LIVERPOOL 2, MAN UNITED 1.
Manchester United’s dreams of FA Cup glory were dashed by a late matchwinning goal from Liverpool’s Dirk Kuyt.
The Dutchman ended a memorable week for Liverpool who three days earlier had beaten Manchester City in the semi-finals of the Carling Cup.
It looked as though United’s disciplined display would earn a fourth-round replay until substitute Kuyt struck the decisive blow in the 88th minute.
Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard admitted his side was tired and both he and Reds legend Roy Keane thought United were superior in terms of possession and overall play.
Keane, however, was damning about the goals United conceded declaring: “The defending for both Liverpool goals was shocking.
“United were superior in their passing and the way they played, but that doesn’t win you games.”
Daniel Agger gave Liverpool the lead, Ji-sung Park equalised with Kuyt’s winner his 50th goal for Liverpool.
After all the pre-match hype about this being the first meeting between United and Liverpool in the aftermath of the Evra-Suarez racist incident, the match passed incident free.
Evra was jeered every time he touched the ball and there were taunts which Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish described as “friendly banter.”
Dalglish praised both sets of fans and also the players from each team as to how they conducted themselves.
United had a packed five-man midfield, which included veteran Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs as Danny Welbeck operated as the lone front runner.
David De Gea was restored in goal while Wayne Rooney and Phil Jones were both ruled out through ankle injuries.
Liverpool made four changes from midway with Craig Bellamy rested to the bench as Andy Carroll was their only out-and-out striker in an effective 4-5-1 system.
Despite it being a tactical battle, both sides carved out chances.
Maxi Rodriguez brought a fine save from De Gea early on while for United Giggs shot straight at Pepe Reina while Antonio Valencia hit the upright and cutting in from the right.
Liverpool took the lead in the 21st minute after they were gifted a goal. De Gea was beaten hands down failing to gather a Gerrard corner as Daniel Agger had a free header into an unguarded net.
United’s patient, passing game was rewarded as they drew level six minutes before the break.
Rafael da Silva made a deadly burst down the right breezing past Jose Enrique and cutting the ball pack from the byline for Ji-Sung Park to fire a first-time shot from 14 yards low to the left of Reina.
It remained a cagey affair in the second half, even after Dirk Kuyt and Charlie Adam were introduced.
De Gea’s confidence remained fragile as he was caught trying to dribble the ball inside the penalty area and he then fumbled a routine cross.
However, the Spaniard pulled off a decent save midway through the half to keep out a free kick from Gerrard who bent the ball over the defensive wall.
Liverpool brought on Bellamy for Gerrard with 19 minutes left, their final change as they pressed for a winning goal.
United made their first change in the 76th minute as striker Javier Hernandez replaced midfield man Scholes as they, too, looked for the goal which would prevent a replay.
But it was Liverpool who conjured an 88th minute when United’s defence was sliced open by a long clearance from Reina which was flicked on by Carroll as Dutchman Kuyt breezed past Evra to shoot low past De Gea.
Liverpool could have added a third goal moments later when Carroll headed against the top of the upright and Kuyt fired the rebound narrowly wide to end their dreams of Wembley.