Manchester United passed arch-rival Liverpool with Javier Hernandez at Capital One Cup, Luis Suarez return long time later.
Ryan Giggs, 40 in November and now a player-coach, chased down Steven Gerrard as if his life depended on it, then threw his hands in the air to encourage the fans to give one last blast of their vocal chords.
At the same time, manager David Moyes and his coach Phil Neville were almost on the pitch, kicking every ball, as they urged their players into one last effort to repel Liverpool’s late pressure.
And at the final whistle rarely has there been such a tangible sense of relief around Old Trafford.
Over the years third-round ties in the League Cup have never had a “must-win” feel about them for United. This was different.
After Sunday’s Manchester derby debacle and a defeat at Anfield earlier in the season, Moyes knew another setback against one of United’s traditional rivals would fuel his doubters.
He was not known for his gambler’s instinct at Everton, but he shook up his team by making eight changes. Some were forced – Robin Van Persie was injured and Marouane Fellaini cup-tied – but his selection paid off with a positive, vibrant reaction.
Javier Hernandez’s poacher’s goal in the first minute of the second half gave Moyes only his fifth victory in 27 games against Liverpool.
United lived dangerously at times with Luis Suarez almost marking his comeback with an equaliser when he struck the bar with a free-kick. But Moyes will be delighted by the pace, energy, determination and aggression of his players.
There were plenty of raw edges and Manchester United were far too open at times but the performances of Hernandez, Phil Jones, Shinji Kagawa, Nani, Alex Buttner and Jonny Evans will have given Moyes plenty of food for thought.
Jones flew into tackles in the way Roy Keane, present last night, used to while the evergreen Giggs defied his years to keep pace with a game that flowed from end-to-end. United had to rely on plenty of last-ditch defending to keep Liverpool at bay. Luckily for them, Suarez was still ring-rusty after his 10-game ban, Daniel Sturridge had a rare off night in front of goal and Jordan Henderson wasted Liverpool’s best chance in the second half.
Wayne Rooney, along with David De Gea and Chris Smalling one of only three survivors from Sunday, was handed the armband and responded to the responsibility with another all-action game.
United took a leaf out of City’s derby book by catching Liverpool cold at the start of the second half. Rooney’s inswinging corner flew over Gerrard’s head and the quick-witted Hernandez spun away from Luis Enrique to score with a side-foot volley.
It was a typical strike from the Mexican, who has had to wait patiently for his first start under Moyes. Rooney saw a free-kick and a long-range shot beaten away by Simon Mignolet but as the second half wore on United fans were on the edge of their seats as Liverpool cranked up the pressure.
De Gea made an instinctive save from Victor Moses’ diving header while apart from the free-kick that struck the bar, Suarez also fired a decent chance into the side netting.
United held out though and the win will give them and Moyes some much-needed breathing space after a difficult start to the season. They now face a slightly “easier” run with West Brom, Sunderland, Stoke and Fulham their opponents in their next four Premier League games. An added bonus was a home draw against Norwich in the next round.
In years to come, Moyes may look back at this win and think it provided the belated lift-off for his reign as manager.
Manchester United vs Liverpool Match Stats
MANCHESTER UNITED: De Gea, Rafael Da Silva, Smalling, Evans, Buttner,
Jones, Giggs, Nani (Welbeck 90), Rooney, Kagawa (Januzaj 73), Hernandez (Carrick 74).
Subs not used: Anderson, Fabio Da Silva, Zaha, Amos.
Goals: Hernandez 46
Booked: Jones, Giggs
LIVERPOOL: Mignolet, Toure, Skrtel, Sakho, Jose Enrique, Gerrard, Lucas (Kelly 67), Henderson, Suarez, Moses (Sterling 82), Sturridge.
Subs not used: Brad Jones, Alberto, Aspas, Ibe, Wisdom.
Booked: Toure, Lucas, Henderson
Referee: Mark Clattenburg (Tyne and Wear).
Manchester United 1 Liverpool 0 Capital One Cup Match Video[media id=949 width=610 height=340]
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