In the end, the result will be meaningless.
Well, to the red half of Manchester anyway.
It was widely acknowledged that Monday night's Manchester Derby between United and City had no significance whatsoever to the title race. United were already 15 points clear and looking to make it 18 and stick the final nail in the coffin of City's title defence. City, on the other hand, were looking to bridge the gap to a more respectable 12 points and avenge the defeat they suffered at the hands of United at the Etihad Stadium earlier in the season.
There was a party atmosphere at Old Trafford. The United fans could sense this could be the night that they have been waiting for since Sergio Aguero's last second goal gave Manchester City the title last season. To do the double over their inner-city rivals and all but guarantee the title returns to them for a record twentieth time. There was no complacency in Manager Sir Alex Ferguson's team selection. The extremely attacking lineup paired Robin Van Persie with Wayne Rooney, with Danny Welbeck, Ashley Young and Ryan Giggs sure to provide them with frequent support. The defense had to be re-shuffled once again due to injury with the talented but raw Phil Jones partnering the outstanding Rio Ferdinand at the centre of United's back line.
City Manager Roberto Mancini knew he had nothing to lose but decided against risking his talisman Sergio Aguero from the outset. Instead he went with former United hero Carlos Tevez, who always receives a hostile welcome back to his former club. Despite their poor form recently this was still an outstanding City side that are full of match-winners such as Yaya Toure and David Silva. They also had the luxury of having absolutely no pressure on them whatsoever as the title is a lost cause and they only had pride to play for.
With those ingredients, it promised to be a pulsating encounter.
The game started as we thought it would, at a frantic pace. The game was very open from the outset with both teams penetrating and creating openings. Danny Welbeck in particular was wasteful of a two-on-one opportunity when he should have put Rooney clear through on goal but instead decided to go it alone and was dispossessed. City then dictated possession for long periods of the first half. There was very little in the way of chances though, instead the half would be remembered for a serious of dangerous looking tackles. Most notably from Vincent Kompany and in particular Wayne Rooney, who was lucky to escape with just a yellow card after a terrible lunging tackle on James Milner.
City had edged the first half but they went in level at the break. They started the second half equally as strong as they finished the first and it wasn't long before they were ahead. Ryan Giggs was caught by Gareth Barry on the ball and he fed Samir Nasri, who in turn fed James Milner who struck a left footed shot past David De Gea via a slight deflection. City were ahead and deservedly so, causing joyous scenes from the 4000 fans that had made the short trip across Manchester.
United have come from behind more than any other team this season by a fair distance and City's goal seemed to galvanise the home side. They began to press City and it wasn't long before they were level. Van Persie whipped in a free kick from the right which eluded everyone and Phil Jones was seemingly left to head into an empty net but he miscued his header away from goal and was very fortunate to see his feeble effort rebound off Kompany and into the net.
United were now expected to grab the game by the scruff of the neck and go on and win the game as they had the momentum. Mancini still had one more ace up his sleeve though and it would prove to be the catalyst in City's victory.
He replaced Samir Nasri after 71 minutes and made an almost instant impact. His goal was sensational, dancing round a series of United defenders before hammering the ball past the lunging Phil Jones and the despairing De Gea. That sent the City fans into raptures and the famous Stretford End into silence.
This was not the storybook ending to the title race United had hoped for.
Despite relentless pressure from United in the closing stages, City held firm and were resolute until the final whistle went and they claimed the bragging rights for at least a couple of weeks with a 2-1 victory. The reaction from the City players after was almost one of relief after the game. They knew the significance of this game, maybe not in the context of the title race, but for their fans. This was a season of high expectation for the City fans and many feel they have been let down by the effort of some of their highly paid stars this season. Their domestic form has simple not been good enough and their Champions League exploits were nothing short of a disaster. The failed to register a win in any of their six group games and even failed to make it into the EUROPA cup. You could tell by the reaction from all concerned that the players owed the fans a performance like this.
Of course, they could still end up with some silverware this season. They are in the F.A Cup Semi Final next weekend against Chelsea that they have a great chance of winning. The players may be saying all the right things, saying they haven't given up the title race yet, but realistically it is long gone. However, if they can take the positives from Monday's performance into their remaining games then a trophy is well within their grasp.
Their returning players played a big part in their success last night and will be key to them finishing the season strongly. We have already spoken of Aguero's class that won it for them, but the reutrn of their Captain has been equally as important. Vincent Kompany was outstanding at the heart of the defence and his ability to read the game is exceptional. He was the best player on the pitch last night and there's no doubt that had he not been injured for the majority of the season then City would be a lot closer than the 12 points they are now. He is one of the best defenders in the World and City must have him fit at all times if they are to mount another title challenge next season.
This is a bad result for United and their fans. Losing a Derby game is always deflating but in a funny sort of way it could be a good thing. When teams are as far ahead as United they have a tendency to become complacent during the latter stages of the season. This defeat should make sure that every player at United doesn't take anything for granted in the title run-in. Let's not forget United were 8 points ahead last year and were caught. Ferguson is adamant that lessons were learnt last season and the same mistakes will not be repeated. This result, although damaging in the short term, should be a good thing in the long-run as any players who may have been taking things for granted will not be doing so anymore.
United have far too much strength in this squad to slip up this time. They have some holes in their defence due to injury but the recent performances of Phil Jones should ensure the team won't suffer too much while the missing parties regain fitness. Jones has come of age in the second half of this season and was tremendous again in this one. Ferguson now seems to trust Jones in big-game environments and even though he is still young he can now be counted on for big performances when it counts. He has been touted as a future England Captain and he looks to have all the attributes to get to that level in the game.
So, City can take heart from this performance but it the long run it will be United's title. This result will sting for a week or so but it will be forgotten in the long run. Ferguson, as always, will have the last laugh as he drives United towards title number 20. His energy for a man his age is staggering and it is infectious to everybody at the club.
City won the battle, but lost the war a long time ago.
Dean Jones: Follow me on Twitter @DeanJones_