A makeshift United side was two minutes away from forcing a replay when the Dutchman pounced on Andy Carroll’s flick and made the most of some poor defending by Patrice Evra to slot the winner home.
Much had been said before the game about the tense atmosphere that awaited United – fans and players – and in particular Patrice Evra, following the racist abuse by Luis Suarez, which saw the Uruguayan hit by an 8 games ban.
Ferguson had written an appeal letter to the United fans travelling to Anfield, pledging for co-operation and responsibility, but it was the home fans who showed an appalling behaviour.
Evra was booed from the first to the final whistle, in a sad reminder of how Liverpool and their fans have tried to make racism look like a two clubs affair, rather than a pivotal issue for the football community. For a club always ready to cry out for – alleged – injustices, the contrast in terms of morals and ethics was striking.
According to Dalglish, the jeers and boos aimed at Evra were “friendly banter”, while chants directed to Suarez by West Brom fans were a “scandal which the FA should have stamped their authority on.”
The game itself was a scrappy affair, with Liverpool fielding a 4-3-3 which look more like a 5-4-1 and saw Jamie Carragher deployed in midfield, while United were forced by injuries to make do with what they had.
That meant DeGea in goal, Rafael,Evra,Smalling and Evans at the back with a 5-men midfield including Giggs,Scholes,Carrick,Park and Valencia with Welbeck alone up-front.
With Ferdinand on the bench and Rooney,Jones and Nani joining the long term absentees Cleverley,Vidic and Young on the sidelines it looked like United were in for a tough test on Merseyside.
United had the first opportunity of the game when Valencia ghosted past Henrique,only to see his shot striking the post with Reina all but beaten.
Liverpool were the to draw first blood though, as they went ahead after 21 minutes.
DeGea’s ability to deal with the physical approach of English football has been questioned since the young spaniard was signed in the summer, and it was again a major point of discussion today as he was constantly tested by high balls.
The goal wasn’t entirely his fault though, United should have defended the corner better.
Fergie’s men then started to see more of the ball and a sustained spell of possession brought the equaliser, six minutes before halftime.
Valencia played Rafael through with a back heel flick upon which the Brazilian fullback darted like a man possessed, shrugging off Henrique before delivering an excellent cross in the box, which Park converted with a first time finish.
The second half wasn’t exactly an advert for football, despite both teams tentatively going for the winner – Bellamy , Adam and Kuyt coming on for Liverpool, with Hernandez replacing Scholes after 75 minutes – but United saw their midfield strangle hold slip away as Liverpool committed men forward and were rewarded three minutes from time as Kuyt netted the winner.
Scholes’ departure deprived United of a man capable of dictating the play, as he had done for 75 minutes, keeping Liverpool at bay.
While the choice of going for the winner was a brave one, Scholes hadn’t looked tired and his replacement was arguably the turning point of the match.
United leave Anfield with a bitter taste in their mouth, despite the numerous absentees they were on the front foot for large chunks of the game and should have at least forced a replay.
They now have to regroup before focusing on launching a final assault at the league, hopefully with a few players coming back from injuries.
Meanwhile, who would have thought that, of the four of last season’s semi finalists, 12 months later only Bolton and Stoke would make it to the fifth round?
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