At Long Last

Liverpool gained some respite after a torrid October thanks to a hard-fought but thoroughly deserved win over a Manchester United side that lacked fluency in attack and confidence in defence. A goal from Fernando Torres settled matters midway through the second period before both sides ended up with ten men, David N'Gog also netting right at the death. The first half was competitive but remained without score at the close. Liverpool had a larger share of the opportunities but the visitors were intermittently dangerous on the counter. Wayne Rooney had the best chance of the half with a header from an Antonio Valencia cross. Fabio Aureilo tested Edwin van der Sar with a header of his own before the half was up but was unchallenged and should have done better. Liverpool took the lead in the second half with 65 minutes played. Yossi Benayoun played through Torres with a wonderful pass and 'El Nino' opened the scoring with an emphatic finish. Manchester United had a couple of chances to level the scoring and went down to ten men as Nemanja Vidic was dismissed late on. Javier Mascherano was also sent off in stoppage time before Ngog scored in the dying moments to earn Liverpool the three points. Rooney had the ball in the back of the net in the second minute. Dimitar Berbatov turned into space high up the field and threaded the ball through to Rooney, who ran off the shoulder of the last defender. The England striker took one touch to control and smashed the ball beyond Pepe Reina into the left side of the net. Unfortunately for the Red Devils the assistant referee flagged Rooney offside and the goal didn't stand. Liverpool began to take control of the goal and were denied the lead by a wonderful piece of goal keeping by van der Sar. Torres ran infield from the left and won a free-kick on the edge of the penalty area. Aureilo stepped up and fizzed a stinging shot towards the top right-hand corner, the Dutch 'keeper saved brilliantly and managed to block the follow up by Dirk Kuyt. The home side had another chance to take the lead. Lucas Leiva out-muscled Scholes to win possession just inside the Manchester United half and drove at the United defence. He played a nicely weighted pass out to Kuyt on the right but the Dutch forward couldn't get the ball out from under his feet quickly enough and half-scuffed his shot wide of the left-hand post. Manchester United looked dangerous on the counter and sprang down the right with Antonio Valencia. The Ecuador international crossed the ball towards Rooney in the middle whose clipped header was saved comfortably by Reina in the Liverpool goal. A good spell of play by Manchester United culminated with a strong challenge by Jamie Carragher on Michael Carrick in the penalty area. The referee was right on hand and decided the Liverpool captain got enough of the ball and let play continue. Liverpool had another good chance in the 36th minute with good play from Yossi Benayoun on the right-hand side of the penalty area. The Israeli stole half a yard on Patrice Evra and crossed towards the back post where Aureilo met the ball with a leaping header. The Brazilian made a good connection and headed low but van der Sar showed good footwork and saved easily to his right. Berbatov almost created an opening from nothing as he flicked the ball over Carragher into the penalty area. The Liverpool skipper got enough contact on the ball to ensure it squirmed through to Reina, the Bulgarian was baring down on the Spanish 'keeper. The atmosphere was growing increasingly lively as half-time approached and when the whistle was blown referee Andre Marriner was surrounded by Manchester United players. Carragher and Ryan Giggs ended up sounding off to the referee, with the Red Devils unhappy with Marriner's first-half performance. The second half began in the same vein as the first with Liverpool surging forward. The Reds had the first chance of the half when a sloppy pass by Evra presented the ball to Benayoun. The Israeli attacked the United defence and slotted Kuyt into space in the right-hand side of the penalty area. Surprisingly, with the Dutch forward one-on-one with the 'keeper, Kuyt elected to pull the ball back towards Benayoun who flicked the ball up and attempted an acrobatic volley. Vidic showed bravery as he dived in to head the ball and won a free-kick as he was caught by Benayoun. Liverpool were throwing everything at United, with Torres and Javier Mascherano having shots blocked in quick succession. As Liverpool were looking to build another attack Carrick stole the ball and sprang on the counter. Carrick played the ball to Berbatov who showed a good turn of pace in the left channel. The Bulgarian played the ball back to Rooney who won a free-kick from Lucas as he came inside. Giggs swung the ball into the penalty area and Torres connected with a strong defensive header to deny Berbatov a great chance. The Bulgarian had wrongly been flagged offside but it was a great piece of defending. Liverpool opened the scoring as Benayoun picked out a wonderful through ball from deep for Fernando Torres who had made a brilliant run off Rio Ferdinand. The Spaniard entered the right-hand side of the penalty area with his first touch and hammered the ball past van der Sar under pressure from Ferdinand, 1-0 to Liverpool. The Reds continued to pour forward looking for a second with Lucas driving at the United defence. He played the ball inside to Kuyt who was on the edge of the penalty area. The Dutch forward took a touch and sent his right-footed shot wide of the post. Aureilo was wide open on the left but Kuyt hadn't spotted him. Michael Owen was introduced alongside Nani in the 73rd minute to a chorus of boos from the Liverpool crowd. Berbatov and Scholes were the men withdrawn. United had a chance to equalise minutes later as a Valencia cross wasn't dealt with by the Liverpool defence and the ball fell to Nani in the left-hand side of the penalty area. The Portuguese struck the ball well but Reina was well positioned and caught the shot to his left. Owen was the provided with the Red Devils' next chance. The former Liverpool striker controlled well in the penalty area and held off his marker, he then played the ball to Valencia in the right-hand side of the box. The Ecuador winger controlled the ball and then lashed a venomous strike off the cross-bar. Reina looked well beaten as the ball bounced to safety. Benayoun lost the ball on the right flank and United broke on the Reds quickly. Rooney played the ball in towards Owen on the left channel and the Englishman was brought down by Carragher on the edge of the box. The Liverpool captain saw yellow and Nani wasted the free-kick sending his shot straight at Reina. With minutes to go a long ball over the top caught Vidic out with Kuyt running into space. The Serbian defender saw his second yellow of the game and was given his marching orders for the third consecutive game against Liverpool. In the 94th minute Mascherano was also dismissed for a second bookable offence following a challenge on van der Sar. The action wasn't finished there as Liverpool scored a second on the counter-attack. Kuyt and Lucas combined to release substitute Ngog on the left and the French striker remained calm to slot the ball past van der Sar in the left-hand corner.


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