The last time Manchester City lost a Premier League game at home, it was December 2010 and Wayne Rooney was a frustrated Manchester United player who had only recently put to bed the notion of swapping red for blue.
Two years later, Rooney and his prolific new sidekick, Robin van Persie, took down the team both might have joined and opened a six-point gap at the top of the table. It finished 3-2 at the Etihad and with Rio Ferdinand bloodied from an object thrown from the crowd.
City's rousing fight back from 2-0 to 2-2 was in vain. Their remarkable league run at the Etihad is over, and the club's reputation may yet be damaged by the behaviour of their fans. Factor in their miserable exit from Europe in midweek, and you can only assume Rooney and Van Persie will leave the scene of their latest heroics feeling certain they made the right choice.
The 164th Manchester derby started with 15 minutes of City in control and showing little sign of a hangover from their loss to Borussia Dortmund. The returning David Silva appeared intent to make up for his absence, and the Spaniard was involved as Mario Balotelli blasted a shot over from a good position early on.
Then, in a blur of red on the counter-attack, United struck. Van Persie's clever flick released Ashley Young, who ate up the left flank and played in Rooney to drag a shot through a defender's legs and into the bottom corner.
Rooney's strike was not the cleanest, but the disguise of his finish did for Joe Hart in the City goal, who stood still as the ball trickled its way into the bottom corner.
With United ahead, the complexion of the game changed completely. City's cause was not helped by an injury to their captain, Vincent Kompany, who was curiously replaced by Kolo Toure while Joleon Lescott sat still in the dugout.
Roberto Mancini's decision to start Balotelli ahead of Carlos Tevez seemed a strange one, and as the first half progressed, City looked a disjointed force with little width and a distinct lack of fluency between midfield and attack.
United were the opposite, and their wing play tolled for a second time on 29 minutes. This time, it was the work of Antonio Valencia and Rafael on the right that led to a chance for Rooney. And this time, United's No. 10 stroked his shot cleanly into the same corner, becoming the youngest player to reach 150 Premier League goals in the process.
Sir Alex Ferguson's face lit up with joy on the sideline. Mancini's was like thunder.
And that's how things remained until the hour-mark, when City got themselves back in the game with a well-taken goal from Yaya Toure. By that time, Balotelli had been replaced by Tevez, and Mancini's men were beginning to assert themselves and take control.
That said, just seconds before Toure struck, United were denied a goal for offside when replays show Young's effort should have counted.
City survived, and it was they who took the momentum into the remainder of the second half. First, Samir Nasri was denied by David de Gea, and then—with four minutes left on the clock—Pablo Zabaleta drove home to bring City level and prompted thoughts of that most familiar of Manchester events, the dramatic comeback victory.
But just when it looked like City would end the game with at least a point, Van Persie stepped up and curled a deflected free kick past Hart from 20 yards to earn United all three points and send bragging rights back with the visiting fans in red.
It was amid the celebrations that Ferdinand appeared to be struck by an object from the crowd, a sorry end to a frantic and wildly entertaining Manchester derby that will heap the pressure on Mancini and leave Ferguson feeling like the noisy neighbours have been hushed for now.
City deserve credit for their second-half spirit, but it was United's star pairing who made the difference on Sunday. It could have been very different if both had chosen blue over red.
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