By Mike Collett
MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) - Vincent Kompany's towering header earned Manchester City a momentous 1-0 victory over uninspired title rivals Manchester United on Monday to put Roberto Mancini's side within two victories of Premier League glory.
The Belgian defender rose unmarked just before halftime at the Etihad Stadium to settle a compelling and frantic derby that lacked quality but more than made up for in tension.
Reigning champions United, thumped 6-1 at home by City earlier in the season, were disappointing and could not avert a rare "double" by their 'noisy' neighbors.
City moved above Alex Ferguson's side on goal difference with a tricky away match at Newcastle United and a home game with strugglers Queens Park Rangers to come.
The Manchester rivals both have 83 points but City hold a superior goal difference of eight.
The momentum is now with Mancini's side who have clawed back an eight-point deficit since Easter to move within sight of a first top flight title since 1968.
"It's far from over and we know that," Kompany told Sky Sports in the tunnel as celebratory songs from City's long suffering fans echoed into the Manchester night.
"But just to give our fans two wins against Manchester United this season... we have to finish it off and I hope we can show this in the next two games."
United had just two shots on target, hardly forcing City goalkeeper Joe Hart into a save, and Mancini, who took the club into the Champions League for the first time this season, said his side were deserved winners.
"We are happy but next Sunday we have another difficult game (at Newcastle)," he said. "But we deserved to win this game, we had other chances for a second goal and they did not have any chances to score."
Ferguson was critical of United's overall performance.
"It was feisty and competitive with not a lot of goal chances... and I'm disappointed we never tested their goalkeeper... our crossing was poor," he said. "We had control in some parts but not enough to cause any damage."
A crackling atmosphere greeted the players as the sun set in Manchester and it was Ferguson's experienced title winners, bidding to secure the club's 20th English crown, who looked the more comfortable in the opening exchanges.
There were clearly some nerves in the home ranks, both on and off the field, and United threatened in the opening minutes when Ryan Giggs was allowed too much time to cross into the box and, as City struggled to clear, Michael Carrick prodded wide.
With Diego Maradona watching from the stands it was City's South Americans who began to warm to the task, along with Spaniard David Silva who orchestrated City's attack.
Argentine Carlos Tevez got free on the right but his cross was well cleared and then compatriot Sergio Aguero sliced a shot high and wide when well placed.
Kompany was enjoying a good old-fashioned scrap with Wayne Rooney and the City captain was booked for one rumbustious tackle on the England striker who became marginalized as the half wore on.
United found themselves pinned back as City began to hog possession and Aguero again failed to make the most of another half chance that came his way.
The visitors would have been happy to hear the halftime whistle on level terms but Kompany, sent off when the sides met in the FA Cup this season, chose the perfect time to score.
When Silva sent in a corner the Belgian evaded the attentions of marker Chris Smalling and thumped a powerful header past the helpless David de Gea.
United could never really find any attacking rhythm after the break as City erected a sky blue wall to deny the visiting forwards any quality service.
With the clock ticking down and United becoming desperate, tempers flared in the technical area with Mancini and Ferguson involved in a heated exchange.
City's Yaya Toure almost gave his side breathing space with a shot that whistled wide.
Ferguson then threw on Danny Welbeck and Ashley Young to bolster United's attack but City held firm to spark a deafening rendition of the club anthem Blue Moon.
(Writing by Martyn Herman, editing by Ken Ferris and Justin Palmer)