MAN UNITED 2, LIVERPOOL 1.
Sir Alex Ferguson admitted at times it wasn’t pretty but the result was more important than the performance as Manchester United strengthened their position at the top of the Barclays Premier League with victory against arch rivals.
Goals from Robin van Persie and Nemanja Vidic brought United’s points total to an impressive 27 from a possible 30 as they are in the sort of run which could well deliver a 20th championship in May.
“I would have taken the score before the game and the three points,” admitted the Reds’ manager whose side complete a league double over the Anfield club.
United never hit the heights of recent weeks and had to withstand a fierce Liverpool onslaught in the second period as the visitors introduced new £12million striker Daniel Sturridge in a do-or-die move to get back into the game.
And with more clinical finishing, they could well have left Old Trafford with a share of the spoils.
Ferguson admitted Sturridge’s goal, which halved Liverpool’s deficit, gave the visitors a belief they could take something from the game.
He explained: “Our first-half performance and up to Liverpool scoring was magnificent and as good as we have had for a long time and could have been three or four up.
“The goal lifted Liverpool and some of our defending after that was erratic and desperate, but we managed to get through it.
“The game was engrossing and you would expect it to be full of emotion and intensity bearing in mind it involved two of the country’s most successful clubs.”
After a low-key opening, the match exploded to life when United took a 12th minute lead.
Left-back Patrice Evra made an overlapping run and squared the ball for van Persie to sweep home a low shot from 10 yards, his 21st goal of an impressive debut campaign for the Reds.
As the half continued, United began to take complete control carving out a number of chances to increase their lead.
Dutchman van Persie blazed over, Danny Welbeck’s goalbound shot was blocked by Daniel Agger and then fired over, Tom Cleverley volleyed inches wide while Shinji Kagawa was denied by a block by Pepe Reina.
There was a fear United might later pay the price for being wasteful in front of goal.
United finally doubled their advantage in the 54th minute with a goal Evra and Vidic are both claiming.
Martin Skrtel was booked for a foul on Welbeck and there was further punishment for Liverpool as van Persie’s free kick was met at the far post by Evra whose headed glanced into the net off Vidic.
United’ s joy was short-lived as Liverpool quickly halved their deficit with their first clear-cut chance of the match.
Steven Gerrard’s shot from outside the box was only parried by David De Gea and half-time substitute Sturridge slotted home his first Premier League goal since his recent move from Chelsea.
United would have restored their two-goal advantage had Reina not pulled off an excellent flying save to keep out a shot from Kagawa.
Liverpool suddenly sensed a way back into the match as they took the game to United who became increasingly nervous and jittery.
Glen Johnson and substitutes Sturridge and Fabio Borini all had goal attempts, but each was off target.
United were almost punished in the 86th minute for failing to clear danger as Sturridge blazed over from eight yards when he ought to have made it 2-2.
Sturridge also fired into the side netting as United were grimly holding on to their slender advantage.