King Keane in no mood to relinquish throne

Liverpool 0 - Manchester United 1
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As Manchester United came out of the tunnel at Anfield on Saturday, Roy Keane momentarily forgot the protocol of the modern Premiership and jogged away from his team-mates lining up for the handshakes. He had to be beckoned over - there were a few jokes at his expense - and it was tempting to think that for the first time that afternoon Keane had been caught out of position. It also proved to be the last time.

As Manchester United came out of the tunnel at Anfield on Saturday, Roy Keane momentarily forgot the protocol of the modern Premiership and jogged away from his team-mates lining up for the handshakes. He had to be beckoned over - there were a few jokes at his expense - and it was tempting to think that for the first time that afternoon Keane had been caught out of position. It also proved to be the last time.

The match-winning goal, celebrated with some bravery in front of the Kop, came from Wayne Rooney, but the match-winning performance was from Keane. It was all the more significant when you consider his adversary in midfield was Steven Gerrard, a Keane for the new decade. Even Sir Alex Ferguson agrees that the Liverpool captain will inherit the Irishman's position as the king of the Premiership's midfield, but the latest news is that Keane is not ready to vacate the throne yet.

Rested for the FA Cup tie against Exeter City, Keane was untouchable. He struck the bar with a volley on 30 minutes and, with Paul Scholes, ground away Liverpool's resistance. In many senses it was an unequal contest. Gerrard found himself covering at left-back or rescuing his centre-halves and he was the only impetus Liverpool had in attack. By the end he looked despairing, less with his own performance than with his supporting cast.

With their captain reinstated to the team, and Arsenal's lead over them reduced to one point, there are a few more statistics that suggest that if anyone is to catch Chelsea, it will be United. They were without Rio Ferdinand, and reduced to 10 men for 25 minutes after Wes Brown's second bookable offence, but this was still United's seventh consecutive clean sheet. More strenuous tests than this lie ahead.

Even Keane would admit that his side "picked Liverpool off, especially in midfield", but in truth it would be hard to remember him encountering a more puny opposition at Anfield over the course of his 11 years at United. The old football aristocracy of the North-west once decided the destiny of the title in these encounters, but on Saturday it felt like a long way from the top of the Premiership. United are still 11 points behind Chelsea but Liverpool seemed to be years away from challenging for the title.

Jamie Carragher's 90th-minute effort was Liverpool's solitary shot on goal on a day in which the hard men of United's defence - Gabriel Heinze and Mikaël Silvestre - ended Fernando Morientes' record of scoring on his club debuts. But it was the enduring curse of Jerzy Dudek's shot nerves that was decisive. The goalkeeper's error for Rooney's goal was no less costly than his slip against Diego Forlan two years ago and another mistake that allowed in a Ryan Giggs free-kick last year.

With 22 minutes gone Rooney collected the ball 30 yards from goal and unleashed a shot that Dudek had plenty of time to position himself for, but succeeded only in allowing it to squirm underneath him. There is no doubt that he will be moved out of Anfield this summer once Chris Kirkland recovers from injury, although Dudek was not ready to accept any of the blame for the mistake that cost Liverpool the match.

"The ball swerved and I was unlucky because it was the first shot of the game," he said. "Rooney has a very powerful shot and I think he had only one chance which he took. It was impossible for me to catch the ball because I was concentrating on trying to parry it. From then on I had to stay on my toes and try not to let the goal affect me."

The mobile phone thrown at Rooney when he saluted the Kop after his goal was one of the game's few moments of genuine aggression. Even when Brown picked up his second caution for a foul on John Arne Riise it was difficult to imagine Liverpool would ever break down their visitors. It marked the first time United have won three years in a row at Anfield which, two decades earlier, would have meant much more. They measure themselves against different rivals now.

Goals: Rooney (22) 0-1.

Liverpool (4-4-2): Dudek; Carragher, Hyypia, Pellegrino, Traoré; Garcia, Hamann (Biscan, 79), Gerrard, Riise (Sinama-Pongolle, 72); Baros, Morientes (Nunez, 75). Substitutes not used: Warnock, Harrison (gk) Booked: Carragher, Nunez.

Manchester United (4-5-1): Carroll; P Neville, Brown, Silvestre, Heinze; Ronaldo (O'Shea, 67), Fletcher, Keane, Scholes, Rooney (Bellion, 90); Saha (Fortune, 79). Substitutes not used: Howard (gk), Miller.

Booked: Manchester United Brown, Rooney, Fortune, Keane.

Sent off: Manchester United Brown (65).

Referee: S Bennett (Kent).

Man of the match: Keane.

Attendance: 44,183.

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