As United bossed the early exchanges, Smalling's first telling contribution of the game was a thumping header which Rob Green comfortably tipped over the bar. After another corner, however, the Reds fell behind. Thomas Hitzelsperger's gargantuan pass released Carlton Cole and, as the striker flicked the ball over Evra, the defender's raised hand blocked the ball’s path. Few protests met referee Lee Mason’s award of a penalty, which Noble duly dispatched past Kuszczak.
Despite the shock of falling behind against the run of play, United’s response was bright, with Antonio Valencia particularly prominent in some menacing forward probes. The Ecuadorian’s crosses prompted a succession of scrambled clearances from the hosts, as did a Wayne Rooney centre which narrowly eluded Ji-sung Park’s attempted diving header.
The Reds’ steady attempts to find a route back into the game were handed another blow after 23 minutes as Cole won his second penalty, advancing into the area and tumbling over the outstretched leg of Vidic. Unquestionably a foul, but outside the area according to the Serbian, inside it in the view of the striker and, most importantly, referee Mason. Noble steered home another unerring finish.
The flow of the game continued in the same vein, with United comfortably bossing possession. The Reds’ first real opening fell to Ji-sung Park, whose stinging half-volley was somehow turned over the bar by Green. From the subsequent corner Smalling rose highest again, but steered his header wide.