City finally waved goodbye to this season’s unbeaten record and their long home run without defeat.
But what a fight they put up battling back from a two-goal deficit only to cruelly lose in injury time.
Wayne Rooney was the derby tormentor-in-chief scoring twice in the opening half after the champions had begun well in pursuit of a third straight league win over their neighbours.
A quarter of an hour dominating the ball came to nought for the home side and they were punished in United’s first attack as Rooney wrong-footed the home rearguard and Joe Hart to open the scoring.
The Blues lost skipper Vincent Kompany to an early injury and then went two down when Rooney again lost his markers and finished with aplomb.
All the hype and mind games that have preceded this annual Etihad Stadium contest have rarely led to an edifying spectacle on it but this was an exception.
Yes last season’s 1-0 win over the Reds courtesy of Vincent Kompany’s winner in the shadow of half-time was pivotal in the Blues capture of that long yearned for English title but that was the only City goal in the previous five league meetings at City’s home.
United hadn’t managed more than one goal in that quintet of meetings either. City home derbies had not been one of the connoisseur or for those people attempting to maintain long nails or keep grey hairs at bay!
Whilst the recent batch of home EPL derbies has been short on goalmouth excitement they have never lacked tension or tactical interest. Both sides have often looked not to lose first and to hit the all-out attack button only in desperation.
This contest was hugely different. Two well-matched heavyweights slugged it out to be top team in their town and their country. Attack and counter-attack ebbed and flowed as did the supremacy over the hour and a half.
City held sway for a while but once they scored United had the upper hand. Momentum swayed briefly back the Blues’ way when Carlos Tevez was introduced as a second half substitute.
All over the pitch, muscles were flexed and sinews stretched. No quarter was asked or given. Gamblers’ instincts and new tricks were left in the dressing room.
This was football in its most raw form played out in an atmosphere akin to that of the Coliseum in Rome. It was feral at times and heart-pounding in front of a crowd that – metaphorically at least – was baying for blood.
That mood was even more prevalent in the second half when City chased something, anything, from the game.
Earlier all eyes and ears were focussed on team news whispers. Had Messrs Mancini and Ferguson been playing games with their injury reports? Well the answer came an hour before kick off when the official sheets were handed in.
They showed that David Silva, Yaya Toure and Gael Clichy – all missing from the joyless Champions League trip to Dortmund in midweek were recalled for the Blues whilst United fielded Antonio Valencia who had apparently been ‘ruled out’ earlier in the week!
The surprise, if it was one, in Mancini’s line up was Mario Balotelli starting in preference to Tevez. They swapped places in the second half and for a while it looked like City might regain a toehold in the match.
It was Tevez’s drive that led to the City goal on the hour; a beautifully stroked effort after De Gea had saved from the Argentine and David Silva and when the tireless, peerless Pablo Zabaleta drove home a late equaliser it looked like a draw and fair result.
However, United had the final word and City are now six points adrift at the summit - but we have been here before and with a lot fewer games left to play!