manchester United the title last season, turning their tormentor again with an exquisite decider.
It may prove a pyrrhic victory for City, who still trail United by 12 points, as Roberto Mancini has conceded defeat in the title race but it was a historically significant one nonetheless. Not since their glory days four decades ago had they recorded back-to-back wins at Old Trafford. Now they have and Mancini finds himself in illustrious company alongside Joe Mercer, the architect of past triumphs.
This was nothing like as spectacular as last season's 6-1 demolition of United but City are entitled to feel satisfied. They played the more fluent football and took the lead through James Milner. Though it was cancelled out by Vincent Kompany's own goal, Aguero emerged from the bench to turn match-winner in spectacular style.
They join Tottenham as the only visitors to collect three points at Old Trafford this season. Indeed, United had won their previous 12 home league games and, missing three injured centre-backs, in Nemanja Vidic, Jonny Evans and Chris Smalling, fielded a particularly attack-minded side with Phil Jones reverting to defence.
Often quiet, Old Trafford was at its loudest. There was plenty for the rival sets of supporters to sing about as the game began at a ferocious pace, both teams eager to make a statement of intent. Ryan Giggs set the tone with a crunching challenge on Carlos Tevez, Milner tested David de Gea with a stinging drive and Robin van Persie angled a low shot past both Joe Hart and his far post.
The Dutchman had decided December's Manchester derby. Then he was in the middle of a six-month scoring spree. Now he is in an unusual drought, which reached the 10-hour mark in the opening minutes. Ferguson had denied his top scorer needed a rest and Van Persie certainly looked sharp.
So, too, did Jones, slotting in seamlessly at the back. One perfectly-timed tackle on Tevez, as the Argentine hoped to convert David Silva's cross, was especially important. While the former United striker was alone up front, City used their five-man midfield to give them possession and a platform to attack.
United, outnumbered in that department, looked to compensate by flooding men forward on the counter-attack whenever they had the chance. That even extended to the full-backs with Rafael da Silva almost breaking the deadlock on the stroke of half time. When Van Persie flicked Michael Carrick's chip into his path, the Brazilian hooked a shot on to the angle of post and bar.
Reprieved, City duly capitalised five minutes into the second half. Giggs, on City's books a quarter of a century ago, belatedly helped the club that let him slip through their grasp. With a casual backheel, he conceded possession to Gareth Barry. The Englishman advanced and picked out Samir Nasri, who teed up Milner for a shot. As Jones and Carrick slid in, the latter got the telling deflection to take the ball beyond De Gea.
If Milner, brought in for Edin Dzeko, was selected in part because of his excellence in last season's 6-1 win at Old Trafford, he provided another crucial contribution on enemy territory. Yet parity was soon restored. Van Persie delivered a free kick, Jones evaded Kompany and, although his header was not goalbound, it bounced in off the City captain's back.
Initially, United came the closer to a winner with Danny Welbeck testing Hart with a header and the goalkeeper holding Ashley Young's skimming shot. Then, however, Aguero intervened, sprinting past Jones and Welbeck and lifting a shot into the roof of the net.
A theme of United's season has been comebacks but the knack has deserted them of late. As against Real Madrid and Chelsea, they struggled to respond after falling behind.
Sir Alex Ferguson sent for both Javier Hernandez and then Shinji Kagawa but there was no equaliser.
City had conquered fortress Old Trafford again.
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