Football: McClair carries the United resolution

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Liverpool. . . . . .1

Manchester United. .2

MANCHESTER UNITED returned to the summit of the Premier League with a victory as heroic as it was symbolic. For a generation Liverpool have, more than any other team, stood between United and their Holy Grail and last year it was a defeat in this stadium which condemned their cause.

Now, however, there appears to be a deeper resolve in Alex Ferguson's ranks, a reslience capable of withstanding the sternest examination. Liverpool may no longer figure in the conflict for honours and, indeed, may yet have to endure an uncomfortable task in the murky waters of the relegation issue.

But then nothing is more likely to stir the masses than a confrontation with United. A crowd of 44,374, the highest so far in the Premier League, packed Anfield. It is not mere rivalry between these clubs; hatred and venom pollute the atmosphere and for half an hour the fervour fuelled Liverpool.

United, courtesy of some good fortune and the reflexes of their goalkeeper, Peter Schmeichel, kept their goal intact and retaliated to take the lead just before half time, Mark Hughes registering his first goal in seven matches. They responded with equal conviction after Ian Rush struck his third goal in three league matches against United, Brian McClair applying the decisive header.

We were denied another goal from Ryan Giggs, but were treated to the rest of his repertoire. His talent raised him above the rest and gave United a crucial extra dimension.

Liverpool carried the fight to United on the tidal wave of passion and swarmed around the opposition's goal as of old. The bombardment, it seemed, was about to pay off in the 22nd minute, as Don Hutchison spun on the ball and fired a low left-foot shot. To his and the heaving Kop's dismay, Schmeichel plunged to his left and somehow turned the ball away. Liverpool might have sensed that the gods were conspiring against them. Giggs certainly was.

The young wizard had already worked his trickery a couple of times and now he turned Mark Wright inside out before pulling the ball across the face of the goal. Paul Ince and Mark Hughes, combative to the core, bludgeoned their way through before the former brought a save out of David James. Andrei Kanchelskis wasted an opportunity provided by the combined skills of Lee Sharpe and Giggs but United's predictable breakthrough came in the 42nd minute. Paul Stewart, lucky not to have been penalised for his challenge on Sharpe, cleared carelessly and from Giggs's volleyed centre, Hughes powered a header beyond the reach of James. Stewart pulled a hamstring in the incident and Rush was freed from his leash.

Five minutes into the second half the Welsh striker, who scored his first goal against United here last season, produced a stunning equaliser. Jamie Redknapp played the ball forward and Rush's volley defied the attentions of Steve Bruce and the positioning of Schmeichel.

Anfield exploded but United's faith was indestructible. In the 55th minute Liverpool failed to cope with Sharpe's corner, Gary Pallister got the flick on and McClair accepted the simple header.

Ferguson said: 'I can't hide my pleasure about that result. We showed a lot of determination. Once we got the first goal, it was a great performance.'

His opposite number, Graeme Souness, applauded Rush's goal but is not relishing his team's plight. He said: 'I told Ian to prove me wrong and he did with that great goal. But we gave away two goals and I'm not enjoying this experience. I'd rather be at the other end.'

Liverpool: D James; J Redknapp, R Jones, S Nicol, M Wright, S Bjornebye, S McManaman, D Hutchison, M Walters (D Burrows 78 min), J Barnes, P Stewart (I Rush 44 min). Sub not used:M Hooper (gk). Manager: G Souness.

Manchester United: P Schmeichel; P Parker, D Irwin, S Bruce, L Sharpe, G Pallister, A Kanchelskis, P Ince, B McClair, M Hughes, R Giggs. Subs not used: D Dublin, M Phelan, L Sealey (gk). Manager: A Ferguson.

Referee: R Milford (Bristol).

Goals: Hughes (0-1, 42 min); Rush (1-1, 50 min); McClair (1-2, 55 min).