Football, it would seem, is a simple game: 22 players kick a ball around for 90 minutes, after which Manchester United stick it right up Manchester City.
There were 92 minutes on the clock this time, not 96, not that it mattered. The blow would have been no less sick-making for those in the blue corner.
Once again, they thought they had done enough; once again a side marshalled by Sir Alex Ferguson demonstrated that they set the parameters of enough; and City are not even in sight yet.
Pain game: Carlos Tevez feels Ferdinand's arm across his face
At the final whistle, Carlos Tevez was dazed, twisting in themiddle. His team-mates were heading for the tunnel, crushed, thecelebrating reds were oblivious to him.
He stumbled around, aimlessly, looking for a friendly face, a handto shake. It seemed a painful age until his old colleagues spotted himand offered the standard commiserations.
Tevez scored three times in this tie, but it was not sufficient. Hemay not regret leaving United but he will know the calibre of the teamhe has left behind.
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They had the game won, Tevez determined it would go to extra time,United begged to differ. We have seen it so often it should no longersurprise; yet, somehow, it does, because it happens so often. Theycan't, not this time, we think: and then they do.
And this is a club divided, remember. United face greater obstaclesthan at any time since the formation of the Premier League changedtheir destiny.
Everything that Ferguson built risks being destroyed by acombination of voodoo economics and the flow of new money into theEnglish game.
City slicker: Tevez scores his third goal against United over the two legs
When Tevez levelled the aggregate scores at 3-3, there was a note ofsurrender in the voice of the public address announcer. 'The scorer ofthe Manchester City goal, No 32, Carlos Tevez,' he said, flatly.
The monotone delivery seemed to speak of the disillusionment at theheart of the club right now. Yet the players rise above it. They riseabove divisions and uncertainty and inconsistency and protests and, atthe tensest moments, they deliver.
It may not be the squad of last year, but there remains something special here, make no mistake of that.
Strangely, despite coming out of the weekend top of the PremierLeague, there remains something unconvincing about United compared tolast season. Then, they looked invincible, now they are vulnerable.
Manchester City had enough chances to go through and United oftenappear to exist on memory: they do not lose matches like this becausethey have forgotten how.
These are going to be testing times, that much is clear. As drivenas United's players are towards maintaining success, so the supportersare motivated to chase out the American owners.
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The anti-Glazer campaign, at first sinister, and then becalmed bysuccess, has gathered fresh momentum around the green and yellowprotests that were such a part of the occasion last night.
Instantly, the symbolic gesture of wearing the colours of NewtonHeath - the genesis of Manchester United and a time when the club weremost truly in touch with their common roots - has grown more powerfulthan any number of ugly chants.
It is a visible protest, peaceful and yet striking as thousandseschew the red and white. What makes it so affecting is the crosssection of individuals out in support.
Not just mouthy teenagers or the menacing types in balaclavas that made up the most extreme of the original protest groups.
Here were middle-aged man, sons and fathers, regular fans not givento public displays of anger. It resembled football's equivalent of themarch against the Iraq war, when women's institute members from theCotswolds stood on the streets of London alongside the remnants of theSocialist Workers Party.
For those from across town it must have been a rare delight,watching the enemy tear himself apart. How many times have they stoodhuddled in the far corner to the right of Ferguson's dug-out, thesubject of mockery and victims of bitter disappointment?
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The warm feeling did not last. Perhaps it was not as painful as the96th minute when Michael Owen scored last September - that game wasseconds from conclusion, whereas this one still had extra time andperhaps penalties to go - but it still stunned the City end to silence.
The stadium was almost empty when they found their voice again, aweak gesture of defiance, drowned out by a song United had recordedspecially for the occasion of their victory.
It was a version of Que Sera, Sera with commissioned lyrics makingreference to last week's 2-1 defeat and the subsequent revival. Unitedfans waved their yellow and green scarves in celebration. Whatever willbe, will be: as if there was ever any doubt.
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