Date: 19th February 2006 at 10:35am
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LIVERPOOL: Reina, Finnan, Carragher, Hyypia, Riise, Gerrard,Hamann, Sissoko, Kewell (Kromkamp 82), Crouch (Cisse 88),Morientes (Luis Garcia 62).
Subs Not Used: Dudek, Traore.

MAN UTD: Van der Sar, Neville, Brown, Vidic,Silvestre (Saha 45), Ronaldo, Fletcher (Smith 76), Giggs,Richardson, Rooney, van Nistelrooy, Smith (Park 90).
Subs Not Used: Howard, Pique.

Manchester United’s hopes of a cup double went up in smoke at the worst possible place. A goal from the ‘walking bean-pole’ on 19 minutes was enough for the Reds to win an FA Cup tie against United for the first time in 85 years.

Rafael Benitez has finally got the one scalp he wanted so much, his first success over Sir Alex since he took over at Anfield. But his arse must have been twitching as his side faced a furious late United onslaught, without getting reward for it.

Even worse news is substitute Alan Smith was stretched off with a broken leg and dislocated ankle. Smith’s left ankle buckled underneath him as he tried to block a shot from a Liverpool free-kick and it was clear it was a severe injury the second he went down.

United captain Gary Neville suffered a dreadful 31st birthday, but, apart from a late booking, the England man handled the ordeal from the Kop with solid professionalism. He expected it … and took it like a man. If you ‘give it’ you have to ‘take it’, and you had to laugh when powder-puff Harry Kewell tried to impress his fans by putting him in the crowd as early as the second minute. Pathetic? Coming from a player who has a reputation to rebuild, you’d have to say yes. Kewell made one attempt to knock him off the ball and then after a pass had been played down the line, the Aussie bowled Neville over the line and onto the track. Referee Howard Webb gave Kewell a talking to with United’s bench raging.

There were problems for United before they even reached Anfield. An accident on the East Lancs Road delayed their arrival until 50 minutes ahead of kick off, and then they announced that Rio Ferdinand was not with them.

The central defender had picked up a hamstring injury in training, which meant that Wes Brown and Nemanja Vidic played in the heart of defence.

Liverpool were ahead when Gerrard’s corner was played short to Steve Finnan and when the swirling cross arrived in the box. Crouch powered his header towards goal, Van der Sar reached it but could only push onto a post before the ball rolled into the net.

Liverpool put this game of ours back fourty years to the 1960s with route one football. An array of long high balls into the middle, over and over again. They called Sheffield United and Wimbledon for doing it in the 1980s … noe cue Liverpool and the long-ball game.

But they got the result, so something is wrong the way we fell for it. The sucker punch from a striker who is as much a footballer as my aunt Betty.

But we know the problems. But who is going to put it right? If Rooney spent more time playing the game rather than winding up the Kop, we perhaps could have channelled the energy into something more constructive. We know Fletcher will never be a Scholes or Keane. Even deeper into history, the sale of David Beckham started the rot. But this is just frustration of losing a game that was the major fixture we’ve had since crashing out of Europe.

United took of Mikael Silvestre at the break and sent on Louis Saha up front. Keiron Richardson dropped to left back and the visitors had a more balanced 4-4-2 look about them.

Crouch needed six stitches in a head wound and of course the Kop was delighted when Neville was booked on 73 minutes for a foul on Kewell. Vidic soon followed for bringing down Luis Garcia. United replaced Darren Fletcher with Smith before the free-kick could be taken.

On 78 minutes, Kewell was booked for a retaliatory foul on Neville and Ruud van Nistelrooy set up Giggs for a 20 yarder just over the angle.

Liverpool sent on the more defensive Jan Kromkamp for Kewell eight minutes from time and referee Webb pointedly signalled to his fourth officials that objects (including a hamburger) were being thrown at Neville, who looked to be picking up coins around him. Djibril Cisse replaced Crouch on 88 minutes.

With a minute left Smith suffered his unfortunate injury and Park Ji-Sung replaced him. Seven minutes of injury time were signalled but United couldn’t get that equaliser.