Ji-Sung Park gets ahead of Glen Johnson to head in the crucial winner
By Phil McNulty
Chief football writer at Old Trafford
Manchester United came from behind to beat Liverpool at Old Trafford to return to the Premier League summit.
Fernando Torres was United's tormentor again as he rose to head in Dirk Kuyt's cross after only five minutes to revive memories of Liverpool's crushing 4-1 victory here last season - but United were to exact revenge on their arch-rivals.
Liverpool were furious when United were handed the opportunity to draw level swiftly as referee Howard Webb awarded a penalty as the outstanding Antonio Valencia was hauled back by Javier Mascherano as the pair raced into the area.
Wayne Rooney was unsettled by Liverpool's lengthy and vociferous protests, but when his penalty was saved by keeper Pepe Reina he was first to react and turn in the rebound.
Man Utd perseverance pleases Phelan
United then held sway and snatched a deserved winner on the hour when Darren Fletcher's cross deep into the heart of the Liverpool penalty area was headed in by Ji-Sung Park.
Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez, who confronted fourth official Andre Marriner and United boss Sir Alex Ferguson after Rooney's equaliser, was infuriated by the penalty award - and was also animated throughout by what he clearly regarded as a succession of contentious decisions that he believed went in the home side's favour.
Goalscorer Torres led Liverpool's other complaints against officialdom, and he became increasingly frustrated at virtually having to battle single-handedly against Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, who ended an unwanted record of three dismissals in his last three games against the Merseysiders.
Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard was desperately disappointing, although he created a late opportunity which Torres missed. Yossi Benayoun should have done better than head the loose ball tamely at Edwin van der Sar.
Ferguson will have regarded this as one of the most difficult tests of United's title run-in, and his succession of clenched-fist salutes at the final whistle demonstrated his delight.
For Liverpool counterpart Benitez, he watched his side fade badly as they lost further ground in the battle for fourth spot and a place in next season's Champions League.
Ferguson and Benitez made a single change each to their teams, with Park replacing Dimitar Berbatov for United and Maxi Rodriguez coming in for Ryan Babel in the Liverpool line-up.
United's boss insisted they had learned the lessons of being terrorised by Torres last season - but apparently not well enough as the Spain striker quickly emphasised his class.
Gerrard released Kuyt on the right, leaving Torres to escape from Vidic and Ferdinand to plant a firm header beyond the reach of Van der Sar.
United were level seven minutes later in contentious circumstances, following referee Webb's decision to award a penalty after Valencia tangled with Mascherano. It was a foul, but Liverpool felt the infringement started outside the area and chaotic scenes ensued.
Benitez focused on fourth despite defeat
As Liverpool boss Benitez raged on the touchline, Torres kicked away the penalty spot markings in fury as Rooney complained about the delay.
Liverpool keeper Reina blocked Rooney's spot-kick, but the rebound fell kindly for the England striker to slot home into an empty net.
Ferguson and Benitez were then involved in an angry exchange almost nose-to-nose in the technical area, with fourth official Marriner in between the pair in an attempt to keep the peace.
Valencia was United's main source of danger as he tormented Emiliano Insua down the right flank, and his cross almost created a second for Park as he headed just wide with Reina scrambling across his goal.
Torres, in particular, appeared aggrieved by what Liverpool saw as a grave injustice and he took his frustration out on Park to earn an overdue yellow card, his fifth in seven games.
Reina was tested twice by Nani's shot and a Rooney free-kick from the edge of the area before the interval, but the game had settled after an explosive opening.
The sparring continued in the early stages after half-time, but United managed to pierce the massed ranks of Liverpool's defence to take the lead after an hour. Fletcher was the creator with a perfect cross from the right flank, and Park bravely hurled himself in front of Johnson to head beyond Reina.
Rooney had been hugely industrious in his efforts to ensure United's victory, and he was almost on the scoresheet again with four minutes left, but he pulled a low shot just wide.
Liverpool had barely troubled United in the second half, but with only a minute remaining of normal time they conspired to waste a wonderful chance to snatch a point.
Gerrard, an anonymous figure until then, set up Torres with a cross. He mis-hit his shot, but it lofted invitingly into the path of Benayoun, who headed straight at Van der Sar from only six yards.
