First-half goals by Paul Scholes and Ashley Young earned a comfortable win over Swansea as Manchester United moved level on points with Manchester City - but it could not disguise a feeling of helplessness at Old Trafford.
Although only goal difference separates the top two, the championship will be City's for the first time in 44 years so long as Roberto Mancini's side can match United's result on the final day of the season.
City will face QPR at home, having won all but one of their 18 Premier League matches at the Etihad Stadium, while United travel to Sunderland.
And with United only managing the same margin of victory as City had earlier recorded at Newcastle, Sir Alex Ferguson's men trail their "noisy neighbours" by eight goals.
Four weeks ago Ferguson's side were eight points clear of Mancini's team.
And as the Scot walked onto the pitch afterwards, his assertion that "hopefully next week will be the biggest celebration of our lives" underlined the about-turn in fortunes needed.
United had numerous chances to boost their goals tally, but they came up against a stubborn Swansea team, who again demonstrated their aptitude for the top flight in keeping their hosts at bay.
The City result made for a subdued start to the game, but United began to grow in confidence against the visitors and once Swansea's Nathan Dyer had curled over the top, Michel Vorm did well to produce a double save to thwart Patrice Evra and Wayne Rooney.
Antonio Valencia, restored to the side after missing out in the 1-0 defeat by Manchester City on Monday, had a hand in his side's opener. His cutback found Michael Carrick, whose shot was deflected past Vorm by Scholes.
That lifted the atmosphere, and once Young found the corner of the net with a fine curling effort following Scott Sinclair's mistake, there appeared some hope that the hosts could reduce their city rivals' goal difference advantage.
Javier Hernandez could have added to the total before the break, and once Gylfi Sigurdsson had tested David de Gea early in the second half, Young was inches from adding his second of the afternoon as Nathan Dyer sped back to clear.
United's desire to push for goals left them open at the other end and Danny Graham and Dyer went close, while Sigurdsson drew another De Gea save from a free-kick.
Rooney chipped just wide, among a host of other chances, but the sense of frustration around Old Trafford was evident when the United striker picked up his first booking of the season after fouling Leon Britton.
Four weeks ago, Ferguson's team were favourites to secure their 20th top-flight championship, but Rooney and his team-mates will recognise that their recent defeat at Wigan, not to mention letting a two-goal lead slip against Everton two weeks ago, could have cost them this time.
The problem now is that if City secure their first Premier League title, it will only serve to highlight a shift in power which may be hard to reverse.