minutes amid scenes of ghastly defending from the Reds.
Nicky Shorey’s whipped, in-swinging deliveries provided the problems, dipping into dangerous areas where the Royals had all too easily found space. First, Le Fondre was completely unmarked and nodded between Lindegaard and van Persie, then Morrison escaped Evans to power home a thunderous effort.
United were rocked and looked liable to further concessions with every forward foray from the hosts. Yet, by the time Sir Alex introduced Chris Smalling in place of Rafael, who had been booked for a foul on Jobi McAnuff, the Reds had drawn level once again.
Evra fed Young and raced onto the winger’s neat flick, then slid a superb ball back into the path of the onrushing Rooney for a simple side-footed finish. Three minutes later, the goalscorer turned provider with a beautifully faint flick which released van Persie – played onside by Shorey – for a clinical, right-footed finish past Federici.
The Dutchman then seemed to have bagged his second goal in the 40th minute, only for his close-range finish to escape the officials’ collective attention. Smalling’s back post header rebounded off Federici’s shoulder and was volleyed goalwards by van Persie. Though Adrian Mariappa was behind the line when he deflected the ball to safety, referee Halsey and his assistants failed to award the goal.
United’s hopes were dealt a setback when Anderson limped from the fray with an apparent hamstring injury, ending an thrilling, yet occasionally horrifying half on a low point and providing further food for thought for Sir Alex and his coaching staff.