Murphy the old scourge of United hits the spot again

Manchester United 0 Liverpool 1
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The Independent Online

Say what you like about Liverpool - and most people have in the past couple of years - they do pick their venues for what have become rare successes away from Anfield. The first of only five this season was at Everton, the most recent at Chelsea more than three months ago, and yesterday's came at a venue where they are even happier to win than at Goodison. It was not undeserved, if only because Manchester United played so limply until the last few minutes of a dreadfully disappointing game, though the means could hardly have been predicted: not since Ruel Fox of Norwich City 10 years ago has a visiting player converted a penalty in the Premiership at Old Trafford.

Say what you like about Liverpool - and most people have in the past couple of years - they do pick their venues for what have become rare successes away from Anfield. The first of only five this season was at Everton, the most recent at Chelsea more than three months ago, and yesterday's came at a venue where they are even happier to win than at Goodison. It was not undeserved, if only because Manchester United played so limply until the last few minutes of a dreadfully disappointing game, though the means could hardly have been predicted: not since Ruel Fox of Norwich City 10 years ago has a visiting player converted a penalty in the Premiership at Old Trafford.

Not many are given the opportunity, but even the most intimidated referee would have found it difficult to turn a blind eye to Gary Neville's impetuous lunge at Steven Gerrard after just over an hour's play. Home supporters encouraged by their opponents' wretched record from the spot - six misses this season - would have been less pleased to see Danny Murphy, so often a scoring scourge of United, stepping forward to take the kick. He planted it confidently past Tim Howard for his third winning goal on the ground in five seasons.

So United wasted the chance to put Chelsea under pressure for the second automatic Champions' League place, while Newcastle must now beat the London side by two goals today to reclaim fourth position. The absence of Ruud van Nistelrooy, injured after playing a full 90 minutes against Charlton in midweek, and the suspended Paul Scholes hardly explained United's lack of penetration. Even Sir Alex Ferguson, not often minded to criticise his players in public, admitted: "We never made the goalkeeper work, particularly with players in there who are good finishers." He was referring to his striking pair, Louis Saha and Ryan Giggs, both of them wasteful with the few chances that did materialise, though the latter was unfortunate on one occasion to hit both posts with the same shot.

Liverpool's 4-0 defeat on their previous visit, a year ago, was the heaviest they had suffered at Old Trafford for 50 years. There may have been mitigating circumstances - Sami Hyypia was sent off after only four minutes, allowing Van Nistelrooy to score the first of his two penalties - but it was obvious which way the wind was blowing. The cold draught of under-achievement has continued to leave the red half of Merseyside feeling under the weather through most of this season as well, but this success against their bitter rivals might just be the tonic to revive them at a crucial stage of the campaign. The final game, at home to Newcastle, seems more likely than ever to decide which of the teams finishes fourth.

Houllier had decided it was a day for English (and Irish) grit, dropping Vladimir Smicer and Bruno Cheyrou for two extra defensive midfielders, Steve Finnan and Murphy. That enabled him to double up on the flanks, which did not add to the entertainment value, but was clearly necessary to help the full-backs deal with Cristiano Ronaldo and his stepovers.

For a long time United were permitted less possession and fewer chances than the visitors, though not many of the early opportunities granted to either team demanded preventive action from either goalkeeper, giving the first half a rather anti-climatic air, for all the traditional sound and fury of this fixture. Giggs had the clearest chance a couple of minutes before the interval, just after he had curled a free-kick wide. Saha's deft flick set him clear but at an angle, and the shot flew the wrong side of a post.

Liverpool, though, could point to a thunderous free-kick from John Arne Riise, whose long throw down the left also caught Wes Brown dreaming, allowing Michael Owen to cut the ball back dangerously across goal. That there was no one in support of the England striker illustrated one of Liverpool's problems.

Ferguson, no lover of Liverpool's counter-attacking style, made a tactical change at half-time to try and unhinge them, switching Ronaldo from left to right. Surprisingly, it was Houllier who made the first attacking substitution, sending on Smicer for Finnan after an hour of largely unproductive football. The Czech had not touched the ball before his team went in front. Tim Howard, who appears to have edged back in front of Roy Carroll as United's FA Cup final goalkeeper, was rescued by Roy Keane as Murphy's corner left him in no-man's land, but then betrayed by Neville's mistimed tackle on the marauding Gerrard that brought the undisputed penalty.

Owen, who has missed 10 of his 23 penalties for the club, and Gerrard, who failed recently against Fulham, declined the honours this time, Murphy confidently stepping forward to continue his fine scoring record at Old Trafford.

United responded by replacing John O'Shea with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, whose hook across goal after 73 minutes was their first effort of the half. Houllier, with no defensive player in the dug-out, must have wished he could put Finnan back on, all the more so as the home side suddenly threatened three times in as many minutes. The best attempt by far was from Giggs, sending the ball off one post on to the other as he met a centre from Ronaldo, who then crossed a whisker in front of the lunging Solskjaer. Finally, and lamentably, Saha headed wide as Giggs offered him an equaliser on a plate.

Manchester United 0 Liverpool 1
Murphy pen 63

Half-time: 0-0 Attendance: 67,647

STATS OF THE DAY

MAN UNITED LIVERPOOL

3 Corners 4
18 Fouls 15
2 on, 8 off Shots 3 on, 4 off
5 Offsides 0
2 (y) Cards 2 (y)

Man of the match Danny Murphy (Liverpool): Took the responsibility from the penalty spot to earn victory on his favourite ground.

Stats supplied by Opta

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