Around the globe last night Manchester United fans were fiddling with their Apple Macs, their Compaqs and their Toshibas, and cursing Bill Gates. There must be a glitch in the works they thought. United are losing.
There was nothing wrong with their computers. As they watched the first Premiership match to be broadcast on the internet in its entirety, the Liverpool virus infected Old Trafford and closed down United's operating system. Having nullified Ruud van Nistelrooy they achieved their fifth successive victory over the champions with an 82nd-minute goal from Danny Murphy. Those same supporters who cheered when Murphy was substituted at Anfield on Saturday were last night singing his name.
Though Liverpool's failure to beat Southampton on Saturday highlighted an intrinsic problem when needing to break opponents down, this match confirmed their resilience and reminded us of their quality. Certainly, any team that has Nicolas Anelka on the bench cannot be written off and his arrival, 14 minutes from time, changed the match. United were just building up a head of steam when he came on and, within a minute, forced the first real test of Fabien Barthez. He was also involved in the build-up to Liverpool's goal, neatly chipped in by Murphy from Gerrard's pass.
United's failure to break Liverpool down will, at least, have given succour to one man. The pre-match reception Diego Forlan received will have convinced the Uruguayan he chose the right club. The £7.5m signing from the Argentinian club Independiente may then have wondered, as he saw Ole Gunnar Solskjaer relegated to the bench despite 10 goals from 14 starts, how he was to win a place. He discovered that even this team of talents needs something extra every now and again.
United's blank, after 28 goals in nine games, was down to Stéphane Henchoz and Sami Hyypia. The pair stuck so doggedly to Van Nistelrooy there was never any chance of the Dutchman making it 10 goalscoring matches in a row. Instead of leaving a mark on the scoresheet he became so frustrated he left one on Jerzy Dudek. Blocked again as he chased a through ball seven minutes into the second period he appeared to kick recklessly at the ball and caught Dudek on the thigh as the goalkeeper gathered. No action was taken, but it was hard to avoid the feeling that, had Alan Smith of Leeds been the culprit, a storm would now be brewing.
United, as might be expected after nine straight wins, had started brightly and Gerrard, having clattered Van Nistelrooy and Ryan Giggs in the opening seconds, managed to get himself booked within a minute. When Liverpool did get the ball they rarely held it for long.
Yet it was 15 minutes before United's first shot, Giggs, reacting first after Mikaël Silvestre's cross was half-cleared, hitting the side netting. Nine minutes later the Welshman capitalised on a Jamie Carragher error and released David Beckham on the counter-attack, but Paul Scholes shot over from his cross.
With Giggs, after a mazy run and exchange of passes with Scholes, shooting over, and Henchoz heading clear a dangerous Beckham free-kick, Liverpool gradually realised they were not going to be overwhelmed. They began to mount attacks of their own with Gerrard, Owen and Murphy having shots. None worried Fabien Barthez unduly, but they symbolised a growing belief epitomised by the way Gerrard and John Arne Riise looked to drive forward.
United were piqued and, with 20 minutes left, Beckham announced the beginning of their traditional late charge with a 20-yard shot. That curled wide but Dudek, at last, was exercised as he parried a fierce drive from Juan Sebastian Veron. The momentum was building and, down on the Liverpool bench, Phil Thompson decided it was time to introduce the unexpected. Enter Anelka, exit a disgruntled Owen. Laurent Blanc had said yesterday "this could be my final season, at 36 age is catching up with me", but his experience overcame Owen's pace.
Murphy, however, had the final say, just as he had last year when his free-kick won the game. United remain top, but Arsenal can cut their lead to one point if they win one of their games in hand at Leicester tonight. Liverpool climb to third, two points behind United and very much back in the hunt.
Manchester United (4-4-2): Barthez 5; P Neville 5, G Neville 5, Blanc 6, Silvestre 6; Beckham 6 (Solskjaer, 86), Keane 6, Veron 6, Scholes 6; Van Nistelrooy 4, Giggs 7. Substitutes not used: Carroll (gk), Wallwork, O'Shea, Butt.
Liverpool (4-4-2): Dudek 5; Wright 5, Hyypia 7, Henchoz 8, Carragher 5; Murphy 6 (Berger, 88), Gerrard 6, Hamann 5, Riise 6; Owen 5 (Anelka, 77) Heskey 4. Substitutes not used: Arphexad (gk), McAllister, Biscan.
Referee: G Barber (Tring) 8.Reuse content