There is a delirious stress for Manchester City. They can agonise and fantasise about becoming champions of England for the first time since 1968. Significant tasks do still lie ahead, particularly in the venture to Newcastle United, but this was no night for trepidation.

For all Manchester United's effort after the City captain, Vincent Kompany, scored the only goal, they did not manage to get a shot on target – a first for Sir Alex Ferguson's team in three years.

In that regard the decline of United that the Scot conceals so adroitly on the domestic scene was exposed. City themselves will not have the planet marvelling at their mastery but flair is an attribute that can be flaunted later and it is a much superior goal difference of eight over United that bolsters them.

In any case they assuredly outdid a merely diligent side here. This contest might have been intended for local consumption, no matter how much attention was being paid to it in England and around the world. City can be indifferent to that. What could be more resonant than the club taking the championship of England for the first time since 1968? Huge sums of money have made a difference but it would be cynical not to recognise the desire of players to pull off the result. They, too, have their dreams and money, even in Etihad proportions, is not enough to bring about the kind of desire for victory that United were incapable of checking.

This was not a moment for world‑weariness. City adherents cannot have felt more alive than in the instant when the full‑time whistle sounded. There was a sense of deadlock for much of the proceedings, despite City's mastery.

The goal from Kompany on the verge of half-time was a shock as he rose unchallenged above Chris Smalling to head in a David Silva corner, The match had been tangled until then, as if past events were continuing to wind through the action at the Etihad.

City's 6-1 League victory at Old Trafford in October, which United were far from avenging with a mere win in the FA Cup, must have resonated with both sides. Ferguson's team still had to exercise caution here even though they would inaccurately have envisaged wrecking City's prospects.

Neither club coped well with the European competitions this season and they summoned up little finesse in the first half here, when effort swamped imagination. City perhaps deserve the greater scolding, considering the sums paid in the transfer market. But United can also go to considerable expense in certain cases, even if the books are balanced. The ability in each of these squads was substantial by domestic standards. All that remained was to see who could best use the skills.

United had to make do with demonstrating good order while the ball spent much of the occasion at City feet in those first 45 minutes. There was a theory that the burden here was greater on City. They were attempting after all to imperil a regime of league title mastery established by Ferguson.

At this advanced stage of the programme Mancini would have been craving a resurgence of the elan that has faded. It would have been to their benefit if they had purged from their minds the fact that United had not conceded a goal at their ground in the League since August 2007. That sequence came to a close here, yet there was much still to be done. At least it was their opponents who had no option but to seek a bolder method.

For a time after the interval roles were exchanged as City, measured and optimistic over their prospects on the break, sought poise. They also had the will to occupy territory by pushing back United. Ferguson's team had little to lose then but verve was not discovered after it had lain concealed.

The introduction of a fresh forward in Danny Welbeck, who took over from the industrious Park Ji-sung in the 58th minute, was inevitable but that still demanded that United establish better lines of communication with him and Wayne Rooney. As it was, City's main vexation lay in the lack of a second goal before the hour.

Mancini settled for 1-0 and De Jong was introduced although Gareth Barry already had the assignment as holding midfielder. The newcomer was taking the place of the striker Tevez.

It was a conservative step and the sort of action that had led in former times to United pulling off a memorable result. Nonetheless, City had not really gone into retreat. They still looked slightly interested in scoring again but would have felt that attacks were of service in stymying United. Mancini's scheme worked precisely as intended.