MURPHY'S LAW HALTS UNITED'S RUN
By Nic Evans
Last Updated: 01/01/70 1:00am
Murphy curled in an amazing free-kick a minute before half-time and the visitors' much maligned defence held out, as United had much of the possession but threatened little.
Luke Chadwick was sent off for professional foul on Vladmir Smicer in the 89th minute but this should not detract from the performance turned in by the visitors.
Both sides started fully committed but from the off it seemed that Gerard Houllier had opted for a smash and grab operation and at times the midfield appeared to be a war zone.
The fact that United were stifled so successfully has to be a credit to the Frenchman's tactics and Stephane Henchoz and Sami Hyppia did fantastically well to protect Sanders Westerveld.
As early as the fourth minute Liverpool showed their intentions when Nick Barmby linked up well with Emile Heskey only for Wes Brown to cover brilliantly.
The visitors were extremely wasteful on the counter-attack and many promising breaks failed because of poor passes.
The same combination of attackers almost contrived to create a goalscoring opportunity in the 17th minute and only a magnificient covering tackle by Brown stopped Liverpool in their tracks.
After a poor half an hour, United looked to change their tactics by moving Ryan Giggs inside, something that worked last week but failed to spark the home side this time round.
Steven Gerrard finally found some space but his 31st minute shot flew over the bar.
With Andy Cole, Teddy Sheringham and Dwight Yorke injured or suspended it was a weakened side that the home side fielded and their lack of penetration could be put down partly to this fact.
A poor foul on Garry Neville by Michael Owen gave David Beckham a shooting chance from some distance, but it drifted wide in one of the few attempts on goal of the first half.
As the half wore on, Liverpool gained in confidence and could have taken the lead a minute before they did as Heskey headed a corner goalbound only for Paul Scholes to clear off the line.
United cleared their lines but a long ball pumped back towards the box saw Gary Neville handle needlessly just outside the box.
Murphy stepped up to curl the ball just inside the post with Barthez motionless, it could have been worse for the home side as Owen raced in on the United goal in first half stoppage time but a poor touch gave Barthez time to save at the young star's feet.
The start of the second half was in stark contrast to the first, Markus Babbel stormed down the right, outmuscled Nicky Butt and played the ball into the box. Owen lent back and struck the ball goalwards only to see it hit the bar and go over.
This sparked United into action and Scholes almost took advantage of a defensive mistake and laid the ball on for Ole Gunnar Solksjaer who shot low for the near post but Westerveld got down well to save.
In the 55th minute the home crowd were baying for a free-kick in a position similar to where Murphy struck from but Heskey was not penalised.
It was that type of chance that United looked to have to rely on as their creativity was surprisingly low although in Westerveld was brave to save Roy Keane's low cross a minute later.
The first yellow card had to wait until the 71st minute to be issued as Mikael Silvestre was penalised for a late challenge on Barmby.
The break gave the home side the opportunity to change things round as Butt was replaced by Jonathon Greening whilst Liverpool countered by introducing Smicer for Owen.
With ten minutes to go Chadwick replaced Denis Irwin but the new blood could do little to prise open the visitors' defence.
Greening's first time pass for Giggs that trickled out of play and a Scholes header that deflected wide was the closest United came.
From the resulting corner, Smicer picked the ball up midway in his own half, turned Chadwick and raced upfield, despite constant pushing and pulling of the shirt, referee Mike Riley only blew up when the Czech Republic star crashed to the ground just outside the area.
In these circumstances there was only going to be one outcome and the youngster was sent off.
Gary McAllister came on for Murphy but blazed the free-kick wide. Liverpool held out a tense final four minutes of injury time to beat United for the first time in five years.