By Phil McNulty
Chief football writer at Eastlands
Paul Scholes kept Manchester United's Premier League title hopes alive as his dramatic winner seconds from the end sunk Manchester City at Eastlands.
Scholes settled a scrappy affair when he headed Patrice Evra's cross past Shay Given to give United a third decisive injury-time goal against their arch-rivals this season.
The visitors were on the verge of having to settle for a draw that would surely have ended their title challenge until Scholes, who signed a new one-year contract on Friday, sent manager Sir Alex Ferguson dancing along the Eastlands touchline in delight.
It was also a sickening blow for City, who had been hoping to step up their claims for a place in the top four and deliver a show of their renewed strength to United.
Instead, the story had a familiar finale, with City's hopes of reaching next season's Champions League in the balance and United clinging to their dream of a fourth successive title.
Scholes believes title race is still on
Wayne Rooney wasted Ferguson's men's best chance in the first half, while substitute Dimitar Berbatov also came close with a header as the game sparked into life after the break.
At the other end goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar saved brilliantly from Carlos Tevez in the first half, while Patrick Vieira and Nedum Onouha both failed to apply the final touches in a desperate late goalmouth scramble.
Craig Bellamy was also guilty of wasteful finishing - and how United made City pay for not taking advantage of the few opportunities they created.
It left Scholes to seal a crucial victory, one that revives United for their last few games while at the same time inflicting damage on City.
United were able to recall the fit-again Rooney, but once more had to do without Rio Ferdinand after he was ruled out by a groin injury.
The champions, who actually entered the game as underdogs in some eyes, controlled possession in a frantic first half full of energy but lacking in moments of quality and inspiration.
United had the game's first opportunity when Darren Fletcher flashed a 20-yard shot inches wide with City keeper Given struggling to make up ground across his goal.
Phelan hails 'vintage Scholes'
City's response brought a fine diving save from Van der Sar, who showed tremendous athleticism to spring high to his right to clutch Tevez's free-kick as it headed into the top corner.
Valencia was troubling defender Wayne Bridge, returning to the City side after a five-match absence following hernia surgery.
The full-back was fortunate that his handball in the area went unnoticed, and twice struggled to deal with the powerful wide man as United created, and wasted, two presentable chances moments before the interval.
Bridge's positioning was poor as Valencia crossed for Rooney, who allowed the ball to run across his body before pulling his effort wide. And more good work from Valencia set up Ryan Giggs, who could only turn a tame finish into the arms of Given.
The home side's fans were enraged after the break after what looked like a blatant piece of gamesmanship from Rooney resulted in a booking for Vincent Kompany. Rooney rolled in agony clutching his ankle after a challenge, only to recover in an instant and sprint off once the yellow card had been produced.
We didn't deserve to lose - Mancini
Bellamy should have done better when he was sent clear by Tevez after 54 minutes. He sent a wayward effort wide with both Tevez and Emmanuel Adebayor well placed in the middle.
Both managers then made changes, with Ferguson sending on Nani for Darron Gibson and the Scot's counterpart Roberto Mancini replacing the subdued Adam Johnson with Patrick Vieira.
Mancini's men had penalty claims ignored by referee Martin Atkinson as Gareth Barry went down under pressure from right-back Gary Neville, with the greater frustration coming in the midfield man's inability to take his chance before coming under pressure.
As the game entered its crucial final phase, more tactical alterations were made. The tiring Rooney gave way to Berbatov, while Shaun Wright-Phillips was the somewhat surprising replacement for Adebayor.
And Berbatov, so heavily criticised in recent times, almost made the breakthrough with nine minutes left, flicking a header inches wide from Nani's cross.
United then survived a melee in the area after Van der Sar misjudged Bellamy's corner, with both Vieira and Onuoha unable to apply the finishing touch.
In a frantic finish Giggs was just unable to get his head on the end of another inviting Nani cross as the visitors pressed for the victory they needed.
Bridge then saw a shot saved before Scholes made his dramatic intervention with only seconds of stoppage time remaining, timing his arrival perfectly to meet Evra's cross and send it low beyond Given.
United's wild celebrations illustrated the importance of the goal - and keeps the title fires burning at Old Trafford.
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