providing the Reds' centre-backs with an outlet.
Still, there was precious little goalmouth action in the first period and neither Amos nor Lewis Price had to make a save of any note before the interval. The closest anybody came to breaking the deadlock was on the stroke of half-time, when Mame Biram Diouf rounded off a speedy counter-attack by sending an acrobatic effort just over the crossbar.
The only other incidents of note in a dour first 45 minutes were unfortunate hamstring injuries that forced United's Fabio and Palace's Sean Scannell off and knocks to Berbatov and Dean Moxey (both ankle) that meant neither reappeared for the second half.
In Berbatov's place, Sir Alex thrusted Ravel Morrison, the talented teenager with an uncanny knack for unlocking opposition defences. His energy and creativity certainly made a difference, although it was Anthony Gardner's defensive error that gifted the first chance of the second half to Antonio Valencia, who slid his shot wide of the post when clean through on goal.
Morrison then got in on the action, stinging Price's palms after neat control 25 yards from goal, while Macheda fluffed a volley shortly afterwards. Price then had to be alert to keep out another Morrison effort with his feet as United ramped up the pressure in search of the game's opening goal.
It duly arrived, but at the other end. And boy was it a cracker, Darren Ambrose collecting the ball 40 yards from goal before advancing briefly and firing an unstoppable effort into the top corner. It was arguably the best goal scored at Old Trafford by a visiting player since Dean Ashton's overhead kick at the Stretford End in 2008, and yet Ambrose's joy was short-lived.