Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish admits his side have some way still to go before they can consistently challenge Manchester United for the Premier title again.
The Reds’ 3-1 win at Anfield dealt a blow to the Old Trafford club’s bid for a record-breaking 19th championship, a figure which would take them past the Merseysiders’ tally.
But despite the relative ease of victory for the hosts the match was a typically fiery encounter and was not without its flashpoints. Jamie Carragher was lucky to escape severe punishment for an over-the-top challenge on Nani which resulted in the Portugal international leaving the field on a stretcher with a gash several inches long on his right shin.
Senior United officials were raging at the decision of referee Phil Dowd to only book the former England star, even if Sir Alex Ferguson’s opinions remain unknown after he skipped his post-match media duties.
After the game Carragher sent an apology to Nani in the United dressing room and waited for the winger to personally say sorry for causing the injury. The visitors were not just sinned against, however, with Rafael also escaping with a caution for a late lunge on Lucas Leiva moments after Carragher’s tackle. Dalglish played down the incidents, insisting Dowd had an easy game to officiate.
“Both sets of players were fantastic credit and made it an enjoyable spectacle for everyone” he said.
The Liverpool manager accepts there is plenty of work still to do. “The closer you get to the top the more difficult it is to close the gap,” he said. “Moving from 20th to sixth is not as big a problem as moving from two to one so the higher you go the more difficult the step up is. United are a great benchmark but our season is not finished. We got our reward for the victory in three points but we just want to keep going and get as many as we possibly can.
“The owners (Americans Fenway Sports Group) are determined to move the club forward within reason, whatever that is going to be they will do their best to provide it. But the players who played there did not do themselves any harm.”
Dirk Kuyt scored his first Liverpool hat-trick - and the first Reds treble against United for more than 20 - years before Javier Hernandez headed in an injury-time consolation.