United cruise past ten-man Reds

Brown, Ronaldo and Nani on target for United

Manchester United tightened their grip on top spot with a 3-0 victory over ten-man Liverpool in a dramatic encounter at Old Trafford.

Referee Steve Bennett, at the centre of the action throughout, decided not to award a penalty to Wayne Rooney in the opening few minutes after the Manchester United striker found himself on the receiving end of a mistimed challenge from Jamie Carragher but battled to stay on his feet.

Jose Reina's error then allowed Wes Brown to head home Rooney's cross after 34 minutes, before Javier Mascherano was controversially shown a second yellow card on the stroke of half-time for dissent.

United dominated possession after the break and made sure of the points as Cristiano Ronaldo capitalised on another mistake from Reina to nod in a second in the 79th minute.

Nani then fired a stunning third past Reina to add gloss to the scoreline for United and leave Liverpool just two points above Everton in the race for fourth place.

In a frenetic start the opening tackles were sharp. Scholes went in on Xabi Alonso and Ferdinand on Fernando Torres before Mascherano went too far and was booked for cutting down Scholes.

In the midst of it all Rooney could have scored twice. First he got behind Carragher, whose tackle could easily have produced a penalty had the former Everton man gone down.

Instead Rooney kept his feet and forced Reina into a save with his legs.

Then Scholes' lofted pass fell behind the Liverpool defence and Reina scooped the ball away from Rooney's rush into the box.

The Liverpool tactic was conceding the ball to United in dangerous positions, and from one set-piece the ball again cleared Liverpool's back-line for Ronaldo to see a shot hit the foot of a post.

Gerrard, who had looked strangely subdued, finally burst into action after 27 minutes, taking a knock-down from Dirk Kuyt and seeing a right-footer deflected inches over.

But United were soon back on the attack, and after 33 minutes Reina only stopped a Giggs effort, and was forced to claw it back from under the bar.

But Liverpool were not to survive much longer. Scholes swept the ball out to Rooney on the left after 34 minutes, and when his curling cross arrived in the box, the unlikely figure of Brown was there to reach it before Reina head into the net.

It was Brown's first of the season and only the third of his career, and it gave United a deserved lead.

Ryan Babel wasted a good opportunity after skinning Brown, and then Alvaro Arbeloa lifted a 12-yarder aimlessly over the top.

Liverpool's frustrations then saw them implode. Torres was booked for dissent, and Mascherano joined in. Referee Bennett, having already booked the Argentinian, produced another yellow and then red. Mascherano was furious, as was Rafa Benitez. The player had to be hauled away from the pitch, such was his fury.

For the second half, Gerrard was pushed back into Mascherano's holding role. But it took a point-blank save from Reina to stop a Ronaldo effort a minute after the break.

Reina then produced another improbable save from Rooney, six yards out, Arbeloa becoming the next Liverpool man in the book for tugging back Anderson.

Liverpool still had a slim chance, and sent on Yossi Benayoun after 66 minutes for the ineffective Babel. Torres then missed a decent chance, unmarked on the far post, when a Gerrard free-kick reached him.

United sent on Carlos Tevez and Nani for Giggs and Anderson after 73 minutes, and it took another wonder save from Reina stopped Tevez close in.

Liverpool were then incensed by a Michael Carrick challenge on Torres, right in front of Benitez which Bennett did not penalise - further enraging the Anfield boss.

United, though, were in no mood to let Liverpool escape. After 79 minutes Ronaldo headed home a Nani corner and two minutes later Nani created space for himself on the edge of the box to blast in the third.

Manchester United Team Statistics Liverpool
3 Goals 0
1 1st Half Goals 0
10 Shots on Target 1
7 Shots off Target 5
7 Blocked Shots 2
2 Corners 4
11 Fouls 12
4 Offsides 0
1 Yellow Cards 2
0 Red Cards 1
85.6 Passing Success 70.8
21 Tackles 43
81 Tackles Success 72.1
65.8 Possession 34.2
55.3 Territorial Advantage 44.7