MAN UTD 1-0 LIVERPOOL
FA BARCLAYS PREMIERSHIP
Sunday 22nd January 2006 (16:00) at Old Trafford
Rio Ferdinand's injury-time header completed a memorable Manchester United hat-trick as Liverpool's unbeaten run became the latest to bite the dust at Old Trafford.
Just as Arsenal's 49-game streak without a defeat ended here last season, and Chelsea's 40-match run was halted in November, so Liverpool have found the Red Devils are not quite the spent force many believe them to be.
Ferdinand took 140 games to end his United scoring drought but the England defender found the net for the third time in six weeks when he rose to meet Ryan Giggs' free-kick and bulleted a header into the top corner past Jose Reina.
It hardly breathed new life into the Barclays Premiership title race as Chelsea remain a healthy 14 points clear despite their rare setback against Charlton, but at least it gave the supporters something positive to remember from another largely sterile encounter between the north-west giants.
Up to that point, the game appeared likely to be memorable only for Djibril Cisse's astonishing miss just after the hour mark.
Ferdinand had just cleared off the line - another segment of an overall exceptional performance from the £29.1million defender - when Harry Kewell lashed a volley towards goal.
Edwin van der Sar did brilliantly to keep it out but could only palm the ball straight into Cisse's path.
But somehow, despite being barely six yards out and completely unmarked, Cisse thrashed his shot over, to the total disbelief of manager Rafael Benitez.
The defeat, Liverpool's first since an October loss at Fulham, leaves the Reds trailing United by four points - with two games in hand - in what is surely now a race for second spot.
If the champions' draw with Charlton at Stamford Bridge was supposed to elicit any kind of response from the bitter rivals, it seemed it was purely a sense of panic that Jose Mourinho's men might be overhauled after all.
With Alan Smith's ankle injury failing to respond to intensive treatment and Paul Scholes, Cristiano Ronaldo and Park Ji-Sung consigned to the stand for a variety of reasons, it was no surprise United were outgunned in midfield.
John O'Shea and Giggs toiled manfully in central positions but Xabi Alonso and Mohamed Sissoko held sway and Steven Gerrard flitted in off his berth on the right touchline to try to add some penetration.
Liverpool's problem was that no-one committed themselves far enough forward to provide any meaningful support to Peter Crouch and Cisse, both of whom were held at bay with some degree of comfort by Ferdinand and Wes Brown.
These are the days when you wonder why anyone would question Ferdinand. His speed of thought and foot kept him one step ahead of the Liverpool attack, he maintained his concentration throughout and even found time to ultimately lethal effect.
By his side, Brown was in equally determined mood and got back well to block one Crouch volley which, other than a couple of long-range Gerrard efforts, was about all Liverpool managed.
United were not much better. It was first-half stoppage time before they created a decent opportunity, when Giggs chipped a pass to the previously anonymous Ruud van Nistelrooy.
By the time the Dutchman got there, the angle was too narrow to force anything other than a routine save from Reina.
If Van Nistelrooy had been nowhere, Wayne Rooney was everywhere - left-back, right-back, central midfield and even up front sometimes.
The youngster appeared to be wearing turbo-charged boots so quickly did he get up and down the field and one 50-yard charge would have set up Darren Fletcher had it not been for John Arne Riise's outstretched leg.
Sir Alex Ferguson was sufficiently concerned about the flow of play to introduce Louis Saha at the interval, a move which saw Rooney's role effectively reduced to that of a right winger.
Not that the decision kept Rooney out of the action. The 20-year-old still looked the most likely source of inspiration for the hosts, although Liverpool did increase their own tempo significantly in the second half.
Cisse had already partially tested Van der Sar once before the chance of the match fell his way just after the hour mark.
The Frenchman was on his haunches and about to start nursing a minor knock when Van der Sar parried Kewell's drive into his path but there were no excuses available to justify the awful miss.
While the scare brought more focus to United's attack, the hosts could not muster anything better than a whipped cross from Van Nistelrooy which fizzed across a crowded area without touching anyone.
That was until Ferdinand struck. Once derided as the worst finisher on United's books, the most expensive player in British football history is quickly becoming a man to be feared.
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|Match Report filed: 23 January 2006|