The English Premier League did not crown a new champion Monday night, but it sure felt like it.
Manchester City's 1-0 triumph over Manchester United could not have been sweeter for the blue half of this city and took the club to within touching distance of a title that would soothe the pain of decades of suffering in the shadows.
Vincent Kompany's headed goal in the waning moments of the first half was the difference, but this was the night that City stood tall and dominated a showdown billed as the most important clash in EPL history.
Anything other than a City win would have effectively handed the crown to United, which went into the game three points clear. Now, with the teams level at the top, City's superior goal difference means that it will almost certainly become champion if it can get past Newcastle and Queens Park Rangers in its final two games.
[Slideshow: Manchester City edges Manchester United]
The celebrations at the Etihad Stadium spoke volumes for the belief that this is City's time. For all the money lavished by its Arabian owners on building a strong team, it looked for the past several weeks like United's experience and mental strength would win out.
Instead, this was City's night, holding its nerve, controlling possession and out-thinking and out-battling United. At the end, tens of thousands of blue-clad fanatics, plus celebrity additions such as Oasis rockers Noel and Liam Gallagher and soccer legend Diego Maradona – father-in-law of City striker Sergio Aguero – laughed and sang and cheered with delight.
"It is a massive result, you could feel the pressure and the tension, and it was fantastic to get the job done," said City midfielder Gareth Barry. "We stopped them from creating and that is where the result came from.
"We can't just think this is it but the confidence is high and we are in the driving seat now. We have our heads high and we will all enjoy this."
Who would have thought that United would be so toothless in a contest where it effectively could have wrapped up yet another trophy? Who would have thought manager Sir Alex Ferguson would have been so devoid of ideas? Who could have fathomed that despite their advancing years, warhorses Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs would have had such little impact?
More than anything, though, the most notable part of all this was that Roberto Mancini got the better of Ferguson, the legendary coach who has built not only a legacy but also turned United into an iconic international brand.
City had all the answers, set up by a dominant midfield unit that hustled and rushed and both attacked with intent and, when necessary, retreated with pace and tenacity. Yaya Toure, who scored the winner against United in last season's FA Cup semifinal, was back to his domineering best, while the forward trio of Carlos Tevez, Aguero and Samir Nasri gave United more than it could handle.
How fitting, though, that the goal came from the head of Kompany, whose contributions in defense have been so valuable since he joined the club in 2008 – around the same time the Arabian investment group took over and began to spend hundreds of millions on fresh talent.
Kompany cost a relatively paltry $10 million, at least compared to some of City's other stars, but his goal was worth more to City and its fans than any amount of money could quantify. It came at the end of a tight first half, with Kompany jumping above defender Chris Smalling to head a corner from the right into the net.
United was shaken by it and was not the same team after the break, finding itself overrun and lacking in belief. The usually unflappable Ferguson lost his cool and became embroiled in a ferocious shouting match with his opposite number Roberto Mancini when Nigel De Jong fouled Danny Welbeck.
[Related: Man City closes in on Premier League crown]
Some choice words were exchanged, but for all Ferguson's mind games over the course of the campaign, he was found wanting here. Mancini meanwhile, relishing it all and loved getting the upper hand.
How incredible that it was all reversed a few weeks ago. City had burst into an early lead in the season, helped by a swashbuckling 6-1 destruction at Old Trafford in the opening weeks. When the tide turned at the midpoint of the campaign, though, it seemed City's mental spirit was questioned as it suffered five critical defeats on the road.
But this was the night that mattered and even though the title race may still have a final twist, the momentum now firmly in the City camp should be enough to see them over the line. This had the aura of a championship decider in every way.
For so often derided and forgotten, City has emerged from the darkness. Those "noisy neighbors," as they were derided by Ferguson, made plenty of noise here and look to have changed the destiny of a season.
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