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However, the Portuguese winger spurned a wonderful opening in the 16th minute when, after being slipped into space inside the box by Rooney, he took a touch too many and enabled Liverpool to get three bodies between him and the goal. With his best shooting chance gone, he returned the ball to his team-mate; when Rooney’s effort was then blocked, Nani comfortably missed on the rebound.
While the rain abated, United’s search for a breakthrough did not. After a brief alarm bell when Glen Johnson fired inches wide of the far post from Liverpool’s first corner, normal service resumed. The play, however, was not flowing as it did in the early stages; Howard Webb not helping the mood of the home crowd or the manager by blowing up for some petty fouls in Liverpool’s favour and ignoring a Konchesky challenge that left Nani clutching his face.
Sustained pressure on Pepe Reina’s goal eventually paid off three minutes before the break, when Ryan Giggs whipped a second corner in quick succession into the box and Dimitar Berbatov broke free from Fernando Torres to bury a header. The Bulgarian’s fifth goal of the season – his fourth in the league – sent United into the dressing room with a deserved 1-0 lead; an advantage that might have been doubled had Webb heeded pleas from United players and fans to punish Jamie Carragher for handball.
Nani rattled a post as the Reds continued in the same vein after the break, while Fletcher’s deflected shot dropped between Berbatov and Reina – with the Liverpool keeper just managing to snaffle the ball. United’s number nine would not be denied his double for much longer – he