Never mind that it was, technically, a goal eventually scored by Nicolas Anelka by far Chelsea's best performer in a match in which they were tactically and physically stifled and, at times, dominated it was all down to Terry's will to reach Frank Lampard's cross and direct his header goalwards.
Related ArticlesChelsea 1 Manchester United 0Chelsea v Manchester UtdAncelotti prizes Chelsea veteransSport on televisionAt the end Terry was congratulated by team-mate after team-mate and paused before he walked down the tunnel to direct his gaze and blow a kiss to the old directors' box, in the East Stand, where players' friends and relatives usually sit. It was clear what he meant.
That one was for his family.
Whatever the truth of the claims against his father, Ted, who has allegedly been caught on video selling Class A drugs, and whatever the eventual ramifications of that, it was a day to show character and professionalism.
Terry has been here before of course. His mother Sue caused embarrassment after being cautioned for alleged shop-lifting while, on a different scale, and purely related to football, he came back from missing a penalty in the shootout at the end of the Champions League final to lead England and score against the United States.
That recovery helped him to retain the England captaincy. Fabio Capello was impressed and so will Carlo Ancelotti have been yesterday even if he said he knew nothing about the headlines. "I don't know the story about John Terry," Ancelotti said. "We haven't spoken about it. We have spoken about the game. About Rooney."
It was certainly a conversation about the threat posed by United striker Wayne, and, in truth, Rooney quickly gained the upper hand against Terry and Ricardo Carvalho. Despite their vast experience, strength and nous they struggled to contain Rooney and were reduced to, at times, standing off him in fearful anticipation.
It encapsulated United's dominance. Not only Terry struggled. Lampard was contained, as were Didier Drogba and Michael Ballack, while Deco did not have to even look up when Ancelotti decided to introduce Joe Cole as a second-half substitute. So badly had he played that he knew it would be his number.
Terry also had fortune. When he tangled with Antonio Valencia, who had appeared to outstrip him in the penalty area, he tugged at the winger's shirt and, in effect, dived into him. It was a clever, if desperate, piece of defending and could have been punished with a penalty although that would have been a brave call by referee Martin Atkinson. And Terry knew that.
Such are the occasional dark arts of defending and as Ancelotti adjusted his midfield, it was a passage of raw emotion that decided it. Drogba tangled with Jonny Evans, argued with Edwin van der Sar and the assistant referee and fuelled a sense of annoyance that culminated in Ashley Cole wrongly winning a free-kick from the impressive Fletcher. The blood was up and that is when Terry is at his best. He marched forward and settled matters.