United were then able to play out five minutes of stoppage time - and the celebrations from players and fans at the final whistle illustrated just how vital this victory was to the champions.
90:00+5:44 The referee signals the end of the game.
90:00+4:33 Ryan Babel challenges Rio Ferdinand unfairly and gives away a free kick. Indirect free kick taken by Rio Ferdinand.
89:18 Centre by Javier Mascherano. Fernando Torres produces a right-footed shot from deep inside the penalty box which goes wide
of the left-hand post. Yossi Benayoun takes a shot. Save made by Edwin Van der Sar.
86:12 Substitution Paul Scholes replaces Ji-Sung Park.
85:54 Wayne Rooney produces a right-footed shot from deep inside the penalty box which goes wide of the left-hand upright.
85:26 Ji-Sung Park fouled by Javier Mascherano, the ref awards a free kick. Patrice Evra takes the free kick.
82:36 Substitution Leiva Lucas leaves the field to be replaced by Yossi Benayoun.
82:36 Javier Mascherano delivers the ball.
81:42 Centre by Ryan Giggs, Daniel Agger makes a clearance.
80:37 Glen Johnson challenges Wayne Rooney unfairly and gives away a free kick. Free kick taken by Patrice Evra.
78:38 Substitution Ryan Giggs comes on in place of Luis Nani.
77:53 Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Ji-Sung Park by Leiva Lucas. Gary Neville restarts play with the free kick.
75:25 Wayne Rooney is flagged offside by the assistant referee. Free kick taken by Jose Reina.
75:25 Substitution (Liverpool) makes a substitution, with Ryan Babel coming on for Rodriguez Maxi.
75:25 Shot from just outside the box by Wayne Rooney goes over the bar.
72:26 Free kick taken by Glen Johnson.
72:26 Substitution Dirk Kuyt leaves the field to be replaced by Alberto Aquilani.
72:26 Booking The referee books Nemanja Vidic for unsporting behaviour.
72:22 Unfair challenge on Fernando Torres by Nemanja Vidic results in a free kick.
72:02 The ball is sent over by Gary Neville.
71:51 Antonio Valencia produces a cross.
71:10 Luis Nani challenges Glen Johnson unfairly and gives away a free kick. Jose Reina takes the free kick.
69:26 The ball is crossed by Steven Gerrard, clearance by Rio Ferdinand.
66:44 Leiva Lucas fouled by Darren Fletcher, the ref awards a free kick. Jamie Carragher restarts play with the free kick.
65:51 Daniel Agger takes a long range shot clearing the bar.
60:39 Booking Booking for Antonio Valencia for unsporting behaviour.
59:25 Assist by Darren Fletcher.
59:25 GOAL - Ji-Sung Park:Man Utd 2 - 1 Liverpool Ji-Sung Park grabs a headed goal from inside the six-yard box. Man Utd 2-1 Liverpool.
59:22 Darren Fletcher delivers the ball,
57:10 Foul by Antonio Valencia on Rodriguez Maxi, free kick awarded. Daniel Agger takes the free kick.
56:18 Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Javier Mascherano by Ji-Sung Park. Jose Reina restarts play with the free kick.
55:32 Rodriguez Maxi is adjudged to have handled the ball. Michael Carrick takes the free kick.
54:51 The ball is sent over by Wayne Rooney, clearance made by Rodriguez Maxi.
52:54 Gary Neville delivers the ball.
51:12 Ji-Sung Park takes a shot. Save made by Jose Reina.
50:42 Foul by Steven Gerrard on Patrice Evra, free kick awarded. Free kick taken by Nemanja Vidic.
50:30 The ball is swung over by Glen Johnson, Nemanja Vidic manages to make a clearance.
50:08 The ball is crossed by Gary Neville, clearance made by Glen Johnson.
49:50 A cross is delivered by Steven Gerrard, clearance made by Patrice Evra.
48:10 Unfair challenge on Luis Nani by Glen Johnson results in a free kick. Free kick crossed right-footed by Luis Nani from left
wing, clearance by Leiva Lucas.
46:44 A cross is delivered by Ji-Sung Park.
45:40 Foul by Michael Carrick on Fernando Torres, free kick awarded. The free kick is delivered right-footed by Steven Gerrard from
left channel, Rio Ferdinand makes a clearance.
