MANCHESTER: Manchester City regained the Premier League lead with crucial timing after a headed goal from skipper Vincent Kompany in first-half stoppage time beat champions United 1-0, deservedly.

United manager  Sir Alex Ferguson had defined this derby as the biggest of his 25 years in English football  but it turned City’s way when Kompany was allowed to power into the penalty box and score with a close-range ‘free’ header to a right-wing corner from David Silva.

The goal was seen by a reported  600m people in more than 200  countries around the world and by an Eastlands crowd including UEFA president Michel Platini and Diego Maradona, father-in-law of City’s Sergio Aguero. City pulled level on points with United but victory meant an eight-goal advantage for City over United in terms of goal difference.

The title race will probably now go to the last day of the season. United go to Swansea on Sunday then finish against Sunderland: City go to Newcastle at the weekend then finish at home to QPR.

Kompany said later: “The chairman said to us before the game that whatever he was proud of us so to get this is a bonus but we wanted it so badly. It all comes back to the dreams we have all had as  children.”

Ferguson had picked what may be characterised with hindsight as a mistakenly cautious line-up with South Korean Park Ji-sung recalled in midfield and both veterans Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs starting; City manager Roberto Mancini started United ‘old boy’ Carlos Tevez with unpredictable Mario Balotelli on the substitutes’ bench.

The opening exchanges were neat, even and tight. It took two half-chances, which proved beyond even Aguero’s finishing talents, before the game increased in pace and intensity.

Just as it appeared United had reached half-time safely so Kompany, booked earlier for an apparently innocuous challenge on Wayne Rooney, headed City in front with perfect timing.

United tried to raise the tempo at the start of the second half but Wayne Rooney lacked support in the centre of attack. His frustration was evident in his complaining petulance to referee Andre Marriner.

Ferguson reacted by bringing on Danny Welbeck up front in place of Park, freeing Rooney to drop deeper in pursuit of space in which to work. But it was City who maintained their attacking momentum.

De Gea jabbed out a leg to deflect  – fortuitously – a low cross-shot from Yaya Toure before City manager Roberto Mancini pulled another tactical masterstroke in replacing the tiring Tevez with defensive midfielder Nigel De Jong.

That switch offered Toure more attacking freedom. He tormented United in all areas of the pitch and was only inches wide with an angled drive from just outside the penalty box as tension erupted off the pitch  with a confrontation between Ferguson and Mancini across the frontiers of their technical areas.

City sent on Micah Richards to add fresh legs to the containment exercise as a response to United’s belated introduction of wingers Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young. But it was City who powered back  and De Gea was forced  into another fine save, this time from a low drive from raiding Gael Clichy.

Referee Andre Marriner signalled five minutes of stoppage time but United could not capitalise. Rooney had a rare shot charged down . . . and it was all over for United for the night and, perhaps, for the season.

Man City: Hart – Zabaleta, Lescott, Kompany, Clichy – Barry, Yaya Toure – Silva (Richards 82), Tevez (De Jong 66), Nasri – Aguero.

Man Utd: De Gea – Jones, Ferdinand, Smalling, Evra – Carrick, Scholes (Valencia 77) – Nani (Young 82), Giggs, Park (Welbeck 57)  – Rooney.

Referee: A  Marriner.

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