London: Substitute Sergio Aguero scored a superb late winner as Manchester City slowed Manchester United's charge to the Premier League title by beating the leaders 2-1 in a frenetic derby on Monday. The Argentina striker slalomed through United's defense and arrowed a finish high into the net in the 78th minute, cutting second-place City's deficit to their fierce rival to 12 points with seven games remaining.
James Milner gave the visitors the lead with a deflected shot in the 51st minute, only for Vincent Kompany to inadvertently deflect Phil Jones' header into his own net eight minutes later. The result, which ended United's 4 ½-month unbeaten run in the league, is only likely to delay the surrender of City's title but it will retrieve some local pride after a disappointing season for the champions.
Aguero's goal had echoes of his title-winning strike in the final seconds of last season, which snatched the championship from the grasp of United in the tightest finish in Premier League history. The consequences of this effort will not be so far-reaching, however, with City having given up hope of reeling in Alex Ferguson's team.
Last season's April meeting between the two rivals was billed as the biggest Manchester derby ever. With City having regressed during the past 12 months, this one had a very different feel. But there was still plenty to play for, not least bragging rights in the football capital of England. They will go to City for the second straight match at Old Trafford - and although this was nothing like the 6-1 drubbing it delivered last season, the win was just about deserved.
Controlling possession and full of intensity, the visitors' extra man in midfield often told but chances were few and far between in the first-half, with Samir Nasri wasting the best by screwing a shot wide when free inside the area. Robin van Persie dragged a shot wide and Rafael da Silva stabbed an opportunist effort against the top of the bar at the other end as United, seeking a 26th win in 31 league games, threatened on the counterattack but was often forced to defend in numbers.
City settled back into their possession game in the second-half but needed a slice of fortune to open the scoring. Gareth Barry robbed Ryan Giggs before charging forward and cutting the ball back to Nasri, who laid the ball off to Milner at the edge of the area. The England midfielder's effort was well-struck and took a deflection off the diving Phil Jones, wrong-footing De Gea and spinning into the net. The first goal United had conceded in the league in 678 minutes was a little unlucky, as Tevez looked to be blocking De Gea's line of sight while standing in an offside position.
City's lead was brief, with Van Persie swinging in a devilish free kick that was met by Jones, whose attempted header came off his shoulder, hit Kompany and rebounded into the net. Aguero was introduced as a 71st-minute substitute for the ineffective Nasri and made a quick impression, collecting Yaya Toure's short pass before embarking on a mazy dribble that ended with a unstoppable finish in at De Gea's near post.
In his program notes, Ferguson called the match a "trial of strength" for opposite number Roberto Mancini, and the Italian will feel his team put down a marker for next season.