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Premier League

Berbatov saves United from 'travesty'

Bulgarian's hat-trick secures 3-2 win over Liverpool as Ferguson insists side should have won by a 'cricket score'

Sir Alex ferguson claimed yesterday that it was a "farce" and a "travesty" that Liverpool scored twice to bring the scoreline against Manchester United back to 2-2 before Dimitar Berbatov's third goal of the game won the match for United in dramatic circumstances.

In typically provocative style, the United manager said that his team should have won "by a cricket score" against their bitter rivals before two defensive errors allowed Steven Gerrard to score twice and bring the game level. Flying in the face of hard evidence to the contrary, Ferguson also put the penalty and free-kick from which Liverpool scored down to "bad decisions" by the referee, Howard Webb, and his linesmen.

The result means that United stay third in the Premier League, level on points with Arsenal. The leaders Chelsea maintained their 100 per cent record with a 4-0 win over Blackpool, taking their goals record to 21 in just five games. Manchester City are fourth after a 2-0 win away at Wigan Athletic.

Berbatov's first hat-trick – and the first by a United player in this fixture since Stan Pearson's in 1946 – made for what the Bulgarian said was a "magical day". "I am going home with a smile on my face," said the notoriously morose striker. "But to my kid I'm nothing special and tomorrow is another day."

It was Ferguson who stoked the fires by saying: "It was a game we absolutely dominated and I was saying to myself, 'It could have been 10 [goals for United]', so when it looked like ending 2-2, it would have been a travesty of a scoreline. But it was a great result at the end. They had the momentum when it went to 2-2, but they never offered anything, did they?

"They had to depend on decisions from the linesman to get back into the game. Edwin van der Sar hasn't had a save to make, [Paul] Scholes was controlling the tempo in midfield and we looked dangerous up front with Berbatov and Nani in particular. I couldn't see us losing the game."

Ferguson also criticised Fernando Torres, who won the penalty and free-kick – from both of which Gerrard scored. In reference to the award of the free-kick, from which Gerrard brought the score back to 2-2, Ferguson said that Torres had "made a meal" of the challenge from John O'Shea. "I have watched it again and he [Torres] made a meal of it. He tried to get the player sent off."

Underlining the importance of beating Liverpool, Ferguson said the result would be portrayed as a "catastrophe" for his rivals. "It was always going to be a test," Ferguson said. "The build-up to these games is such that, if one doesn't win, it's a catastrophe. For Liverpool, this is a catastrophe. People are now talking about Liverpool not winning and it would be the same if we hadn't. That's the nature of these games."

Hodgson, who considers himself a friend of Ferguson, chose not to address the United manager's criticisms, instead telling the press that they would have to "get your headlines elsewhere". Hodgson said: "I thought United played very well but to undermine our performance that much is a little bit harsh.

"I should have sat alongside him and then you could have asked both of us. I respect what other managers say and I do not wish to get involved in discussing what they do or don't say."

The result means Liverpool are 16th after five games with only one win and five points. They play Northampton Town in the Carling Cup on Wednesday, but their next two league games against Sunderland and Blackpool will be crucial if they are to get their league season back on track.

"To use words like a catastrophe is a bit strong," Hodgson said. "Chelsea winning means we are long way away [from the leaders]. I suppose you could say that was a catastrophe. Our aim is to get better and get into the Champions League and that's my focus."

There was praise from Ferguson for Berbatov, whose career could hardly be more different to that of Pearson, a player in United's post-war team who had to play at Maine Road because of bomb damage to Old Trafford. "His second goal [an overhead kick] was unexpected, a surprise attempt," Ferguson said. "Not many of those end in the net, we see that time and again, but fortunately it did.

"We are probably beginning to see Dimitar believe in himself. There was a lot of criticism of him last season, but it happens when players sign for United for a lot of money and aren't scoring hat-tricks in every game. That's the way of the world with some players, but this season he has started in the right fashion. His training has been good, he was good on the pre-season tour and he has carried it on. There has never been any doubt about his quality and we have seen it again."

James Lawton, page 4