Roberto Mancini's men could console themselves that there was no injury-time heartache like last season, while United, who controlled long periods, at least stretched theirr unbeaten run in all competitions to 25 games.
However the result only suited Chelsea in truth, giving credence to Mancini's belief that these warring factions are actually scrapping for second spot rather than first.
United old boy Carlos Tevez came closest to scoring with a first-half free-kick that was clawed out by Edwin van der Sar, while Dimitar Berbatov missing United's best chance with a second-half volley.
As the virus that has swept through the United camp had eased sufficiently for all bar Ryan Giggs to report for duty, Ferguson must have been quite pleased with his selection.
It was the first derby Giggs has missed in 19 years but United's side still contained plenty of experience, while City's contained a certain Carlos Tevez.
It was the hosts that had the better of the opening, extremely scrappy, exchanges but United created the first half-decent chance - missed by Patrice Evra following a nice passage of play involving Park Ji-sung.
Had Evra been able to step round Kolo Toure and shoot with his left foot, the hosts would have been in trouble. As it was, the Frenchman had to let fly with his right and Joe Hart made a comfortable save.
City remained marginally on top without truly threatening United but Tevez almost got the goal he craved shortly before half-time.
He made it clear the free-kick was his responsibility when Paul Scholes bundled James Milner over on the edge of the area and only a slight lack of pace on his effort allowed Van der Sar to claw the ball around the post.
Aside from a Nani free-kick that also lacked pace and a mis-timed Berbatov volley, both of which bounced harmlessly through to Hart, that was it for the goalmouth action.
Indeed, the only other notable moment was the foul by Scholes on Milner just before the break which resulted in a fifth yellow card of the season, ruling him out of Saturday's trip to Aston Villa.
The pattern continued after the restart, with Berbatov getting his clearest sight of goal, albeit with his back to it as he hooked Wes Brown's cross goalwards without being able to genuinely test Hart.
Tevez threatened twice at the other end, the first time with a shot that Van der Sar gathered easily, the second a burst that ended with a dismal miscontrol and the ball bobbling out for a goal kick.
It was that type of match really, with Tevez too isolated and David Silva too far below his potential for City to become the sum of their expensively-assembled parts.
Adam Johnson seemed like an obvious man for Mancini to turn to and his introduction for Milner 20 minutes from time instantly brought the width his side had been so devoid of.
As Javier Hernandez was given his first taste of derby day shortly afterwards, a rousing finish to an otherwise forgettable encounter was promised.
Unfortunately, it did not quite work out that way.
Pablo Zabaleta almost profited from a mistake by John O'Shea, but did not. Hernandez almost got a clear sight of goal before Kolo Toure blocked his path.
It was that kind of night.