Man Utd 2, Liverpool 1
On a day when the more unseemly side of football again reared its ugly head, Wayne Rooney showed that there is still something to admire about the ‘beautiful’ game.
Rooney’s double strike in the opening five minutes of the second half gave United three deserved points and put them back on the top of the Premier League.
But the undercurrent surrounding the game erupted to the surface before a ball was kicked in anger and the football was forgotten amid a series of unsavoury incidents.
The catalyst was Liverpool striker Luis Suarez, who seems to have learned little from the eight-match ban he has just finished for racially abusing United defender Patrice Evra.
The Uruguayan’s decision to snub Evra in the pre-match handshake angered the Frenchman and led to his United team-mate Rio Ferdinand turning his back on Suarez.
Suarez was again at the centre of controversy when he kicked the ball into the crowd at the end of the first half.
The ill feeling spilled over into the tunnel as the players left the pitch and it took the combination of stewards and police to restore order as players jostled and pushed each other in the dressing room area.
Football regained centre stage for the second half, but Evra’s post whistle celebrations again stoked up the temperature.
The United skipper raced around two sides of the ground raising his arms and kissing the club badge on his shirt in a dramatic show of triumphalism.
There was again jostling between players near the entrance to the tunnel and Evra was kept back by referee Phil Dowd until the area was clear.
The unwarranted behaviour by certain players on both sides will hardly enhance the reputation of our national game which becomes more and more tarnished by events day by day……. but there were still some positives to be hauled from the debris.
The first half produced little but tension, mistakes and disjointed football.
The closest thing to a goal was the 31st minute move started and finished by United’s Paul Scholes.
Finding fellow grandee Ryan Giggs on the left side of the Liverpool box, Scholes ghosted in unnoticed to get his head to the Welshman’s cross, only to see his effort from six yards well saved by goalkeeper Jose Reina.
Suarez almost capitalised on some slipshod United defnding in first-half injury time when he raced clear, vaulting Evra’s tackle and denied only by Ferdinand’s excellent last-ditch tackle.
While Danny Welbeck was the undoubted United star of the first half, fellow striker Wayne Rooney grabbed the mantle in dramatic fashion at the start of the second.
In the 47th minute, Michael Carrick flicked on Giggs’ corner at the near post and Rooney applied the finishing touch to hook the ball home from six yards.
Three minutes later, Antonio Valencia robbed Jay Spearing when he cut inside from the right before drilling his low cross into the centre of the Liverpool box where Rooney swept the ball into the net from 12 yards.
This was Rooney’s 500th senior game and the second strike brought up his 213th goal for Everton, United and England.
The next half hour saw United almost dismissive of their opponents – such was the almost total control they enjoyed.
But complacency too often creeps into their game in such situations and their relaxed demeanour let Liverpool back in after 80 minutes.
Charlie Adam’s deep free kick into the United penalty area from the left rebounded off Ferdinand, falling perfectly for Suarez to stab his shot into the net from six yards.
It could have been worse a minute into injury time when only a magnificent reflex save by goalkeeper David De Gea saw Glen Johnson’s blistering 25-yard shot turned over the bar.