A stunning Dimitar Berbatov hat-trick rescued Manchester United from what was threatening to be yet another defensive catastrophe in a thrilling 3-2 victory over Liverpool at Old Trafford here Sunday.
United seemed to be in complete control of the game after two goals from Berbatov repaid the faith shown in him of late by his manager, only for two goals from Steven Gerrard — the results of infringements by United defenders — allowed the visitors to draw level.
With just six minutes to play, however, Paul Scholes found John O’Shea on the right and his perfect cross saw Berbatov outjump Jamie Carragher and head clinically into the Liverpool goal.
The Bulgarian, singled out for praise by Ferguson in the pre-match build-up, certainly continued in the vein of form described by his manager and had been an influential figure even before he claimed the opening goal four minutes before the interval.
Berbatov himself won the telling corner with a cross from the right which Carragher turned behind as Wayne Rooney lurked, poised to connect.
Ryan Giggs took the resulting kick from the left flank and, with the assistance of some shoddy marking, Berbatov cleverly found the space to stoop and guide a header past Pepe Reina from six yards.
The second, for United and Berbatov, just before the hour mark was far more memorable and seemed to have effectively killed off the contest.
The move started with a sublime pass from Darren Fletcher which found Nani near the right-hand corner flag.
The winger cut in before chipping over a cross which Berbatov, back to goal, controlled on his knee before placing into the goal, via the crossbar, with an audacious overhead kick.
The Berbatov brace was the very minimum that United deserved and, indeed, the only surprise was that two goals were all the home side had to show for a first hour of complete domination.
But, two minutes later, Liverpool halved the deficit after Jonny Evans slid in and brought down Fernando Torres as he made a rare burst into the United area — Gerrard calmly beating Edwin van der Sar from the penalty that correctly followed.
That was a break that Liverpool could scarcely have foreseen as they struggled out of the gate yet United?s worrying trend of throwing away leads — as had been the case at Fulham and Everton already this season — continued.
After 68 minutes, John O?Shea was judged to have brought down Torres as he sped towards the United area and Gerrard placed the free-kick through the wall and past the stationary van der Sar from just outside the box, a finish which left major question marks over United?s defending once more.
The comeback had earlier seemed inconceivable, such was United?s power going forward. Nani screwed an early shot just wide and Ferguson?s men seemed to grow in confidence after Berbatov?s first.
There were strong appeals for a United penalty after Christian Poulsen?s backwards header appeared to strike Carragher?s arm and Rooney ended the half with a low shot from just outside the area which was not far from the target.
The second half opened with Liverpool finally showing more enthusiasm to attack their hosts although the first chance again fell for United as Fletcher?s long-range shot took an awkward deflection and looped up, almost falling for Berbatov on the six-yard line before Reina gathered.
O’Shea?s short pass also created an angle for Nani to unleash a quite blistering shot which beat Reina only to thunder against the Liverpool woodwork after 56 minutes.
Three goals followed, inside ten minutes, and set up an intriguing finale which was finally, and fittingly, settled by the best player on the field.
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