Sergio Aguero's stunning 78th minute winner restored some pride for Manchester City as they defeated champions elect Manchester United at Old Trafford.
James Milner's fierce strike five minutes after the break was cancelled out by Vincent Kompany's own goal, following Phil Jones' header across goal from Robin van Persie's free kick.
But Aguero, in similar fashion to the final day of last season, had the decisive say, slaloming past Rio Ferdinand and Jones to fire high beyond David de Gea as City, who now trail United by 12 points, laid down a marker ahead of next season and cemented second place in the Premier League
With City trailing United by 15 points with seven games remaining, the champions were merely seeking to regain some pride, while victory for the runaway leaders would put them one step closer to a 20th league title.
An FA Cup semi-final against Chelsea next weekend forced Roberto Mancini to leave Aguero on the bench, opting for Carlos Tevez alone up front as United fielded a three-pronged attack as Wayne Rooney returned to the starting eleven.
A frenetic start paved the way for City to dominate the first half, De Gea saving from James Milner before Jones denied Tevez from scoring against his former club as he cut out David Silva's clever pull back.
Van Persie, with one goal in his last 12 goals, smashed a volley over the bar in a rare attack moment for the hosts, an effort which summed up their display despite their healthy lead at the Premier League summit.
City took just five minutes after the break to convert their dominance as Ryan Giggs was dispossessed, allowing Gareth Barry to feed Samir Nasri, who subsequently teed up Milner to blast home via a deflection off Jones.
It may have been the first goal United had conceded in 678 minutes of top flight football, but they were level just eight minutes later as Van Persie's wicked free-kick was headed across goal by Jones only to ricochet off Kompany and into the empty net.
But the equaliser did nothing to improve the quality of United's performance and after Mancini made the bold decision to swap Samir Nasri with Aguero, the Italian was immediately vindicated as the ex-Atletico Madrid forward sped past United's back line to smash past De Gea.
The goal evoked memories of the Argentine's title winning strike from last season and while it carried only a fraction of the significance of his late strike last May, the fashion in which it was celebrated by the visiting players suggested it could have a long-term impact.