Wayne Rooney scored a sensational goal to seal a 2-1 victory over Manchester City and keep Manchester United on track for another Premier League title.
Questions had been raised about whether the Red Devils might struggle to bounce back from their first Premier League defeat of the season at the hands of Wolves last weekend.
However, Rooney ensured that United extended their advantage over City to eight points, having played a game less, with a sublime strike 12 minutes from time.
The striker has struggled all season but showed in one magical moment that he remains a world-class performer, as he took to the air to blast an unstoppable overhead volley past Joe Hart.
United had earlier been pegged back to 1-1 by David Silva’s fortunate finish after Nani had opened the scoring in the 41st minute.
Fears that the 144th league derby could follow a similar pattern to the 143rd, a dire goalless draw at Eastlands in November, were not helped when the team news broke before kick-off and both managers had selected 4-5-1 formations, with big-money strikers Dimitar Berbatov and Edin Dzeko left on the bench.
However, both sides also had key defensive players missing as holding midfielder Nigel de Jong was ruled out for City with an ankle injury and Rio Ferdinand’s absence in the heart of United’s back four presented Chris Smalling with an opportunity to start alongside Nemanja Vidic.
Poor defending was not to blame for the first chance of the match, though, as a wonderfully slick passing exchange involving Yaya Toure, Carlos Tevez and Silva culminated in the Spaniard making a clever run into the box to find himself one-on-one with Edwin van der Sar, only to poke narrowly wide.
Only four minutes had passed but it was already clear that City had arrived at Old Trafford with a more positive mindset than United might have expected, always looking to get forward quickly but retaining possession impressively for long spells when this was not possible.
Not that it was all one-way traffic in the early stages, as Ryan Giggs and Nani buzzed with vibrancy and Rooney displayed all his customary enthusiasm in a bid to prove that Sir Alex Ferguson was right to start with him over Berbatov.
Nani twice tried his luck with rasping drives from outside the area that flew over the crossbar, while he also delivered an inviting cross from the right after effortlessly gliding past Pablo Zabaleta that just evaded his team-mates.
Hart was worked for the first time when Giggs swung over a left-wing cross that Darren Fletcher headed straight at him, before making another routine save from Nani’s deflected long-range effort.
At the other end it was turning out to be a frustratingly quiet first half for former United star Tevez, whose every mistake was greeted by cheers from the Old Trafford faithful, but the movement of Silva was causing plenty of problems.
Having released Toure for a potentially dangerous cross-cum-shot that was blocked by Vidic, Silva later saw an appeal for a penalty turned down when his powerful strike crashed into the midriff of Patrice Evra and referee Andre Marriner correctly ruled that it was not handball.
Moments later the deadlock had been broken with a goal of simple efficiency, as Rooney flicked on a long ball and Giggs’ first-time pass was expertly controlled by Nani, who slotted his finish past Hart to put United in front.
Confidence coursed through United for the remaining four minutes of the first half but City survived until the interval without suffering any further damage, with Marriner waving away shouts for a spot-kick after Anderson went down under a challenge from Gareth Barry.
An uneventful start to the second half prompted Roberto Mancini to make his first change after 53 minutes, bringing on Shaun Wright-Phillips for Aleksandar Kolarov, who had been ineffectual on the left wing.
United withstood an aerial bombardment as City failed to make the most of a series of corners, before Silva shot straight at Van der Sar after skilfully creating space for himself on the edge of the box.
Vincent Kompany denied Rooney a shooting chance with a perfectly timed tackle but undid his good work by giving the ball away to Nani, although the Portuguese winger could only drag his effort wide.
James Milner appeared to pick up a knock on the hour mark and was withdrawn to make room for Dzeko, who was to play a vital role in City’s equaliser just minutes later.
Wright-Phillips sent in a low cross from the right on 65 minutes and Dzeko connected forcefully with a shot that slammed against Silva’s back and took a wicked deflection to deceive Van der Sar and bring City level.
United responded by introducing leading scorer Berbatov and the game began to fluctuate from end to end in thrilling fashion as both sides went in search of a winner.
It was Rooney who made the decisive contribution, though, with a magnificent goal after 78 minutes.
The England striker’s touch had not looked particularly sure all afternoon but he demonstrated the perfect technique to leap high and swivel to meet Nani’s cross, before instinctively hooking an irresistible overhead finish past a stunned Hart.
City battled hard to try and get back into the match in the closing stages but United held firm to secure a crucial three points which takes them one step closer to the league title.
Mancini’s men, meanwhile, must now be resigned to missing out on top spot after once again coming off second best to their local rivals.