Kuyt delivers knock-out blow
Liverpool progressed to the fifth round of the FA Cup after substitute Dirk Kuyt's late winner secured a 2-1 home victory over Manchester United.
Last Updated: 28/01/12 3:37pm
Liverpool followed up reaching the Carling Cup final with progress to the fifth round of the FA Cup after substitute Dirk Kuyt's late winner secured a thrilling 2-1 home victory over arch-rivals Manchester United.
An intense derby at Anfield appeared poised for a replay, when Luis Suarez would have been available to play, until Kuyt eluded the attentions of Red Devils captain Patrice Evra to hammer home two minutes from time.
Daniel Agger had earlier headed the home side in front before Park Ji-sung drew United level in a game which was evenly contested throughout.
Antonio Valencia was a constant threat on the right for United and he came close to breaking the deadlock on 17 minutes when the winger's shot following a penetrating run came back off the post.
However, Liverpool responded by taking the lead four minutes later when Agger took advantage of goalkeeper David de Gea's inability to take command of his penalty area to head home Steven Gerrard's corner.
Liverpool were then content to sit back, but were punished six minutes before half-time when Rafael seized on Jose Enrique's mistake to drill in a low cross which Park fired home at the near post.
The early stages of the second half saw both teams have hopeful appeals for a penalty dismissed by referee Mark Halsey before Martin Skrtel came to Jose Reina's rescue after Danny Welbeck had flicked the ball past the Liverpool keeper.
Liverpool upped the pressure in the final 10 minutes and were rewarded with two minutes to go when Andy Carroll flicked on Reina's goal-kick and substitute Kuyt thumped his shot beyond De Gea.
The game should have been put to bed a minute later when Carroll's header came back off the frame of the goal and Kuyt prodded the ball wide, but it made no difference as United failed to mount one of their famous late rallies.
Off-field matters had dominated pre-match proceedings as both sides tried to ease tensions ahead of the first meeting of the two sides since Suarez's eight-match ban for racially abusing Evra.
The United captain's every touch was roundly booed, with the left-back also subjected to chants claiming his evidence to the Football Association's disciplinary commission had not been entirely reliable.
The Frenchman took it all in his stride, particularly in a strong challenge from Stewart Downing, but the temperament of goalkeeper De Gea was more open to question.
On his last visit to Anfield the Spaniard had produced an impressive display to earn United a 1-1 draw, but after one early save from Maxi Rodriguez he began to look slightly more shaky on his first appearance in 2012.
De Gea would have been relieved to see Enrique's long-range strike deflect behind off Chris Smalling.
But he exposed himself to criticism at the resulting corner as his preoccupation with trying to push Carroll out of his way allowed Agger to rise highest to head home Gerrard's cross.
Just moments earlier United had almost taken the lead when Valencia cut in from the right to fire a shot past Reina which rebounded back off his right-hand post.
Jamie Carragher, on his 34th birthday, was brought into the starting line-up, but an unfamiliar holding role in front of the back four for the Anfield veteran handed the midfield initiative to the visitors.
Following the opening goal United enjoyed a long spell of possession, knocking the ball around in midfield without any end product.
But just when they looked like squandering their dominance they equalised as Rafael shrugged off Enrique far too easily to get to the byline and drill over a low cross from the right which Park smashed first time past Reina, into the bottom right corner.
Early in the second half Ryan Giggs' cross from the left to the far post resulted in a moment of panic for Agger, but the Denmark international cleared with his knee under pressure from Valencia.
Smalling had a similar episode of concern as he slipped when dealing with Enrique's pass into the penalty area, with Carroll's appeal for hands after he smashed the ball at the centre-back falling on deaf ears.
As the game started to open up Michael Carrick's defence-splitting pass saw Welbeck knock the ball past Reina but Skrtel got back to clear as the shot trickled goalwards.
The Carragher experiment was brought to an end in the 63rd minute when he was replaced by Kuyt, while Charlie Adam came on for Rodriguez.
De Gea's difficult afternoon continued as he allowed a Downing cross to slip through his fingers for a corner, although he managed to hold on from a Gerrard free-kick.
With 18 minutes remaining Craig Bellamy, the midweek hero against Manchester City in the Carling Cup, surprisingly replaced Gerrard, before Adam sent a long-range strike wide and Kuyt put a weak header from Downing's cross off target.
The Holland international made up for his miss two minutes from time when he popped up with the winner.
Reina's punt downfield was flicked on by Carroll and Kuyt got ahead of Evra to fire past De Gea.
It was only his second goal of the season, his other coming in the Carling Cup, but was as vital as the hat-trick he scored on this ground in the victory over United last season.
Kuyt could have put the result beyond doubt moments later when Carroll crashed a header against the angle of post and crossbar but the striker stabbed the rebound wide.
The visitors looked for a way back in the closing stages but there was not enough time to respond.
Liverpool duly extended their unbeaten run at home to United to five matches, making up for some of the hurt felt after their third-round exit at Old Trafford a year ago in what was manager Kenny Dalglish's first match back in his second spell in charge.