Noisy neighbours tear down the walls
Roberto Mancini confronted Sir Alex Ferguson while he was standing up, then Liam Gallagher kicked him when he was down. A night in the company of the noisy neighbours was a lonely place for Manchester United's manager.
And how noisy those neighbours were at 9.56pm when referee Andre Marriner's final whistle was drowned out by the deafening delight of Manchester City supporters celebrating victory in the biggest game in 20 years of the Premier League.
It was the sound of Ferguson's worst nightmare moving closer to reality - namely United being denied a 20th title by the rivals he has kept down at heel for pretty much all of his 25 years-plus at Old Trafford.
Now it has all come down to this. Two games left, City on top with a superior goal difference. The sense around an ecstatic Etihad was that they could almost reach out and touch the title and yet it could still stay tantalisingly out of reach.
This was, however, a victory for positive intent and the team that wanted to win. So often this team has been Manchester United - not on Monday as a desperately poor and passive United went quietly to defeat.
And what a miserable night this was for Ferguson almost from the moment he handed in a team sheet that hinted at a departure from his natural instincts.
The Scot insisted he has never played for a draw in his life but his selection looked set out for containment and a game without a United shot on target for the first time in three years told you the rest.
Wayne Rooney was deployed in a lone striker's role to his increasing frustration. Ji-Sung Park was brought out of cold storage to no effect in a selection gamble that failed miserably, as midfield was dominated by the magnificent Yaya Toure and Gareth Barry.
Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes looked and felt their advancing years as the game progressed and Nani did nothing to justify his inclusion ahead of Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young. It does not happen often, but Ferguson's team selection was mistaken.
Even Kompany's winning goal was a defensive mess for United. David Silva's corner was missed by Chris Smalling and goalkeeper David de Gea's movement was pinned in by the presence of Carlos Tevez, allowing the City captain to rise and head home.
Roberto Mancini was ready for Alex Ferguson's unexpected outburst. Photo: PA
As if this was not chastening enough, Ferguson was slapped down by Mancini in the middle of an unedifying confrontation late on when United's manager at least showed some of the passion and fight lacking in his players.
Ferguson marched ominously towards Mancini after City substitute Nigel de Jong fouled Danny Welbeck, the old streetfighter ready to put his opposite number in his place. Instead he was met en route by the equally fired up Mancini, giving not an inch and gesturing to Ferguson that he had too much to say for himself.
It took City coach David Platt and fourth official Mike Jones to restore a semblance of order, but Mancini's willingness to take Ferguson on earned him a standing ovation from some of his own fans, revelling in his discomfort by chanting: "Fergie's Cracking Up."
Ferguson - and he will get little sympathy around the Premier League on this one - claimed Mancini had been influencing the officials from the sidelines in a statement that brought a sarcastic rejoinder from the Italian in his press conference.
Mancini then applied the knife further by insisting City deserved the victory that will almost certainly give them their first title since 1967/68 if they win at Newcastle and beat QPR at home because they played to get three points while United went for the one that would have suited them.
This will cut Ferguson deeply as it effectively accuses him of betraying his fiercest football principles but the evidence here supported Mancini.
Could it be that Ferguson was so concerned by City's attacking strength, perhaps remembering the 6-1 beating at Old Trafford, that he embraced a word he hates in all its forms? Conservatism.
For one final insult to injury, Oasis star Gallagher then took Mancini's place in an unscheduled press briefing with the opener "top of the league - how about that?" before he was joined by City match-winner Kompany, greeted with a cry of "Vive La Belgium."
Following a few barbs in the beaten Ferguson's direction and more praise for Mancini - "I love him. He's nearly as cool as me" - the rock star, clad in sunglasses at gone 11pm, was away with farewell handshakes and the message: "City are back mate."
To back up that boast City must win these last two games and, even in the after-glow of victory, some supporters were returning to the old days of dark humour to insist their side can still turn glory into grief in the next 180 minutes.
Mancini played his now familiar game of still painting United as title favourites, but few were listening. City now have the destiny of the title in their own hands, a remarkable turnaround from the feelings of despair and an eight-point deficit that accompanied them on their journey away from defeat at Arsenal in early April.
For United, the tables have been turned and a seemingly impregnable advantage cast aside in the space of four games, including defeats to Wigan and City, and what looks like an increasingly damaging 4-4 draw against Everton at Old Trafford.
In a game that contained few surprises, United provided most of them - and none of them pleasant ones.
Ferguson has always prided himself on never taking a backward step but here he did and so did his team. It is easy to be wise after the defeat, but eyebrows were instantly raised at a team-sheet lacking Welbeck and Valencia, who have excelled recently.
Perhaps the knowledge that a draw would be a workable result for United preyed on Ferguson's mind. Was there even an element of fear in his planning? For a Ferguson side not to muster a shot on target armed with the knowledge victory would more or less secure the title illustrates the scale of their under-performance.
The trademark late charge never came as United were almost timid, a startling sight in a match when even local pride took second billing to the possibility of the title being decided.
Even amid the high tension of the closing stages City football development executive Patrick Vieira - providing a live running commentary via Twitter - tweeted: "Five minutes to go and City are controlling the game. I am not worried at all."
City were stronger, with Kompany and Joleon Lescott coping comfortably with the stranded Rooney, and operated with the intensity that mirrored the importance of the occasion, played out in a thunderous atmosphere from first to last.
The old adages in Manchester tell the tales of how City can find a cock-up in the most promising of scenarios, while United have the powers of recovery to extract themselves from any adversity they find themselves in.
We shall find out just how true this is over the next two rounds of Premier League games. Only a fool writes off United, and this season seems almost destined to provide twists until its conclusion.
On Monday, however, as hero Kompany signed autographs for elated supporters with the clock ticking towards midnight, it was advantage Manchester City.