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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 claimed it in glorious style in the 59th minute, with arguably his greatest goal for the Reds so far. Controlling Nani’s left-footed cross with his thigh, Berbatov executed an exquisite bicycle kick, over Reina’s head and into the Stretford End net off the crossbar.
Game over for the shot-shy Merseysiders? Not quite. After giving Edwin van der Sar nothing to do for an hour, the visitors gained a penalty when Jonny Evans sent Torres tumbling in the area. United’s goalkeeper was well beaten by Steven Gerrard – and incredibly, agonisingly, the same was true from a free-kick six minutes later. This time the Liverpool skipper was faced with a wall, but his shot somehow found its way between Fletcher and the man who’d committed the second crucial foul on