Manchester United reacted to their 3-1 defeat at Liverpool by imposing a media blackout, with Sir Alex Ferguson refusing to share his thoughts about a dismal afternoon for the Premier League leaders during which the club's chief executive, David Gill, became embroiled in a heated exchange with the referees' chief, Mike Riley.
Gill sought out Riley in the directors' box at half-time to voice his complaints about the referee, Phil Dowd, not sending off Jamie Carragher for the challenge that left a tearful Nani being taken off on a stretcher. Riley is understood to have robustly defended Dowd in an argument that sums up United's belief, since the 2-1 defeat at Chelsea last Tuesday, that key refereeing decisions are going against them.
Ferguson's post-match anger about Martin Atkinson's handling of that match has already earned him an improper‑conduct charge from the Football Association but the United manager was unwilling to risk talking himself into more trouble after Dirk Kuyt's hat-trick had seen Liverpool make it three successive home wins against their oldest rivals, for the first time since 1979.
Ferguson never speaks to the BBC as part of his long-standing dispute with the corporation but Sky, another broadcasting rights-holder, was also informed that he had withdrawn all co-operation. Normally Mike Phelan, the United assistant manager, deals with the BBC after games but even he was gagged at Anfield.
Ferguson's current mood can be gauged by him not speaking to the club's television station, MUTV, on the basis it was its interview at Stamford Bridge that led to the FA taking action. MUTV, too, was shunned at Anfield and Ferguson also informed his players that they were not to say anything about a match that badly undermined United's hopes of overtaking Liverpool with a record 19th league title. It was their third defeat in five league matches, the first time that has happened to United in seven years. The only post‑match reaction from United was from Rio Ferdinand via Twitter: "Bad result today no excuses."
Kenny Dalglish, the Liverpool manager, refused to be drawn on Carragher's tackle and a similarly reckless challenge by Rafael on Lucas Leiva that also received only a yellow card from Dowd. Carragher waited outside the United dressing room to apologise to Nani after the game, with the Portugal international ultimately limping to the team coach with a gash below the knee.
"The players deserve fantastic credit for how they went about their jobs. The referee had an easy game to manage apart from a couple of incidents," the Liverpool manager said. "The quality of the football was the most important thing for me and the attention should be on that. Both sets of players deserve great credit. There is enough rubbish written about these things anyway."
Kuyt became only the third player to score a hat-trick in the Premier League against United – following Egil Ostenstad and David Bentley – and the first Liverpool player to score three in this fixture since Peter Beardsley in 1990.
However, even the performance of the Dutchman was eclipsed by the outstanding Uruguayan, Luis Suárez, Liverpool's recent £22.8m purchase from Ajax. "They were all outstanding in different ways," said Dalglish, who gave the club's recent £35m record signing Andy Carroll his first Liverpool appearance, as a late substitute.
"Dirk got three goals and he will get the headlines and Luis played fantastically well but the rest of them were not too far behind.
"The way they went about their job, their attitude, their commitment, their desire to get a result, the pride they showed in playing for the football club and the pride they showed in their own performances: that is the reason why they got the result. Without everyone giving everything they have got you don't beat Manchester United – and they did that."
Dalglish claimed the triumph demonstrated that Liverpool have the quality – and the backing under the Fenway Sports Group – to push for a return to the Champions League in the near future but, despite United's faltering form and results, he was adamant that Ferguson's team remain the standard-bearers in the Premier League.
"I think Manchester United are the benchmark for everybody. They are top of the league so, yes, they are still the benchmark. Everybody would want to be in the position Manchester United are in," said Liverpool's caretaker manager.
"The closer you get to the top the more difficult it is to close the gap. Going from 20th to sixth is not as difficult as sixth to first. The higher we go the more difficult the step up is but the owners are determined to move the club forward within reason and they'll do their best to provide the funds."