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.
Inevitably, both sides began the second half with greater caution, having left themselves so exposed in a maddeningly open first period. It took until the 64th minute for a real opening to present itself, as Evra embarked on another lung-busting run down the left flank and pulled back for Rooney. The striker opted against shooting from a tight angle, instead finding Fletcher, whose misplaced flick to van Persie