Sir Alex Ferguson's jubilation over Dimitar Berbatov's late winner in Manchester United's 3-2 defeat of Liverpool was followed by the provocative claim that his side should have won by a "cricket score".
United lost a two-goal lead, with Steven Gerrard scoring twice for Liverpool, and looked like they were going to surrender a winning position for a third successive league game until Berbatov completed his hat-trick five minutes from the end of normal time.
"At 2-0 it could have been a cricket score," Ferguson said. "Two-all was an absolute farce. It was a game we absolutely dominated and I was saying to myself, 'It could be 10.' So when it looked like ending 2-2, it would have been a travesty of a scoreline.
"They [Liverpool] had the momentum when it went to 2-2, but they never offered anything, did they? They had to depend on decisions from the linesman to get back into the game. [Edwin] van der Sar hasn't had a save to make, [Paul] Scholes was controlling the tempo in midfield and we looked dangerous up front, with Berbatov and Nani in particular. I couldn't see us losing the game."
Ferguson accused the Liverpool striker Fernando Torres of trying to get John O'Shea sent off in the challenge that led to the free-kick from which Gerrard scored his second. "I've watched it and Torres made a meal out of it," he said. "He made an absolute meal of it to try to get our player sent off."
In 36 years of management Ferguson has never lost a match in which his side have been two goals ahead. His remarks yesterday will be a lesson for Roy Hodgson, that the United manager seldom misses an opportunity to belittle his rivals.
The Liverpool manager seemed taken aback when he was told what had been said. "I think that's a bit harsh," he said. "United played very well but to undermine our performance in that manner is a bit harsh. Our second-half performance was good and with a bit more composure we could have held on."
Hodgson would not comment on Ferguson's criticisms of Torres and, anxious to avoid a public disagreement, also chose not to answer questions about Nani's perceived play-acting. He opted instead to reflect on the winning goal. "We defended poorly from a cross and should have done much better. It would be churlish of me to talk about a player being sent off when our downfall was actually that we should have defended better."
Berbatov has scored seven goals this season and both managers used the word "genius" when talking about the Bulgarian. The highlight of his performance was an overhead kick for his second. Ferguson said: "There's been a lot of criticism of him, which happens at this club when we sign someone for big money and he isn't scoring a hat-trick every week. But there has never been any question about his ability.
"Lots of questions were asked about him last season and he was made something of a whipping boy, to the point where he must have wondered whether he had a future at Old Trafford. We could have avoided the worst of the aggravation if people had only asked themselves two questions. Firstly they should have queried whether the man had real ability, and the answer for me was undoubtedly yes. Next they should have looked to see if he was a Manchester United kind of player and, again, I think there was no doubt about him. I concede that at times he seemed to struggle but if you are satisfied about a player's credentials you must persevere and trust your judgment."
United are four points behind Chelsea but Ferguson admitted to a sense of relief. "The build-up to these games is such that, if one doesn't win, it's a catastrophe. For Liverpool, this is a catastrophe."