A spectacular winner from Wayne Rooney gave United the derby spoils after it looked like a slice of luck would give City something to show for their efforts.
Edin Dzeko’s shot struck the back of the outstanding David Silva to loop past Van der Sar and level the score after Nani’s first half strike saw United go ahead. But a bicycle-kick from the hitherto quiet Rooney put the hosts back ahead, and from this hammer-blow, there was no way back for the Blues.
There were two changes to the side that had so clinically dispatched West Brom a week earlier, both in defence. Micah Richards was back after recovering from the concussion sustained at St Andrews, replacing Jerome Boateng while Joleon Lescott was in for Kolo Toure to partner Vincent Kompany.
Nigel de Jong had trained in the week leading up to the game, but his ankle injury had not recovered enough for Roberto Mancini to risk him, even for this game of games. The experiment of playing Aleksandar Kolarov wide on the left had paid off against Baggies and the Serbian took up the same station this time out.
All in all the starting eleven had a similar look and feel to the one from seven days earlier, but even with United lining up in a similar formation, hopes were high that the season’s second Manchester derby would have something the first did not – namely a goal.
The grey weather gave way to bright skies at kick off, and after making the brighter start City should have been ahead within four minutes. Neat interplay between Yaya Toure and Carlos Tevez gave Silva a great chance but he rolled the ball across the face of goal when it looked easier for the World Cup winner to score.
He shook that disappointing moment off to be at the heart of City’s attacking intentions, moving into plenty of space at times and supplying the reverse passes that have become his trademark. A stinging shot with his left foot struck Evra high up on the arm but Silva’s appeal to Andre Marriner for a penalty were ignored.
The hosts upped the ante as the half wore on, Nani shot just too high from long range, and Joe Hart was finally called into serious action on 34 minutes when he dropped low to block Fletcher’s header.
United’s gradual hold on the game was finally underlined when they took the lead with five minutes to the break. Rooney nodded down a goal kick to Giggs, who found Nani with a deft flick. He eluded Pablo Zabaleta and stayed cool to roll the ball past Joe Hart’s left hand.
Roberto Mancini rang the changes before the hour was up, bringing on Shaun Wright-Phillips and Dzeko as City sought to claw back an equaliser. Silva came close to achieving that at a corner 10 minutes into the second half, drilling a shot through a crowded area straight at Van der Sar.
But the Blues finally did draw level on 65 minutes through their most influential player, and the goal had more than a touch of good luck about it. Wright-Phillips wriggled free to cross from the right, Dzeko shot and the ball hit Silva’s back to completely wrong-foot the United keeper.
However there was nothing lucky about the goal that put United ahead with 12 minutes left. Nani crossed from the right and Rooney, in space in the area but with is back to goal, struck a spectacular overhead kick that Joe Hart could do nothing about it to edge the game in the hosts' favour.
Try as they might, there was no way back for City in the time left.