inside the opening 10 minutes.
United weren't overrun, though. The Reds kept possession well, passed the ball on the ground and patiently probed for openings. Darron Gibson, given the task of anchoring the midfield in his first start for seven months, was heavily involved, spreading the ball to both flanks and consistently 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.