Ferocity, intensity and a moving tribute to the 96 fans killed in the Hillsborough disaster made Sunday's north-west derby between Liverpool and Manchester United a "good day for football", United manager Sir Alex Ferguson said.
The recent Hillsborough findings detailing a police cover-up added another level of intensity to the latest installment of the country's fiercest rivalry with fans and players from both clubs under an unprecedented spotlight.
An emotional day passed off without any incidents as United sealed a rather fortunate three points with Robin van Persie's late penalty clinching a 2-1 victory to move them into second place after five games.
Liverpool are yet to win in the league under new manager Brendan Rodgers but can count themselves unlucky despite having Jonjo Shelvey sent off for a reckless tackle in the first half.
The often strained relations between England's two most successful clubs reached a new low last season amid a race row involving Liverpool striker Luis Suarez and United defender Patrice Evra that resulted in an eight-match ban for Suarez.
There were fears that the distasteful chants often accompanying the fixture, in reference to the 96 Liverpool fans killed at Hillsborough in 1989 and the 1958 Munich air crash that decimated United's team, would tarnish an occasion when fans of both club reflected on the events of 23 years ago.
As it was the first fixture at Anfield since an indepenedent panel this month cleared Liverpool fans of any blame in the Hillsborough disaster, produced rare pre-match harmony as captains Steven Gerrard and Ryan Giggs released 96 balloons.
United great Bobby Charlton also presented Liverpool great Ian Rush with 96 red roses while fans held up white and red boards spelling out the words Truth and Justice.
"Liverpool did a fantastic job today, the fans were terrific and I don't think there can be any complaint on that part," Ferguson said. "It was a nice touch Bobby Charlton giving the bouquet to Ian Rush and it demonstrates these two clubs can do things with unity and then we got on with the game.
"There was ferocity and it was intense and it has been a good day for football."
Liverpool chief executive Ian Ayre thanked Manchester United's fans for their behaviour, even if they did taunt Suarez at various stages of the game.
"Today was a very emotional day for everyone inside Anfield and I'd like to thank Manchester United Football Club for their gestures of support," he told Liverpool's website.
After a low-key start the match eventually sprang to life.
United's task was made easier when Shelvey was red-carded for an ugly tackle on Jonny Evans after 39 minutes - the game's biggest flashpoint. Shelvey gesticulated angrily at Ferguson as he left the pitch, souring the mood of goodwill.
"Jonjo Shelvey's sending off was a clear red card, there was a dangerous attempt to go for the ball," Ferguson said.
"He was trying to blame me I suppose. He is responsible for his own actions there is no question about that."
Fergsuon said his side had been lucky, however, after Rafael's curler and Van Persie's late penalty inflicted a painful defeat on their arch-rivals.
"It is a great result for us but we did not play well," Ferguson, whose side had not won at Anfield since 2007, said.
"In the first half Liverpool dominated us, in the second half we had better possession but they had 10 men, we can't take great credit for that."
Liverpool manager Rodgers said he was pleased with his side's performance but disappointed with Shelvey's red card.
"The performance level up to 65 minutes or so was outstanding," he said.
"It was disappointing to say the least, if Jonjo Shelvey gets sent off than so should Jonny Evans. I am bitterly disappointed the referee only saw one side of that."comments