Tevez wakes up with the neighbours
Evidently exhausted, bedraggled and beaten, his hair soaked in sweat, Carlos Tevez made his way wearily from the Old Trafford turf he knows so well. Upstaged by his successor, Michael Owen, at the last and overshadowed by a fitter, faster forward, Craig Bellamy, who scored a superlative brace, the Argentine had nonetheless provided a demonstration of character.
Cruelly, it was in vain. The battle for supremacy in Manchester was determined in the 96th minute by Owen, who cost at least £25 million less - and the difference is rather greater if Sir Alex Ferguson is to be believed - than Tevez would have done.
Yet what preceded that was quintessential Tevez, an example of the brand of commitment that endears him to supporters. Times have changed since the last Manchester derby, though the chorus remains the same. Then the chants of "Fergie, sign him up," were imploring. Now it is a taunt from the Manchester City fans.
As both halves of Manchester were encouraged to "back the bid" to bring the 2018 World Cup to both its stadia, this was a city divided by Tevez. Aptly, Joy Division's Mancunian epic "Love Will Tear Us Apart" was played on the PA. If Ferguson is to be believed, Kia Joorabchian tore Tevez from the supporters who adored him. The subsequent divorce cost untold millions, albeit to City and not United, as Tevez moved in with the neighbours. Or, as Ferguson subsequently deemed them, "the noisy neighbours."
His return to Old Trafford served as a reminder to United of what they lost. He provided one goal, played a part in a second and almost scored another in a match he was expected to miss, but ultimately influenced. There is the sense that, despite the size of the weekly pay cheque, there are plenty of others who would have delayed their recovery until after the derby. Not Tevez. Patched up and picked, he shrugged off a knee problem.
Tevez's prediction that he would get a good reception was unsurprisingly incorrect. A resounding boo greeted the announcement of his presence in the City side. After a quarter of an hour, trademark Tevez harrying had enabled his side to equalise. It has long been apparent he is a man who has never heard of the notion of a lost cause. That much was apparent when Joleon Lescott's hopeful long pass appeared destined for Ben Foster. Tevez followed a dogged pursuit with a clean tackle on the United goalkeeper. He then laid the ball back to Gareth Barry, who placed it past Nemanja Vidic. Foster had been warned: Tevez had charged down a clearance from him in the first 75 seconds.
Tevez had struck in spectacular style in the previous Manchester derby. This time he was narrowly denied the chance to run towards the touchline this time, hands cupped towards the directors' box. When Kolo Toure strode forward authoritatively, found Stephen Ireland, who diverted the ball into Tevez's path. The Argentine beat Foster but hit the post.
He had a role, too, in City's second equaliser, though the credit belongs to Bellamy, who took his pass and unleashed an awesome shot. While the heart remained willing, the legs were rather less so for Tevez on the rest of his comeback.
It was a reason why United ultimately prevailed. Others included a wonderful display by Ryan Giggs, involved in all four goals and creator of the last three, the stamina and purpose of Darren Fletcher, who headed a brace and Owen, the specialist finisher who nervelessly performed his task.
When Giggs found him with a weighted pass, Owen found the far corner of the goal. "There's no one better with these kind of chances," said Ferguson. "His positional play, his first touch and his first finish were absolutely magnificent, world class.
"It's probably the greatest derby game of all time." That was one of Ferguson's more uncontroversial statements. "We could have won by six or seven today. We made three horrendous mistakes and it kept them in the game."
The third of those mistakes came in the 90th minute when Rio Ferdinand, for reasons best known to himself, tried a casual chip forward with a free kick. It went straight to Martin Petrov, who found Bellamy. The Welshman sped along the touchline before finishing from an acute angle. "Craig has scored two goals that he will never better in the rest of his career," said Hughes.
United's first three all came from their left flank. After Giggs' quick throw, Patrice Evra found Wayne Rooney for the first. Then two Giggs crosses were met by identikit headers from the advancing and outstanding Fletcher.
Each time, City came back. Those noisy neighbours, to use Ferguson's phrase, were only silenced by Owen, when the Manchester United manager was practically dancing on the pitch and the supporters who began barracking Tevez ended up celebrating his cut-price replacement.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Ryan Giggs - In a match that contained so many candidates - Fletcher, Bellamy, the brilliant Shay Given - the Welshman's impact was remarkable. Giggs' 30th Manchester derby may just have been his best.
MANCHESTER UNITED VERDICT: Ferguson's midfield experiments continue. Giggs and Fletcher were terrific, but the other two places are still up for grabs. Ji-sung Park, a fringe player this season, started but was wasteful in possession, while the choice of Anderson in his stead shows that Michael Carrick has gone down in his manager's estimation.
MANCHESTER CITY VERDICT: There are plenty of positives, even if the scoreline was not one of them. Bellamy illustrated why Hughes was so keen to sign him, while Nigel de Jong provided an efficient display as the anchor midfielder. On the debit side, Micah Richards was troubled by Giggs. There may be a case for recalling Pablo Zabaleta.
FAULTY FOSTER: Errors this season have cast Ben Foster's place as the future of English and Manchester United goalkeeping at doubt. After being criticised by Ferguson for Andrey Arshavin's strike for Arsenal, he was badly at fault for both City's first and third goals. Peter Schmeichel, for one, believes Edwin van der Sar should return when fit.
ON THE CLOCK: Hughes and City wondered why referee Martin Atkinson opted for seven minutes of extra time when four was signalled. Ferguson felt that much of the added time was caused by City's celebrations of Bellamy's second goal. Either way, it was a decision to divide Manchester.