Vincent Kompany’s header in first-half stoppage time gave City the win that means they have wiped out the eight-point advantage held by United three weeks ago, and move to the summit on goal difference.
City needed the victory while Sir Alex Ferguson knew a draw would suit his purposes more than opposite number Roberto Mancini – and this was reflected in his team selection that saw Wayne Rooney desperately isolated as a lone striker.
In a game of few chances, City were the more positive side and deserved the three points on offer in what had been labelled the biggest game in the Premier League’s 20-year history.
United, in contrast, were passive, poor and lacking inspiration despite the high stakes, failing to get a shot on target as City keeper Joe Hart enjoyed a virtually untroubled night.
And Ferguson’s frustrations boiled over in the closing stages when he angrily confronted Mancini after City substitute Nigel de Jong was booked for fouling Danny Welbeck.
The Italian delighted City’s support by giving the Scot as good as he got – complete with gestures – as they went head-to-head before fourth official Mike Jones stepped in to restore order.
With United dropping eight points out of their last 12, the momentum and advantage is now with City. Mancini knows victory in their last two games, away at Newcastle United and at home to Queens Park Rangers, would give them their first title since 1967-68.
City’s recent resurgence has also proved decisive for their goal difference as they now hold an eight-goal advantage over United and, as referee Andre Marriner sounded the final whistle, their fans joyously celebrated a victory they clearly felt would prove decisive. Manchester City seized control of the Premier League title race on Monday after Vincent Kompany’s first-half header powered them to a 1-0 win over bitter rivals Manchester United.
Kompany headed home from a corner on the stroke of half-time to settle a highly-charged title duel at Eastlands which saw City go top of the table by virtue of their superior goal difference.
The victory means that wins over Newcastle and Queens Park Rangers in their remaining games will almost certainly see City claim their first league crown in 44 years while United would finish the season without a trophy. That early scare aside it was largely all City, although United’s defence were rarely troubled as the home side struggled to find their passing rhythm.
Samir Nasri brought the Eastlands crowd to their feet with a jinking run on 16 minutes which took him beyond the United defence before the France international played in Carlos Tevez, whose cutback was cleared by Phil Jones.
The fractious mood of the evening was reflected at Ferguson’s angry reaction after Kompany was booked for a clumsy challenge that poleaxed Rooney.
On 25 minutes Sergio Aguero nearly gave his watching father-in-law Diego Maradona something to cheer about only for his volley from Joleon Lescott’s flick-on to sail over the crossbar.
The diminutive Argentinian attacker was off-target 10 minutes later, miscuing his shot wide after good work down the right once more from Nasri as City ramped up the pressure.
The moments before half-time marked City’s best spell of the match, with David De Gea needing to be alert to intercept a menacing cross from Gael Clichy before Tevez produced one surging run from inside his own half that had United scrambling back to cover.
Yet just when it looked as if United had survived the late onslaught, City went ahead. David Silva curled in a corner from the right and Kompany leapt above Chris Smalling to power an unstoppable header past De Gea.
The second half saw City again control possession, and they went close to scoring with late chances from Gael Clichy, Nasri and Aguero.
United meanwhile struggled to create any chances of note, their attempts to get back in the game foundering on a superb defensive effort from City, with Kompany and Lescott unyielding throughout.