There may be drama yet in the struggle for the Premier League title, but it was banished from Old Trafford as Manchester United re-established a five-point lead with this 4-0 victory over Aston Villa. There was a touch of glee by the time the substitute Nani went through to notch the last goal in the closing moments.
It was a heavy defeat for the visitors, yet United did not need to strain for such a victory. In the European arena, they have been exposed as a poor imitation of previous lineups that made such an impact on that front, but the confidence of this club is undiminished in domestic football.
Of course, they were beaten at Wigan Athletic a few days before this match. In the wake of this game, it seems remarkable that United did not just lose there but did so without scoring on a night that contained just a single goal. It is one of United's principal strengths that they can put such occasions behind them immediately.
There is, of course, knowhow to be called upon by, in particular, senior performers such as Paul Scholes, but the side as a whole relished this day at Old Trafford. Villa, of course, are partly to blame for that. Alex McLeish's side were diligent enough but caused almost no alarm.
The outcome was all but inevitable from the moment United eased in front with a penalty converted by Wayne Rooney in the eighth minute for the first of his brace. It was awarded after Ashley Young had cut inside and gone over the outstretched leg of Ciaran Clark. It was an offence that appeared highly suspicious since the winger looked intent on colliding with that leg. In terms of brute reality in professional football, Clark had been naive even to present an opportunity that let Young compel the referee Mark Halsey into making a decision.
If Villa are looking for solace it will be found in the truth that this was a result that appeared justified by the end. McLeish must know that a club of Villa's historic standing are supposed to give a far better account of themselves. The manager will understand that his continuation in the post next season is not to be taken for granted.
Failure against United was anticipated but Villa, despite being vigorous in the first half, ultimately made a poor impression in a match that had, for United at least, a high importance. They cannot preen when the opposition is so cooperative, but United were a side that realised that this was a contest in which they could summon up flair once more.
Although Danny Welbeck would strike before half-time, it might have been doubted if further goals were strictly needed. Villa, who are not completely safe from relegation yet, wanted to attack but when they did so the impact was slight. It is certain that United had another set of opponents in mind while going about their assignment.
With the 6-1 victory of Norwich City at Carrow Road on Saturday, City had rattled their sabre as loudly as possible. That trouncing, though, did not sweep away the reality of the situation in the League. United will retain the title so long as they continue to be businesslike. Sir Alex Ferguson's side can afford to lose away to City so long as they win the other matches.
They had been warned, all the same, about the potential dangers that lie before them when beaten at the DW Stadium. There could be no lack of intensity after that setback and Welbeck converted in the 43rd minute after a low cross by Patrice Evra. It was a goal that emphasised the anxiety in Villa ranks. The defender Nathan Baker should have lunged to reach the delivery before the United scorer but took no action, as if afraid to send the ball into his own net. It was a moment that laid bare the mental state of players in the midst of a disappointing campaign.
Villa were, to give them some slight credit, industrious and endeavoured to take the play to Ferguson's team, but a composed United might hardly have noticed. In the 73rd minute Rooney tucked away his second goal, with the aid of a deflection off James Collins, after being set up by Valencia.
The closing goal in stoppage time saw the centre-half Jonny Evans releasing the substitute Nani to finish. This was just one game among the 38 on the schedule for United. It could have been an irrelevance if United had won quietly. The score, however, will resonate.
City themselves have no cause to be cowed by it, but the United lineup made the most of the occasion by reacquainting themselves with verve and excitement. They will surely be urged by Ferguson to understand what they proved here.
It did not look as if there was anything more at work than enjoyment and expertise. City now have to show not just accomplishment in the ranks but also the verve that flooded through Ferguson's team.