45:01 The match restarts for the second half.
45:00+3:00 The half-time whistle blows.
45:00+1:40 Wayne Rooney has an effort direct from the free kick, save by Jose Reina.
45:00+1:40 Booking Jamie Carragher is shown a yellow card.
45:00+1:33 Free kick awarded for a foul by Jamie Carragher on Darren Fletcher.
44:05 Foul by Antonio Valencia on Leiva Lucas, free kick awarded. Indirect free kick taken by Daniel Agger.
42:58 Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Rodriguez Maxi by Gary Neville. Daniel Agger restarts play with the free kick.
41:39 Unfair challenge on Ji-Sung Park by Javier Mascherano results in a free kick. Direct free kick taken by Rio Ferdinand.
40:45 Patrice Evra crosses the ball, Jamie Carragher manages to make a clearance.
39:29 Header from close in by Ji-Sung Park misses to the right of the target.
39:16 The ball is sent over by Antonio Valencia.
32:29 The ball is swung over by Luis Nani, save by Jose Reina.
31:29 The ball is delivered by Glen Johnson, Luis Nani makes a clearance.
28:33 Luis Nani decides to take a short corner. The ball is swung over by Luis Nani, clearance by Fernando Torres.
28:19 Luis Nani takes a shot. Save by Jose Reina.
27:09 The ball is swung over by Luis Nani.
26:20 Fernando Torres challenges Darren Fletcher unfairly and gives away a free kick. Darren Fletcher takes the indirect free kick.
24:25 Patrice Evra takes the free kick.
24:25 Booking The referee cautions Fernando Torres for unsporting behaviour.
24:19 Fernando Torres gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Ji-Sung Park.
23:20 The assistant referee flags for offside against Fernando Torres. Rio Ferdinand restarts play with the free kick.
22:38 A cross is delivered by Antonio Valencia, Close range effort by Ji-Sung Park goes wide of the left-hand upright.
21:43 A cross is delivered by Jamie Carragher, save made by Edwin Van der Sar.
20:56 Outswinging corner taken by Steven Gerrard from the right by-line.
20:02 Rodriguez Maxi fouled by Michael Carrick, the ref awards a free kick. Daniel Agger takes the free kick.
18:54 Free kick awarded for a foul by Fernando Torres on Gary Neville. Gary Neville takes the indirect free kick.
17:20 Emiliano Insua sends in a cross, Michael Carrick makes a clearance.
13:58 Free kick awarded for a foul by Luis Nani on Jamie Carragher. Free kick taken by Glen Johnson.
11:24 GOAL - Wayne Rooney:Man Utd 1 - 1 Liverpool Wayne Rooney fires in a goal from close range to the bottom left corner of the goal. Man Utd 1-1 Liverpool.
10:02 Penalty taken by Wayne Rooney saved by Jose Reina. Man Utd 1-1 Liverpool.
10:02 Booking Javier Mascherano goes into the book for unsporting behaviour.
9:56 Penalty awarded for a foul by Javier Mascherano on Antonio Valencia.
9:13 The official flags Dirk Kuyt offside. Edwin Van der Sar takes the indirect free kick.
8:38 Short corner worked by Steven Gerrard.
7:52 Wayne Rooney has an effort at goal from outside the penalty box which goes wide left of the goal.
7:05 Unfair challenge on Wayne Rooney by Jamie Carragher results in a free kick. Direct free kick taken by Nemanja Vidic.
6:10 Leiva Lucas challenges Wayne Rooney unfairly and gives away a free kick. Luis Nani takes the direct free kick.
4:46 Assist by Dirk Kuyt.
4:46 GOAL - Fernando Torres:Man Utd 0 - 1 Liverpool Fernando Torres scores a headed goal from inside the six-yard box. Man Utd 0-1 Liverpool.
4:42 Dirk Kuyt sends in a cross,
1:44 Fernando Torres is flagged offside by the assistant referee. Rio Ferdinand takes the free kick.
1:04 Steven Gerrard challenges Darren Fletcher unfairly and gives away a free kick. Direct free kick taken by Darren Fletcher.
0:00 The match has kicked off.
Live text and data provided by The Press Association.
This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.