'Tevez remains a player who can change a game'
At Etihad Stadium
Roberto Mancini knew exactly what time it was as Manchester City stared into the face of a four-point deficit at the top of the Premier League. He lifted from the language of Sir Alex Ferguson to admit "it was squeaky bum time".
It was also time for an old feud to be forgotten. It was time for pragmatism to overcome what many regarded as the unpalatable. It was time for Carlos Tevez.
Gary Cahill's deflected goal on the hour gave Chelsea a lead they did not deserve and brought the frustration and anxiety that had been bubbling under at the Etihad to the surface. Manchester City faced the biggest pressure point of their season so far.
Mancini turned to Tevez, back as a substitute and £9.3m lighter in his wallet since it was claimed he refused to warm up in the Champions League defeat against Bayern Munich in Germany, and waved the Argentine into action.
Unlike that September night in the Allianz Arena, there was no communication breakdown or alleged insubordination. Six minutes later Tevez was on the touchline to replace Nigel de Jong, sent on with a pat on the back from the manager who had washed his hands of him not so long ago.
Tevez's reception was mixed and City's supporters swiftly turned to chants in support of Mancini, almost in a public expression of where their true loyalties lay. It was now up to Tevez to win over more hearts and minds.
Carlos Tevez helped set up Samir Nasri's late winner for Manchester City. Photo: AP
And so he did with a cameo that justified Mancini's willingness to forgive and forget, even if it is temporarily as a means to justify the end of winning the title, and suggested he may still exert significant impact on a season tainted with acrimony.
The stage was set after Sergio Aguero equalised from the spot, leaving Tevez playing his part with five minutes left. Showing composure and the awareness of time and space in a heavily-populated penalty area that is a gift of the most talented, Tevez slipped a neat reverse pass into the path of the outstanding Samir Nasri for City's winner.
Mancini pumped his fists in triumph as the Etihad erupted. It gave City a victory that closed the gap on United back to a single point. The Italian had set aside any lingering differences he may have with Tevez for what he regarded as the greater good of the team and had been rewarded.
And Mancini is wise enough to know that those supporters who jeered Tevez can have their feelings altered if he produces defining moments. No jeering was heard at the final whistle here. There were tears in defeat at Swansea's Liberty Stadium - not here.
How this previously fractured relationship holds together for the last nine games of the season remains to be seen, but here it was an obvious force for good.
Tevez may still need to shed a few pounds in the coming weeks but he remains a player who can change a game, a player opponents know can hurt them. This is what Mancini was counting on when he finally decided to recall him to the colours.
This was not simply a night for Tevez's rehabilitation. It was a night that should restore any self-belief City may have lost after defeat to Swansea City and the exit over two legs to Sporting Lisbon in the Europa League.
City's supporters, in large part, stuck with their team but nerves have been frayed by recent faltering, resulting in even the normally untouchable David Silva feeling the rough edge of their tongues after a fluffed first-half corner.
And if City's players had any fears that a first title since 1967-68 was inexorably slipping away with Cahill's scrappy goal - complete with a nudge from David Luiz on Gareth Barry in the build-up - they were overcome.
Instead of cracking under the strain, instead of listening to the growing whispers that they were choking under pressure, City responded with character to push Chelsea back and claim a vital three points to offer up evidence that they are still a side with the ability to push the title race right to the final hurdle.
Mancini alluded to the long-term benefits accrued by the manner of this win when he said: "It is more than three points from this game. We took the points but it is more than that. It is important for what happens to us after this victory."
City still trail United by a point but Mancini will be delighted that they remain masters of their own destiny with Sir Alex Ferguson's side still to visit the Etihad - although the run-in looks kinder to the reigning champions than their pursuers.
Tevez's return will not have sat easily with many after the turbulence of the last six months, but Mancini was prepared to see the wider context.
It was a context that came into even sharper focus with the decline in Edin Dzeko's form and the vagaries of Mario Balotelli, who was substituted at half-time against Chelsea. Mancini simply explained afterwards: "I did not like how he played."
As Tevez continues a fitness regime, it is easy to see Mancini relying on an all-Argentine strike force with Aguero in the coming weeks. A powerful weapon and potent threat has been restored for City.
The pass that fashioned the winning goal was a very small step on Tevez's road to redemption in the eyes of many City supporters - but even those who are not easily willing to forgive or forget events of the past will agree it was a good starting point.