Football: Ince checks United's title charge

Premiership: Arsenal and Chelsea take full advantage as Irwin is sent off and Ferguson's men drop two points

Liverpool 2 Manchester United 2

FOR LIVERPOOL it was not quite as sweet a moment as seven years ago when they denied Manchester United the title, but it was close. To knock their great Lancashire rivals off their stride was enough on a night of thunderous drama.

With 22 minutes remaining United were 2-0 up and seemingly set fair to maintain their march on the treble. Then the bolts arrived with painful regularity. Jamie Redknapp reduced the arrears with a penalty; Denis Irwin was sent off for two bookable offences and will miss the FA Cup final; then with two minutes remaining Paul Ince got an equaliser.

The identity of the scorer of the goal that means Arsenal have a three- point advantage at the top of the Premiership was the final irony. Ince won two championships with United before being sold to Internazionale and has had to withstand furious jibes from his erstwhile supporters since.

"I didn't think we could do it when we were 2-0 down, specially against a team like United," Ince said. "But it showed the great spirit in the team." Did he feel sorry for his former club? "Not really, they've won the title so many times recently."

Alex Ferguson, the United manager, put the blame squarely on David Elleray. "It's a disappointing night for us," he said. "At 2-0 there was no way they could possibly come back. I think the referee handed it to them. It doesn't do our game too much good when you see things like that."

Ferguson was angry, but passions ran high from the start of the evening. In the opening seconds Dwight Yorke dwelt on the ball for a half-second too long and Ince arrived like a flanker taking out an outside-half. That tackle, perfectly legitimate, was an announcement of intent because Liverpool tore at their opponents. At that stage they were the better side but the fact they were inches away from pulling the trigger rather than raining in shots at Peter Schmeichel was a concern for their manager, Gerard Houllier.

It became substantially worse when United took the lead after 21 minutes. A beautifully crafted goal it was, too.

News of Arsenal's opening goal had just filtered through to Anfield and as the home supporters delighted in relaying it to the players, United silenced them with simplicity allied to supreme accuracy. Roy Keane and David Beckham played one-touch at a free-kick on the right wing before the latter feinted to go outside and instead passed inwards to his captain. When Keane delivered a lovely return ball, Beckham had the choice of going near or far post with his pass. The cross, bending and spinning with malicious intent, took the long route where Yorke rose to head emphatically past Brad Friedel from six yards.

Yorke had another header saved by Friedel but that seemed irrelevant when United went 2-0 ahead. Beckham flicked a pass to the left with the outside of his right foot and, as Rigobert Song hesitated, Jesper Blomqvist burst past him. Jamie Carragher stretched to mend the damage but was a fraction too late and caught the Swedish winger in the chest.

Cue mayhem. Blomqvist collapsed, Keane and Ince squared up to each other and Elleray pointed to the spot. Irwin, a cool head amid the noise and the anger, calmly converted the penalty.

United seemed secure but after 68 minutes Dominic Matteo's cross from the left landed at Oyvind Leonhardsen's feet and as he was about to shoot Blomqvist arrived with a tackle. United argued it was fair but Elleray thought otherwise and Redknapp sent Schmeichel the wrong way with the spot-kick.

Liverpool sensed blood and charged forward and it was an attempt to ease the pressure that cost Irwin. The left-back was attempting a counter- attack when the ball went marginally out of play and when he passed to Andy Cole the referee ruled he had kicked the ball away. Having earlier been booked for a late tackle on Steve McManaman, Irwin received the red card this time.

"I don't know how the guy is expected to see the linesman who is 10 yards behind him," Ferguson said. "It's tragic that he'll miss the final."

Down to 10 men, United hung on desperately until David Thompson's through ball gave Karlheinz Riedle a chance and when his attempt was blocked Ince slid in to beat Schmeichel.

"I told you we'd beat them one day - it was nearly tonight," Houllier said. For United it felt like a defeat. Advantage Arsenal.

Liverpool (3-5-1-1): Friedel; Carragher, Staunton (Thompson, 78), Babb; Song (Berger, 57), Redknapp, Ince, Leonhardsen, Matteo; McManaman; Riedle. Substitutes not used: Ferri, Bjornebye, James (gk).

Manchester United (4-4-2): Schmeichel; G Neville, Stam, Johnsen, Irwin; Beckham, Keane, Scholes, Blomqvist (P Neville, 76); Yorke, Cole (Butt, 76). Substitutes not used: May, Sheringham, Van der Gouw (gk).

Referee: D Elleray (Harrow).

Chelsea celebrate; more reports; results, page 26

Arts and Entertainment
Ramsay Bolton in Game of Thrones
tvSeries 5, Episode 3 review
News
peoplePair enliven the Emirates bore-draw
News
British theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking
people
News
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband (R) and Boris Johnson, mayor of London, talk on the Andrew Marr show in London April 26
General electionAndrew Marr forced to intervene as Boris and Miliband clash on TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This design and print company a...

Recruitment Genius: Lift and Elevator Contract Manager - London

£38000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Engineer - OTE £40,000

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Engineer is required to...

Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator - Hull - £32,000

£30000 - £32000 per annum + £4200 car allowance: Ashdown Group: 3rd Line Suppo...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence