Manchester United grind out victory

Liverpool's Martin Skrtel (left) and Manchester United's Robin van Persie
Liverpool's Martin Skrtel (left) and Manchester United's Robin van Persie

Striker Robin van Persie came out on top in the battle of the Premier League’s top scorers as Manchester United emerged from a tricky test unscathed against arch-rivals Liverpool.

The Holland international continued his remarkable scoring spree with a close-range effort in the first half which was doubled after the break by Nemanja Vidic.

Liverpool substitute Daniel Sturridge overshadowed team-mate Luis Suarez, who began the day one behind Van Persie on 15 top-flight goals for the season, by marking his league debut for his new club with a second goal in as many matches and had a chance to snatch a point late on, but United held on grimly, if somewhat unconvincingly.

Van Persie - expertly and clinically - scored with virtually his first chance and could have had at least one other in the first half.

Suarez toiled in vain but never got the remotest inkling of an opportunity against Rio Ferdinand and Vidic - reunited in the centre of defence for the first time since September.

In spite of the age-old rivalry between England’s two most-decorated clubs the first quarter of the game was something of a non-entity.

United enjoyed the greater dominance, as was to be expected from the home team, while not creating anything too threatening while Liverpool counter-attacked sporadically but fared even worse in the final third.

It changed in the 19th minute when, with United steadily building the pressure, the ball was worked from right to left for Patrice Evra to pick up in space.

His low cross was the perfect invitation and Van Persie did what he does best, side-footing a shot past Reina.

Liverpool, possibly due to the inexperience of the likes of Andre Wisdom, Raheem Sterling and Joe Allen, appeared to crumble.

Allen, who is so often hailed for his possession statistics, passed the ball straight to Danny Welbeck and the Wales midfielder’s embarrassment was only saved by a block from Agger.

Welbeck then skipped past Skrtel to fire over while Tom Cleverley saw a left-foot volley flash just wide of Jose Reina’s left-hand post.

Only a brilliant goalline clearance from Skrtel from Van Persie’s clever backheel from Rafael’s cross prevented a second, with Reina taking a hefty whack from Shinji Kagawa in the aftermath which required lengthy treatment.

United winger Ashley Young failed to reappear for the second half - replaced by Antonio Valencia - having injured himself after recklessly jumping into a tackle on Agger.

However, the more significant introduction at the interval was that of Sturridge, whose pace up front provided much-needed support for Suarez and introduced a different dynamic for the United defence.

Within three minutes United were 2-0 up as Skrtel’s foul on Welbeck on the edge of the area, which earned him a yellow card, allowed Van Persie to swing in a free-kick from which Evra’s header deflected in off Vidic.

At that stage it appeared the game was up for the visitors but their first shot on target brought some hope.

A low strike from Gerrard, on a rare foray to the United penalty area, was only parried by David de Gea and Sturridge used his poacher’s instinct to follow up the rebound.

Liverpool moved into the ascendancy and Sturridge had the chance to snatch an equaliser and the headlines with five minutes to go after Suarez’s determination saw the ball break to his strike partner but the £12million signing leant back and his effort sailed over and United escaped to survive.