Hernandez takes the heat off Moyes
Manchester Utd 1 Liverpool 0 - League Cup
RARELY can Manchester United supporters have so loudly celebrated a third-round victory in a competition that ranks fourth on their list of trophy priorities.
But after the humiliation at the hands of their noisy neighbours on Sunday, this victory over ancient rivals brought joy and relief in equal measure. For David Moyes, it was especially important, showing he could mastermind a win over significant opposition.
Against a strong Liverpool side, Javier Hernandez proved the difference, scoring early in the second half. United were also indebted to powerful performances from Wayne Rooney, inevitably, and also their goalkeeper, David de Gea, who made one particularly outstanding save from Victor Moses.
Ryan Giggs was a reassuring presence in the centre, assisted by the energy of Phil Jones.
Jonny Evans organised the back-line. He faced a constant test all evening as Luis Suarez showed phenomenal fitness on his return from exile. Liverpool's No 7 never stopped running at United's defence but could not find a way through. By the end the United fans were chanting, "David Moyes' red-and-white army".
Having called for a reaction from his players, Moyes had actually rung the changes, bringing in players like Hernandez, who demonstrated his clever penalty-box movement early in the second half.
Only De Gea, Chris Smalling and Rooney had retained their places after the Etihad fiasco. Rooney had led United out, walking halfway towards the old scoreboard end, the top tier of which had temporary new tenants. A long banner spelt, 'We Are The Famous Kopites'. The 7,200 away throng guaranteed noise.
So did Suarez's presence. The Uruguayan, returning after a 10-match ban for biting Chelsea's Branislav Ivanovic, was assailed with all manner of verbal barbs by the home supporters.
United's players tried to get close to Suarez. Evans clipped his heels. Smalling nipped in ahead of him to reach the ball. United seemed to have settled, seeking to erase the memory of last Sunday. They were full of promise early on. Nani and Rooney threatened Simon Mignolet's goal. Liverpool were gifting the ball to United in the early stages. Jose Enrique and Steven Gerrard mislaid possession.
Gradually, Brendan Rodgers' side picked up the pace. Victor Moses broke through from middle, his progress stopped by Shinji Kagawa. Suarez then wriggled in, looking to pick out Gerrard, but Rafael intervened. United attempted to regain the initiative but there were only flickers of hope in the first half. Kagawa had a low shot held by Mignolet.
Rooney was dropping off Hernandez, looking to build from midfield, playing one gem of a pass with the outside of his right boot to Kagawa. But the half was full of build-up but little composure with the final ball.
Liverpool, brimming with first-team regulars, took control after 20 minutes for a period of sustained pressure. Lucas anchored with his usual nous and simply distribution, fetching and carrying for Gerrard, who kept stroking the ball wide.
United were chasing shadows. Enrique enjoyed this more advanced role down the left, constantly lifting in crosses. One ball was cleared by Alex Buttner as Daniel Sturridge lurked. Liverpool maintained the tempo. Suarez's shot was blocked by Evans. Then Enrique ran in from the left, passing to Suarez, who tried to usher the ball on to Moses. Giggs, showing all the awareness and calmness of his statesman years, sprinted back to intercept.
Still Liverpool attacked. Sturridge stabbed a shot wide. When Evans misjudged a long angled ball from Enrique, Suarez controlled it with his right foot, his touch slightly heavy, sending the ball running towards De Gea. Suarez still had every right to go for the ball, stretching in and accidentally catching United's keeper.
Liverpool were on top. The sliding Smalling did well to regain possession from Sturridge, the ball hitting his hand according to the Liverpool striker. Sturridge and Suarez were operating centrally with Moses roaming in support. Liverpool fans were in good voice, questioning Moyes' credentials, cheering as Gerrard whipped in a series of corners and crosses.
Moyes appeared in the technical area, attempting to inject a greater sense of urgency in his players. They responded, charging down the right, a Rafael back-heel causing brief anxiety in Liverpool's defence.
A few late challenges were going in but Mark Clattenburg understood the intensity of this fixture and let the game flow. Late in the half, Clattenburg decided he had shown enough leniency and started showing cards.
Lucas, having fouled Phil Jones, went into the book followed by Giggs after bringing down Moses.
Clattenburg was noting down a goal early in the second half. United emerged from the tunnel far more assertive, taking the lead within 40 seconds as Moyes was still walking to the dugout.
Rooney took the corner, reading Hernandez's clever run. The Mexican escaped from Enrique and darted into space, meeting Rooney's ball with a flicked finish. Moyes punched the air with both fists in celebration.
The second half was vastly superior to the first in tempo and incident whether with moving ball or dead ball. Jordan Henderson placed a shot wide.
Kagawa, showing his danger through the middle, advanced and let fly with his left foot, the ball clipping Mignolet's bar. Liverpool stormed back, a great move involving Sturridge, Suarez and Gerrard culminated with Enrique flashing a shot wide. Liverpool kept looking to find a way through. Moses' powerful header was well saved by De Gea.
Moyes made two changes with 17 minutes remaining. Kagawa and Hernandez went off to be replaced by Michael Carrick and the exciting teenager Adnan Januzaj, who pushed down the right.
Suarez was showing remarkable stamina given his lack of match practice. Brought down by Jones, Suarez curled the free-kick over the United wall and onto De Gea's bar and over.
Rooney responded, striking a good free-kick that Mignolet parried.
Liverpool's 'keeper seemed to be having a personal duel with Rooney, then pushing the Englishman's shot over.
Suarez never gave up, muscling Evans off the ball, trying to create a chance but United wanted this too much. Giggs urged the fans to make more noise as the game closed, and the final whistle was drowned out. (© Daily Telegraph, London)