IT had just turned to 7.50pm, when the pitch announcer cleared his throat and urged the City Of Manchester Stadium crowd to look up at the giant screen in the corner.
“Manchester City!” he screeched, building up the sense of theatre. “Please put your hands together and give a warm welcome for Sheikh Mansour!”
Cue an image of the Abu Dhabi billionaire, waving graciously to the expectant, grateful home fans; alongside him was chairman Khaldoon Al-Mubarak with Garry Cook, City’s chief unctuous executive, joining in the applause.
While some will have thought it trite and over the top, City’s supporters revelled. Here were their owners showing they mean business; for Liverpool’s frustrated, bewildered followers, it was also a scene of huge symbolism – once again, their appalling landlords were nowhere to be seen.
Had that been the only disappointment of an important night, it could have been easily shrugged aside but it was anything but; the start was bad, the middle was poor and the least said about the end, the better.
Occasionally scorelines can be deceptive but not here; Liverpool were soundly beaten and many will fear this – struggling to keep pace with the Blues from the other end of the M62 – is a sign of things to come.
Alex Ferguson may have berated United’s neighbours for “kamikaze spending” this summer but they have invested fortunes in the hope of becoming, one day, the world’s biggest club; Liverpool, on the other hand, haven’t even been able to buy the left-back they desperately require.
In 90 depressing, rain-soaked minutes, the feel-good factor that has been often talked about in the last couple of months evaporated in dramatic fashion and those harbingers of doom seized upon the opportunity to tell anyone who would listen that a long, gloomy year beckons.
They may well be right; until the farcical ownership situation is sorted out, until Liverpool’s finances are in shape again and until the squad is laced with quality and possess depth, keeping pace with City will, in all likelihood, prove to be an impossible task.
To stand any chance of doing so, Roy Hodgson needs to be able to keep all the class players he has in his squad but, regrettably, it appears as if he is going to lose the man who is widely-regard as the best holding midfielder in the world.
Javier Mascherano’s absence probably signals the end of his Liverpool career and if he doesn’t want to be here, fine; in telling Hodgson he wouldn’t play, he let himself, his team-mates, his manager and his club down. It was totally, utterly unforgivable.