Aston Villa the team with Englishmen at its heart and a unique Ulsterman as its figurehead came to Old Trafford with no fear, only ambition. By the time they had left they had begun to look like a genuine top-four side.
Chelsea, Liverpool and now Manchester United have all fallen this season to Martin O'Neill's team and two of those wins have come away from home.
The latest not only helped to get Chelsea off the hook after their draw with Everton, but it also served as encouragement to those teams brave enough to suspect that there are cracks appearing in English football's traditional hegemony.
Go, go Gabby: Agbonlahor buries his header midway through the first half
Villa almost beat United in April, only for goals from Cristiano Ronaldo and Macheda to give Sir Alex Ferguson's team the advantage. On Saturday, O'Neill's side never really looked like suffering a similar fate.
The really good managers are identified by the manner in which players develop under them. On Saturday men like Richard Dunne, James Milner and Stephen Warnock were superb. All have found themselves under O'Neill's guidance.
O'ver the moon: O'Neill celebrates Villa's victory
Central defender Dunne looks a different player to the one who stumbled through his final season at Manchester City.
He said: 'I came here because I felt this was a team on the move, a team that could get results like the ones we have got this season against the big four.
'I had options to go to other places but Villa showed how far they had come. The manager has added strength to the squad to hopefully continue what he has started.'
Villa had seven Englishmen in their starting line-up. With a World Cup on the horizon, this could be a big season for them.
O'Neill said: 'We have players who are desperate to be on a flight to South Africa, to be included in a squad that is one of the favourites to win the World Cup. I want them propelled by that ambition for my selfish benefit. If they are playing well and have that ambition, then we will all benefit.
'What happens in May and June is in the laps of the gods, but what I do know is that if they continue to play like this then the opportunity is there for Fabio Capello to maybe think again if he's having second thoughts about certain things.'
O'Neill can be hard to fathom at times, his intensity can be a little overwhelming. His instructions to his players are clear, though, and his philosophy very simple. Villa play with width and pace with his two wingers given security by two excellent, unfussy full backs.
Up front, his strikers whoever he uses have pace and muscle. They are the type United defender Nemanja Vidic hates playing and he was given a rough old time for 90 minutes.
Matter of inches: Rooney (right) thuds the ball against the crossbar
Villa's goal came midway through the first half as Gabriel Agbonlahor stole in at the near post to head in past an uncertain Tomasz Kuszczak and it was a lead that United only sporadically looked like erasing.
Wayne Rooney struck the bar flush, was booked as he tried to win a penalty with a dive and then overhit a pass alarmingly as he sought to play in Michael Owen on goal in the second half. It was not a good day for United's favourite Scouser.
If O'Neill's tactics were straight forward, Ferguson's were peculiar. Surely Owen had to start after his hat-trick in Germany? He didn't.
Surely United would play two centre forwards in a game that could have seen them move level with Chelsea at the top of the table? Again, they didn't.
Dunne admitted: 'That was good for us to see at the start. But you knew that, once we got tired, they would bring on the other two.
'It's difficult. The movement of United is such that, whatever position their players start in, they will end up everywhere.'
Out of ideas: There was surprise as United only lined up with one striker
He was right in his assessment. United did dominate as the game wore on but Villa keeper Brad Friedel made only one save of note, dropping to his right to turn away a shot from substitute Dimitar Berbatov.
Ferguson asked afterwards why referee Martin Atkinson played only three minutes of added time, and he had a point. There perhaps should have been more.
But this was a home defeat that has been coming. United's form has been much improved recently but, earlier in the season, victories against Arsenal and Bolton and a draw against Sunderland were all home results that flattered them.
United have already lost four times in the league, the same number of defeats they suffered all last season.
So, are the top teams getting worse or the chasing pack getting better? On this evidence, the answer is probably a little bit of both.
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