Only the destination of the Premier League title will once and for all determine the resting place of Mancunian bragging rights in 2012.
United regained some of their self-respect following the 6-1 drubbing at Old Trafford by ending City’s defence of the FA Cup at the first hurdle but it was a huge struggle against a brave and character-filled home side that played a man down for 78 minutes.
Despite a wonderful, pride-bursting second half fight-back this was a tie decided in the first half as the Reds scored three times and the Blues were reduced to ten men when skipper Vincent Kompany was sent off – harshly, if the weight of evidence and opinion is taken into account.
City were by then already a goal down courtesy of a previously under siege United’s first attack of the game.
Wayne Rooney it was who swept the ball to Antonio Valencia who crossed it on the run for Rooney to head home off the underside of the bar.
That was bad enough but within two minutes Kompany had gone for an early shower his participation ended when referee Chris Foy adjudged his tackle on Nani to be dangerous.
For a short time the Blues looked capable of getting back into the match as Anders Lindegaard saved spectacularly from Sergio Aguero.
But it was a gargantuan task against the numerically superior visitors. Welbeck’s volley and then Rooney’s follow up header after his penalty had been saved by Pantilimon put United 3-0 up and seemingly out of sight before half-time.
This was the tie of the round possibly the whole competition and though kick off was 1pm there was almost as much excitement an hour earlier when the teams were announced.
Questions abounded, would Roberto Mancini’s pre-match protestations about not having enough fit players prove part of the mind games that routinely accompany matches against fierce rivals?
How would Alex Ferguson react to a pair of successive league defeats that have left City in clear blue water at the head of the Premier League? Would he ask his biggest names to go to the well for the second time in four days?
There were few surprises in the answers. Mancini picked every attacking option at his disposal but produced a surprise in defence where he picked Costel Pantilimon ahead of Joe Hart.
Fergie, meanwhile, named the recently ‘retired’ Paul Scholes on his bench but otherwise stuck with his first choice line up.
There was no real ebb and flow to the opening few minutes - just a flow towards the United goal - as the two sides snapped and snarled at each other on the pitch whilst those in the seats verbally did the same.
United scored with their first attack and when the second goal went in after half an hour the Blues visibly wilted. A cruel third from the spot ensured referee Foy was booed off at half time having, in the eyes of the home fans, ruined what should have been a titanic tussle. The home crowd were not to know that their side would be so heroic after the interval.
Hope was pumped into City lungs when Aleks Kolarov’s peach of a free kick four minutes after the break made it 1-3 and signs of life were vibrant when Aguero’s close range effort made it 2-3 in the 64th minute United.
Still the odds were stacked against the ten men and despite a valid late penalty claim for City when the ball clearly struck Phil Jones' outstretched arm, so it proved as United saw out a cracking tie by the skin of their teeth.