Football: Hughes' sense of spectacular rescues United

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The Independent Online
Manchester United. 2

Liverpool. . . . .2

JUST when Liverpool thought they had turned the corner, fate dug in with the hobnails again, and Mark Hughes snatched a stunning equaliser in the time added on for the stoppage when Jan Molby sustained the serious ankle injury he was having X- rayed last night.

Only 10 seconds of a pulsating, switchback match remained when Hughes' second goal - a typical diving header - hauled United out of the grave, and denied resurgent Liverpool what would have been a fourth successive win.

In scoring twice in the last 12 minutes, Hughes upstaged Ian Rush, his partner in the Welsh attack, whose goal just before half- time was his 287th for Liverpool, and broke a 23-year-old-club record set by Roger Hunt.

There was sufficient incident and drama to satisfy the most demanding of the 33,243 spectators who provided Old Trafford with its first sell-out of the season, but the main post-match talking point was Molby's injury, and the circumstances in which his ankle was damaged.

The tackle by Darren Ferguson which left the Dane writhing was a bad one, and Graeme Souness remonstrated with the referee, Keith Hackett, as he crossed the touchline at the end.

Diplomatically perhaps, Souness indicated later that it was the refusal of a penalty when Ferguson bowled over Steve McManaman which had incensed him. He said he was not prepared to comment on Molby's misfortune until he had watched the incident on video.

Before losing their experienced playmaker, Liverpool had seemed set fair for their first away win in the League for nine months. Successive victories over Apollon of Limassol, Sheffield Wednesday and Chesterfield had restored both equilibrium and momentum, and there was much of the old resilience about their defence, and much more purpose to their play in general.

United introduced Hank Marvin to the crowd before the game and spent the next hour or so chasing shadows. Ronny Rosenthal and Don Hutchison ran at them with pace and determination, turning opponents who had not expected such aggression.

Alex Ferguson said beforehand that he thought Liverpool would play a cat-and-mouse game, with five at the back. Instead, they went for it with real gusto, seizing the initiative after 24 minutes when young Hutchison scored his fifth goal in six matches, and keeping it until Hughes inspired United's late revival.

There was an element of luck about Hutchison's 25-yard strike, which was deflected into Peter Schmeichel's bottom left corner via Steve Bruce's lunging leg, but the goal was no more than Liverpool deserved for some bright, enterprising approach play.

United's increasingly frenzied attempts to regain parity foundered on a solid defence, working an efficient offside trap, with the centre- halves, Steve Nicol and Torben Piechnik, fully justifying the decision to omit Mark Wright.

Piechnik, composed and resolute, is improving with every appearance as he adjusts to the pace of English football, and has been largely responsible for restoring order where previously chaos reigned.

Liverpool's second goal was both historic and potentially decisive. Rosenthal, having just spurned an inviting chance, atoned by cutting the ball back from the left for Rush to side-foot in what was, remarkably, his first goal in the Premier League. More pertinently, it was his 287th in all since arriving at Anfield from Chester a decade ago, eclipsing the record Hunt had held since 1969.

For a long time it seemed to have put the game beyond United's retrieval. They had scored a meagre 18 goals in their last 20 games; surely two in one half was beyond them? It probably would have been had not Liverpool lost Molby's steadying influence, 10 minutes from the end. At that stage, United had just clawed their way back into contention, Hughes spotting Bruce Grobbelaar off his line and volleying Clayton Blackmore's chip forward over the goalkeeper's head.

Hughes and his team were lifted by the goal, Liverpool deflated by the sight of a key player leaving on a stretcher. Yet with normal time up we were looking at a notable away win.

The two minutes Mr Hackett added on for the injury dictated otherwise, Hughes throwing himself full length at the near post to bury Ryan Giggs' short cross from the left for a draw which the scorer admitted 'came out of the blue'.

Manchester United: Schmeichel; Parker, Irwin, Bruce, Ferguson, Pallister, Kanchelskis (Blackmore, 66), Ince, McClair, Hughes, Giggs. Substitutes not used: Phelan, Walsh (gk).

Liverpool: Grobbelaar; Marsh, Burrows, Nicol, Piechnik, Hutchison, McManaman, Redknapp (Thomas, 72), Rush, Molby (Tanner, 82), Rosenthal. Substitute not used: James (gk).

Referee: K Hackett (Sheffield).