Stoppage Time: City wins the battle, but United will win the war

Manchester City's 2-1 defeat of Manchester United at Old Trafford can be heralded any number of ways.

It can be described as courageous given the fact that the proposition of falling 18 points back of United meant that the Citizens were facing the pressure of a must-win situation. One might call the victory retribution for United stealing three points at the Etihad earlier in the season, or deja vu as it was City's second consecutive win at Old Trafford in Premier League play after last year's 6-1 thrashing at the Theater of Dreams.

While those characterizations do plenty for the psyche of Manchester City players, staff and supporters, United can view the result as Pyrrhic in nature.

The phrase "Pyrrhic victory" derives from the Pyrrhic War spanning from 280-275 BC during which King Pyrrhus of the ancient Greek state of Epirus led his troops to victory in various battles against the Romans only to suffer a profusion of casualties that crippled their ability going forward. The Epriotes, natives of Epirus, ultimately lost the war despite yielding fewer casualties.

The analogy is not directly equivalent to Monday's showdown at Old Trafford. For one, City's "casualties" came in the form of dropped points earlier in the campaign as opposed to physical injuries on the day. Also, the final outcome of the Premier League season remains incomplete, leaving Roberto Mancini's men with a glimmer of hope for retaining their title.

The fact of the matter remains that Monday's result meant a lot more to City than United, and that was reflected in the general run of play. The Citizens played the match as if it was on their home ground, controlling much of the possession. The Red Devils, meanwhile, received their goal from a set-piece situation as they remained content with hitting the visitors on the counter attack, strategies that are typically synonymous with away performances.

The result brought an end to United's dominant run that saw the club produce a 17-0-2 record since falling to Norwich City on Nov. 17. It leaves United in seemingly unfamiliar territory, having to respond to a loss. But the club now has dropped two consecutive matches across all competitions, including three of its last six beginning with last month's debilitating exit from the Champions League at the hands of Real Madrid.

"We just have to kick on," United manager Sir Alex Ferguson told MUTV following the derby defeat. "The most important thing is to try and win our next game. We've got Stoke City on Sunday and it's a match we want to win and the performance tonight is a good indication."

Beyond Sunday's clash with the Potters, the remaining fixture list should boost United's title hopes. The Red Devils follow up the trip to the Britannia with a match against West Ham at Upton Park before returning home to face Aston Villa. Those three clubs have averaged less than 35 points to this stage of the season, less than half of United's 77 points.

The Red Devils still have tilts with Chelsea, Swansea City and West Bromwich, who all reside in the top half of the table, but the title could be wrapped up by that point. Assuming both Manchester clubs claim maximum points from their next three league matches, the title could be clinched with a United win against Arsenal at the Emirates on April 28.

Even with United's lead being cut to 12 points on Monday, the Premier League trophy still will make its return to Old Trafford with relative ease. City's derby win was merely a slight bump in United's road to a 20th top-flight league title.

The points gap between the clubs is the equivalent of the Romans holding a massive advantage over the Epriotes, in terms of soldiers in reserve.

City won one final battle, but its carelessness in dropping points early on means that United ultimately will win the war.