Silvestre gives Ferdinand a winning return

Manchester United 2 - Liverpool 1
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Mikael Silvestre upstaged his partner's return to Manchester United's central defence last night but Rio Ferdinand was not complaining. The Frenchman's brace of headed goals ensured Ferdinand began his comeback with his first win bonus since 7 January.

Mikael Silvestre upstaged his partner's return to Manchester United's central defence last night but Rio Ferdinand was not complaining. The Frenchman's brace of headed goals ensured Ferdinand began his comeback with his first win bonus since 7 January.

United, who seemed to derive strength from a Premiership record Old Trafford crowd which was roused by Ferdinand's presence, were good value for their victory even if a John O'Shea own goal briefly gave Liverpool undeserved parity.

A lapse by Ferdinand contributed to that goal, but he was otherwise impressive in difficult conditions. Heavy rain created a slick surface but neither Djibril Cissé nor Milan Baros were able to turn him. His return to England colours, against Wales on this ground next month, seems assured.

Defeat would have condemned United to their worst start since 1986 when a haul of four points from their opening six matches led to Ron Atkinson's dismissal and Ferguson's arrival. Victory, together with last week's comeback in Lyon, ends any talk of crisis and while they remain seven points behind Arsenal, Wayne Rooney is still to come.

Prior to the match Sir Alex Ferguson had hoped Ferdinand's return would have the same catalytic impact as that of Eric Cantona after a similarly lengthy ban. That was also against Liverpool and it has become one of those "I was there" occasions on Manchester, Cantona having made one goal and scored the other. In fact, few were there, stadium redevelopment meant only 34,934 witnessed Cantona's resurrection.

Last night's 40,000 extra spectators included Tim Howard, who was dropped from the squad after his latest howler, in Lyon. Roy Carroll came into a team which featured only six survivors from Ferdinand's last outing, at Wolves in January. Change has been even more pronounced at Anfield. That night Liverpool were losing to Spurs with a team which included Bruno Cheyrou, Emile Heskey, Danny Murphy, Michael Owen and Paul Jones.

That one of the most impressive replacements for this departed quintet has been Luis Garcia had evidently been noted by Ferdinand for his first meaningful action was to plough through the back of the Spaniard's legs. Graham Poll shied away from cautioning Ferdinand just as, after 13 minutes, he declined to award a penalty after Sami Hyypia had dragged back Ruud van Nistelrooy.

Though Djibril Cissé had mis-kicked from Josemi's cross after three minutes United had by then taken command. After Ronaldo, on mesmerising form, hit the post from 30 yards, they broke through. Hyypia fouled Paul Scholes on the right and Giggs, making his 600th appearance for United, delivered the free-kick which an unmarked Mikaël Silvestre headed in.

Liverpool continued to struggle in the air, Van Nistelrooy, Gabriel Heinze and John O'Shea all testing Jerzy Dudek with headers. Liverpool also lost Steven Gerrard to what may be a broken metatarsal bone.

At half-time United were so buoyant, and Liverpool so poor, a home win seemed inevitable. Liverpool, though, levelled soon after the restart after Ferdinand proved his enforced break had not improved his concentration level by passing straight to Harry Kewell. The Australian had fought off stiff competition to be Liverpool's worst first-half performer but even he did not forsake this opportunity and, though Keane had delayed him, he drew a foul from Wes Brown.

The impressive Xavi Alonso hit the free-kick deep to Steve Finnan whose header back across goal deflected off Carroll, on to O'Shea's shins and over the line. Liverpool were revived with Josemi firing over from 30 yards.

Their rally was cut short, however, as Silvestre restored United's lead. In a near repeat of their opening goal he again arrived late to head in a Giggs cross, this time from a corner.

Silvestre's goals highlighted an unfamiliar Liverpool failing: they looked likely to concede every time a high ball was hoisted into their box. Oh, for Ron Yeats of long ago, or even the once imperious Hyypia.

Alonso, a shining light, responded with a driven 40-yard shot which almost embarrassed Carroll and Heinze had to clear from Hyypia as Liverpool mounted a late assault.

Manchester United (4-4-1-1): Carroll; Brown, Ferdinand, Silvestre, Heinze; Ronaldo, Keane, O'Shea, Giggs; Scholes (Smith, 87); Van Nistelrooy. Substitutes not used: Ricardo (gk), Kleberson, Fletcher, P Neville.

Liverpool (4-4-1-1): Dudek; Josemi, Carragher, Hyypia, Riise; Finnan, Gerrard (Hamann, 39), Alonso, Kewell; Garcia; Cissé (Baros, 67). Substitutes not used: Kirkland (gk), Diao, Hamann, Traoré.

Referee: G Poll (Tring).

Comments