Date:Saturday March 3 2007
The Red Devils are closer to the title than they have ever been since 2003 after John O'Shea's injury-time strike sank Liverpool at Anfield.
Rafa Benitez was at a loss to explain how they lost this and I can understand his feelings. They dominated the game as we were struggling to retain possession due to Liverpool's pressing and strength. Our midfielders looked tired and Vidic was run ragged by Bellamy.
Yet we won. A lot of pundits claimed that games like the one against Fulham win the title. What will they say now? The victory against the Cottagers was hailed as a massive success after being outplayed for long periods but it's significance looks smaller now after another smash and grab raid at our most hated rivals.
Liverpool had plenty of possession in the first half but their best chance came from a John Arne Riise free-kick that went just the wrong side of the post. United had the best chance of the first 45 minutes when Larsson superbly played in Ronaldo who fired over the bar from 15 yards with Rooney pleading for the ball in the centre.
Our two wonderkids were not at their best and in the case of Rooney I've probably written these words too often this season to describe his performances. But I'm patient with him and he did not play badly today - he wasn't worse than Ronaldo or Giggs. Ryan played his 700th game for us but could not celebrate in style as Scholes did in October when scored against Liverpool in his 500th match.
Paul Scholes was United's best player in the first half, retrieving and distributing the ball effectively. Carrick was quiet and Vidic looked out of his depth.
The second half started like a nightmare. Liverpool set out to blow us away. They created a host of chances and had Bellamy hit the ball better we would have been behind. The Welsh striker scored a goal after Sissoko's flick-on but it was correctly ruled out for offside.
Having survived the opening 5 minutes, United set out to defend the 0-0 despite Fergie's pre-match promises of an attacking attitude. Liverpool struggled to test Van der Sar but our 'attacks' were extremely rare and toothless and it started to look like a 0-0 draw, a result I would have happily accepted at this point.
Liverpool did not settle for a point: they launched wave after wave of attacks and United were reduced to hanging on. Substitute Louis Saha had his moment though: he beat two man and got into the box where he was tripped by Agger - Atkinson waved play on thus denying us a clear penalty. Jamie Carragher survived with a yellow card when he clattered into Rooney who had to be brought off with a bleeding thigh - and John O'Shea entered the frame.
Atkinson was not as lenient with Scholes as with Carragher but that could be expected. He blew his whistle whenever Scholes made a challenge throughout the game and it's no surprise Ginger Prince was frustrated by the fact he was not allowed to challenge the Liverpool players for the ball. So when he was pulled back by Alonso he reacted angrily, almost punching the Spaniard. Atkinson had no hesitation to flourish the red card and it seemed we were in grave trouble. A minute after this, Crouch missed the chance of the game from 6 yards out forcing a superb save by Edwin.
And then a possibly legendary moment. We all remember when O'Shea stepped in February 2005 at Highbury to score with an audacious lob to seal the three points. This time his goal was not so spectacular but much more important.
Mourinho will say we are lucky and I will nod in agreement. But I hope he won't say again that referees give us better treatment than what we deserve. Mr. Atkinson proved that the FA does not intend to make champions of us.
But we can do it without them, too.
Date:Saturday March 3 2007
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