Man Utd 1 – 0 LiverpoolMarch 4, 2007
Ryan Giggs drew a foul out on the left, Ronaldo whipped in one of his tantalising low free-kicks that the goalkeeper could not hold and O’Shea, who had replaced Rooney a quarter of an hour earlier, swept the ball into the roof of the net to prompt delirious celebrations. It was the first time Liverpool had conceded at home in the Premiership for 931 minutes, stretching back to October, and only the fourth all season – an extraordinary statistic considering that Arsenal put nine Cup goals past them in four days last month.
Their limitations are at the other end of the pitch, as was illustrated again in a game of few chances and disappointing quality. With both defences pushing up and Steven Gerrard reluctant to stay wide for very long, the midfield area would have benefited from congestion charging. Nobody on either side seemed able to keep the ball for long and although Craig Bellamy gave Nemanja Vidic a difficult afternoon, most of the better performers, like Jamie Carragher and Rio Ferdinand, were defenders.
Edwin van der Sar deserved a place on that list as well, if only for the one-handed save that denied another substitute, Peter Crouch. Sadly, however, Henrik Larsson had only the result for fond remembrance of his final Premiership game before returning to Sweden. He had made little contribution to it.
“Liverpool’s pressing upset our rhythm and they were very unlucky,” Ferguson admitted, offering a hint about how best to combat his team. “You need that bit of luck to win a championship and I think we’ve had that. It’s a massive result.” Rafael Benitez, asked to explain how Liverpool could have lost, said glumly: “In Spanish it would be difficult, in English more so.”
Even with Champions’ League assignments this week, both managers did at least send out full-strength sides, to the relief of their respective supporters, none of whom had any taste for losing this fixture whatever may lie ahead. Unfortunately, almost every time the game began warming up, it went off the boil again. John Arne Riise’s typically fierce drive just past a post was the only notable effort of the first half-hour, Carragher’s two heroic blocks in a minute soon afterwards keeping his goalkeeper well protected.
In Liverpool’s bright start to the second half, Bellamy was narrowly offside as he turned the ball in, yet that would be his side’s last significant threat for half an hour. Both managers showed their dissatisfaction by making the maximum number of substitutions. One, Louis Saha, was tripped by Daniel Agger without being awarded a penalty; another one, Crouch, forced a superb save from Van der Sar; but it was a third, O’Shea, who had the decisive word with what he described as “the most important goal of my career”.
In between times, Scholes, being held back by Xabi Alonso, was sent off for swinging a punch; even though, like so much that had gone before, it missed.