The derby goal that still haunts United legend Denis Law… 38 years on
22:43 GMT, 26 April 2012
On Monday night in Manchester, football will be the only thing that matters. City at home to United in a game that could well determine the destiny of this year's Barclays Premier League trophy.
With United leading City by three points but with an inferior goal difference, it's make-or-break time for the two sides ahead of what is being billed as the biggest Manchester derby since this month in 1974.
Back then, City travelled to Old Trafford knowing that a victory would send their great rivals down to the old Division Two.
As it turned out, former United hero Denis Law scored a famous back-heeled goal to give City a 1-0 win, though results elsewhere meant United would have been relegated anyway.
Sportsmail hears from six key men about that day.
What a heel: Denis Law (left) scores that famous goal in 1974
DENIS LAW, City goalscorer
I just felt depressed, and that wasn't like me. After 19 years of trying my hardest to score goals, here was one that I almost wished hadn't actually gone in. I was inconsolable. I didn't want it to happen.
How long did the feeling last How long ago was the game Thirty-odd years. There is your answer.
The subject always crops up. It's one of those things. It's always there and I am always remembered for it. That's a shame.
I played with all those guys. They were pals. I didn't want them down. It was the last thing in the world that I wanted. It didn't feel good, no.
We weren't friends on the field. We would kick each other. But once the whistle went and it was over things changed. There was a bar in those days so we would have a cup of tea or coffee or a beer and then we might meet up later. It was just normal in those days.
I was a bit different as I had been at both clubs and I knew guys who were still playing. I knew the trainers and the guys behind the scenes. As the years have gone on it has changed, I guess.
MARTIN BUCHAN, United defender
Seventies flare-up: fans mob Law
I will never forget the look on Denis's face. That's etched on my mind and always will be. From our point of view, it was a scruffy goal. The pitch was dry and dusty – as they were in those days – and it just bobbled into the net. It was great execution from Denis, though, there is no getting away from that.
Afterwards we were very flat and empty. Relegation is a dreadful thing and the fact is we hadn't been good enough over the season. The fact that it was confirmed against our 'noisy neighbours' didn't make it any better but we didn't go down because of that game.
And we came back stronger in the end under Tommy Docherty and went on to play some great football so maybe the cloud did have a silver lining.
I would certainly say that Monday's game is the biggest since 1974. United have done incredibly well to get to where they are without players such as Nemanja Vidic.
It's great to see both teams at the top of the table but I won't try to predict what will happen. I was hopeless at doing that when I was a player so I won't do it now!
DENNIS TUEART, City forward
What made the rivalry so intense in 1974 was the number of local, North West players involved. On our side we had people like Colin Bell, Mike Summerbee, Glyn Pardoe and Mike Doyle and in the dressing room beforehand Doyle in particular was really winding us up.
I was new to the club and to the team but Mike made sure I knew what this meant. He was fiercely pro-Blue and anti-Red.
As we all know, Denis Law scored the winner and thought he had sent United down. In that moment you saw the two sides of his character. You saw the instinctive, goalscoring predator, the man who was a privilege to play with and train with and learn from. Then – when he realised what he had done – you saw the man himself, the gentleman who didn't want to hurt his old club. A sense of reality hit him.
They think it's all over: Fans invade the pitch and mob Law at the final whistle
Soon after there was a pitch invasion. Hordes of young fans with long hair, flares and stack-high boots poured on to the field and it looked a bit nasty. We went off and – because other results meant United were down anyway – we didn't come back on.
Afterwards our coach driver took us the long way back to Maine Road to get our cars. Every time he saw a Red he beeped his horn and the United fans were banging on the bus and making gestures. There were no blacked-out windows back then.
This game on Monday will be just as big. I still live in the area and I can tell you Manchester is bouncing. You would have to be blind and deaf not to understand what this game means.
Three wins and the title is City's. Who would have thought that
TOMMY BOOTH, City central defender
The most remarkable thing about the whole day in 1974 was that there was a 'do' arranged that night at Franny Lee's house and we all went. Some United players came along and, to his credit, Denis came too. That showed the type of man he was and still is.
LOU MACARI, United forward
It was my first derby in Manchester but I had come from Celtic so I was no stranger to big games. I also knew I had been bought because things weren't right with the team so I wasn't shocked to be in a relegation fight.
Lots of the players were indeed friends off the pitch but, let me tell you, we would all have done absolutely everything to win that game.
Denis got a good reception from the United fans before the game and that was only right. He had always conducted himself the right way. In the end his goal didn't actually relegate us. Other results did that.
The only parallel on Monday is Carlos Tevez but, no, he won't get a generous reception from United fans, will he He won't really understand – or perhaps even care – what the game means anyway.
Back then the lads lived locally and were always in town, eating or shopping. These days, apart from Mario Balotelli, it's almost impossible to spot a footballer in Manchester city centre.
Sir Alex Ferguson has called this game on Monday the biggest Manchester derby ever and he is probably right. Rarely, if ever, have both teams gone into a derby chasing the same prize.
City have the momentum but, remember, a draw would still virtually win the title for United. That's why the bookies rightly have them as favourites.
JOE CORRIGAN, City goalkeeper
I don't think Denis realised the significance of what he'd done. His instinct was just to put the ball in the net. I was at the Stretford End and I knew what was going to happen if we scored. The crowd invaded the pitch and I was surrounded within seconds.
A couple of policemen stood either side of me and said: 'We're beside you, the net's behind you. Just stay where you are and you'll be fine.'
Then I was escorted off the pitch inside a circle of police and we never went back on.