Tottenham’s victory over Chelsea was a vital factor, of course, but, following league disappointments against Carlo Ancelotti’s team and Blackburn, plus a European exit to Bayern Munich, Ferguson’s challenge to his playing staff prior to their dramatic derby victory over City was perfectly judged.
“The manager asked us before the game: ‘Do you want to win this title?’” explained Neville. “It may sound an obvious thing to ask, but the answer is yes, of course we do want to do that.
“We knew we had to go out and show our fans we have the pride and the desire to win matches – and to win the league.
“All we can do is do our job and hope somebody does us a favour. We’re not getting carried away because we still have three difficult games to go, starting with Tottenham next week.
“Last Sunday at Blackburn was so disappointing, but, at City, the belief was there. We always think we are going to get a chance to score. Maybe we were under-dogs coming into the match and it was all about us showing what we are all about. Today, we have shown something that can take us forward through the rest of the season.”
After recent flat displays, United certainly showed their fighting qualities and durability at Eastlands, seemingly justifying Ferguson’s decision to throw his trusted old guard of homegrown Mancunians Neville, Ryan Giggs and match winner Paul Scholes into the fray.
Questioning his players’ desire also appeared to strike a chord and, in its own way, was every bit as effective as Ramsey’s famous exhortation to the 1966 World Cup team before extra-time in the Final against West Germany – “You’ve won it once. Now you’ll have to go out there and win it again.”
“The celebrations at the end weren’t so much about the title, more about winning the derby because it means so much to us,” explained Neville, who was jeered throughout the game by home supporters. “City will be as disappointed as we are ecstatic. It means a lot to win on their ground.”
Indeed, despite Chelsea still enjoying a one-point cushion over United who, in turn, face a tough game against in-form Tottenham at Old Trafford next weekend, it was hard not to sense a seismic momentum shift in the title race on Saturday.
United players, headed by goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar, were understandably downplaying the potential significance of Saturday’s events although it was not difficult to detect the new mood of optimism in the ranks.
“The only thing we could do was win today and hope Tottenham do something for us,” he said. “All we can do is win our games and try to delay things as long as possible, and that’s what we did today.
“Last week against Blackburn was disappointing. Normally when we keep a clean sheet we get a goal, but we were a bit flat last weekend. But today I thought we created the better chances, maybe not that many, but I think we were the team that was more dangerous with opportunities.”