Man Utd 2-1 Liverpool
Wayne Rooney and Park Ji-Sung fired Manchester United back to the top of the Premier League as they came from behind to beat Liverpool at Old Trafford.
The irrepressible England international fired home his 33rd goal of the season in the 12th minute to restore parity with midfielder Park diving bravely to head in the winner on the hour mark.
A blistering start to the eagerly-anticipated encounter saw Fernando Torres climb unmarked eight yards out to power a header beyond Edwin van der Sar following Dirk Kuyt's excellent cross from the right with just five minutes gone.
But United were soon level with Javier Mascherano penalised by Howard Webb for bringing down Antonio Valencia as he looked to burst into the box, with a spot-kick awarded by the referee even though the offence began outside the area.
Jose Reina made a superb save to initially deny Rooney from 12 yards, but the ball fell kindly to the in-form striker who made no mistake with his second chance as he rolled into the empty net in the 12th minute.
The pace dropped somewhat after the frantic opening, with the key moment arriving in the 60th minute as Darren Fletcher delivered a telling ball into the box from wide on the right for South Korea international Park to head home at the far post amid the flying boots.
Sir Alex Ferguson's side restored their two-point advantage over Arsenal at the top of the table, while a 10th defeat of the season for Liverpool leaves them four points adrift of Tottenham in fourth, having also played a game more.
Ferguson once claimed that a game of tiddlywinks between what the majority still believe to be England's biggest clubs could trigger the deepest of passions.
Certainly there was no sense of inferiority from the visitors despite their present status, and with good reason.
It was the Merseysiders who had won the last three meetings - each of which featured the dismissal of Nemanja Vidic, who it seems in Torres has found someone he simply cannot handle.
Such is the mystique surrounding that duel there was an audible gasp the first time Torres ran at the Serbian. Like so much of the opening period's final half-hour, it petered out disappointingly. The spark had been ignited long before that, although Torres was the one who flicked the switch.
By his very demeanour, Torres gave the impression of being a man on a mission.
Five minutes into the contest, he seized on the loose ball after Michael Carrick had lost possession, sending Steven Gerrard away at top speed with an inspired backheel.
As Gerrard found Kuyt to his right, Torres continued his own run, United's defence never set properly to ensure the Spaniard remained under their control and by the time Kuyt dug out his cross, Torres was on his own.
Park's wayward effort from a similar position later on proved the goal was anything but the routine effort it looked to be as the Spanish star guided the ball out of Van der Sar's reach.
Quite apart from falling behind against such fierce rivals, an increasingly enthralling title race demanded a United comeback. For Liverpool, the equaliser came far too quickly. The controversy was immediate too.
Rafa Benitez argued Mascherano's attempt to haul back Valencia was outside the box, which, indeed, was where the infringement began. Ferguson countered the combative midfielder had prevented a clear goalscoring opportunity.
The managers - no friends these two - continued their finger-jabbing row long after Rooney had tucked home the rebound from a spot-kick awarded by Webb and saved by Reina.
That was it for the goal threat until the hour mark arrived.
During his long career, Gary Neville has gone on plenty of unselfish runs down the right wing, knowing David Beckham or, more latterly, Cristiano Ronaldo were never going to give him the ball.
Fletcher is not quite of that attacking calibre but Neville must have sensed his run was purely to provide space for the Scot.
So it proved. As Neville flew past on the overlap, Emiliano Insua edged to his right, and in an instant, Fletcher had exploited the gap and curled over a cross.
As Rooney and Jamie Carragher tussled and tugged, Park arrived behind them, launching himself at the ball like a guided missile and powering the diving header into the corner of Reina's goal.
Rooney had one more chance before the end, which he fired wide.
Torres was on the end of a far better one when Gerrard drilled over a low cross near the end.
For once against United, the Spaniard miscued and Yossi Benayoun headed the loose ball straight at Van der Sar.
United could celebrate, Neville and Ferguson doing the cheerleading, while Liverpool's money men are staring at a big black hole marked Champions League, as Benitez appears in danger of failing on his guarantee of a fourth-placed finish.
Latest Forum Comments
Excellent afternoon all round. I firmly believe that if we can beat Chelsea at OT they are out of it, leaving us and Arsenal to battle it out. Although they still have marginally the easier fixtures (there are some tricky ones too: Birmingham and Spurs away; City at home), our games don't look as daunting now that we have Van Der Sar, Ferdinand and Vidic playing together. It is also good that we are playing Sunderland, Stoke, Bolton and Blackburn - all sides in the lower half who are not in any great danger of relegation, albeit Chelsea's result yesterday proves that you can't take anything for granted - unless your name is Nani!- Neil
That'll do very nicely!- Jonesy
DIOUF! Could our weekend be about to get even better?- fenwar
Ya i wasn't too pleased to see him get the start ahead of Scholes i thought he was way too casual but we got the result in the end which is the main thing!- Munsterman
i thought Carrick was poor all game actually, so sloppy.- Shaun
Get the fook in! Michael Carrick was shockin for the first goal sloppily gave the ball away on the half way line then strolled back behind Torres and let him get a free header in for the goal instead of bursting his gut to get back and try and make up for his mistake. After that we took control Fletch got man of the match but Park had another super game delighted for him getting the winner, Gary Neville had a fine game as well great overlap for the second goal to give Fletch that extra bit of space to whip the ball in. Come on Blackburn...- Munsterman
considering the start we made (rio falling asleep), ferdinand and vidic really worked hard at the back. fletcher was awesome as always, park and rooney linked up well and a word for gary neville who is showing signs of being the best right-back in the country again. impressive considering his age.- Shaun
The last half hour was simply nerve-racking. In hindsight, for no good reason; but I was more paranoid about the possibility of us making a stupid mistake to give them a way back into the game. Thankfully, it wasn't to be.. Park once again justified his place with his work-rate, and got a well-deserved goal - which (OK, I maybe getting a little carried away in the moment) I feel was one of our best goals this season; with the passing, creation of space and top finish. Fantastic. Deserved our win 100%...- Abner
Felt as though we completely outclassed them today. The last 20mins was worrying though, not because Liverpool were threatening but because you knew a chance would have to come their way at some point, fortunately Torres fluffed his chance but we fully deserved the win. Over to you now Chelsea. Come on Blackburn!!- Dave
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