Luis Suarez's refusal to shake hands with Patrice Evra overshadowed a crucial victory for Manchester United over Liverpool at Old Trafford.
Suarez and Evra were in opposition for the first time since the Premier League meeting at Anfield in October, which led to the Uruguayan serving an eight-match ban for racially abusing the United defender.
And the tone for an ill-tempered - but at times absorbing - encounter was set when Suarez ignored Evra's extended hand in the pre-match formalities.
Evra attempted to grab Suarez's arm as he walked past, with Rio Ferdinand then refusing to shake hands with the Liverpool striker as the situation threatened to descend into complete farce.
The incident provided an undercurrent throughout a game which was won by two goals from Wayne Rooney inside the first four minutes of the second half.
Suarez was also a central figure in angry scenes as the teams went down the tunnel at the interval after he had ended the half by kicking the ball into the crowd.
He almost provided more headlines when he pulled a goal back late on that threatened to deprive United of victory, before more acrimony flared at the final whistle.
Evra almost lapped Old Trafford in elation before continuing his celebrations in close proximity to Suarez in front of the Stretford End, provoking an angry response from Liverpool's players and concluding an afternoon that was not the most savoury advert for the Premier League.
When a football match did break out, it was Rooney's contribution that proved decisive and ensured United moved back to the top of the table ahead of Manchester City, who play at Aston Villa on Sunday.
Any hopes of relative calm before kick-off disappeared in the pre-match non-handshake - but Liverpool at least started with a measure of composure and Glen Johnson was just off target with a low, curling effort after four minutes.
United's response came with a moment that rolled back the years at Old Trafford, Paul Scholes linking with Giggs before moving on to the end of his perfect cross, only to head straight at Pepe Reina.
Suarez was then involved in another flashpoint just before half-time when, furious after he felt he had been fouled by Ferdinand, he rounded on the officials before kicking the ball towards the crowd as the half-time whistle sounded.
The fall-out resulted in angry exchanges between the players as they disappeared down the tunnel at half-time.
If anyone was galvanised by the hostility it was United - and Rooney was the match-winner as he struck twice in the opening four minutes after the restart.
Giggs's corner touched off Jordan Henderson into the path of Rooney, who volleyed powerfully past Reina - and he was on hand to turn home Antonio Valencia's pass after Jay Spearing's costly concession of possession.
Rooney should have had his hat-trick thanks to a clever step over from Scholes but he was caught on his heels and scuffed a tame finish wide.
Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish had watched the momentum swing violently away from his side, instigating a double change on the hour when Spearing and the anonymous Stewart Downing were replaced by Andy Carroll and Craig Bellamy.
Suarez was cutting an increasingly frustrated figure, but gave Liverpool fresh hope when he won a free-kick which earned Michael Carrick a booking. Charlie Adam's delivery bounced off Ferdinand, allowing the lurking Suarez to poke home from close range.
There was to be no late reprieve for Liverpool, but still time for another show of the ill-feeling between the players that demonstrated again the tension that currently exists between the two clubs.
Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson:
"I thought it was a great performance; I'm really pleased with the players. With Wayne scoring, and then scoring immediately after, it put us in a great position.
"[My] only thought was, instead of going for the killer goal, they tended to just keep possession. That's a dangerous game to play - and of course with Liverpool scoring there was nervy moments towards the end.
"[Antonio] Valencia has been unbelievable and Jonny [Evans] has fantastic potential. He's had the consistency of [playing] games and I think that helps with young players."
Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish:
"I don't think there was much [between the two teams]. It was pretty even and you expect the home side to have more possession.
"There wasn't much in the game and those five minutes in the second half gave us a mountain to climb.
"We left ourselves too much to do and that's why they walked away with a victory."
- 01 De Gea
- 03 Evra
- 05 Ferdinand
- 06 Evans
- 21 Rafael
- 11 Giggs
- 16 Carrick Booked
- 22 Scholes
- 25 Valencia
- 10 Rooney
- 19 Welbeck
- 40 Amos
- 20 Fabio
- 13 Park Ji-sung
- 23 Cleverley
- 42 Pogba
- 09 Berbatov
- 14 Hernandez
- 25 Reina
- 02 Johnson
- 03 Jose Enrique
- 05 Agger
- 37 Skrtel
- 08 Gerrard
- 14 Henderson
- 18 Kuyt (Adam - 75' )
- 19 Downing Booked (Bellamy - 61' )
- 20 Spearing (Carroll - 61' )
- 07 Suarez
- 32 Doni
- 23 Carragher
- 34 Kelly
- 26 Adam
- 33 Shelvey
- 09 Carroll
- 39 Bellamy
Live Text Commentary
Full Time The final whistle is blown by the referee.90:00 +3:45
Wayne Rooney decides to take the corner short.90:00 +3:13
Wayne Rooney fouled by Martin Skrtel, the ref awards a free kick. Antonio Valencia restarts play with the free kick.90:00 +2:11
Luis Suarez is ruled offside. David De Gea takes the direct free kick.90:00 +1:00
Corner taken right-footed by Craig Bellamy, Antonio Valencia makes a clearance.90:00 +0:45
Glen Johnson takes a shot. Save by David De Gea.90:00 +0:12
Charlie Adam fouled by Danny Welbeck, the ref awards a free kick. Free kick crossed right-footed by Craig Bellamy from left wing, clearance made by Jonathan Evans.89:35
Foul by Antonio Valencia on Sanchez Jose Enrique, free kick awarded. Sanchez Jose Enrique takes the free kick.86:00
Luis Suarez is flagged offside by the assistant referee. Free kick taken by David De Gea.84:13
Glen Johnson gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Patrice Evra. Patrice Evra restarts play with the free kick.82:22
Luis Suarez takes a shot. Blocked by Andy Carroll.81:14
Effort on goal by Danny Welbeck from deep inside the area goes harmlessly over the bar.79:55
Assist by Charlie Adam.79:55 Goal scored
Goal! - Luis Suarez - Man Utd 2 - 1 Liverpool A goal is scored by Luis Suarez from inside the six-yard box low into the middle of the goal. Man Utd 2-1 Liverpool.79:22
The ball is swung over by Charlie Adam,79:22 Booking
Booking The referee shows Michael Carrick a yellow card for unsporting behaviour.79:15
Foul by Michael Carrick on Luis Suarez, free kick awarded.76:10
Foul by Andy Carroll on Rafael Da Silva, free kick awarded. Free kick taken by Jonathan Evans.74:32 Substitution
Substitution Charlie Adam replaces Dirk Kuyt.74:18
Left-footed shot by Daniel Agger went wide of the left-hand upright.
Danny Welbeck takes a shot. Save by Jose Reina.70:56
Craig Bellamy sends in a cross, clearance made by Jonathan Evans.69:54
Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Paul Scholes by Luis Suarez. David De Gea restarts play with the free kick.66:18
Steven Gerrard concedes a free kick for a foul on Wayne Rooney. Patrice Evra restarts play with the free kick.66:12
Luis Suarez crosses the ball, clearance made by Patrice Evra.65:05
Antonio Valencia produces a cross, clearance made by Steven Gerrard.64:14
Ryan Giggs delivers the ball, Sanchez Jose Enrique manages to make a clearance.63:12
Centre by Rafael Da Silva, save by Jose Reina.61:48
Craig Bellamy takes a shot. Blocked by Jonathan Evans.60:14 Substitution
Substitution Craig Bellamy replaces Stewart Downing.60:14 Substitution
Substitution (Liverpool) makes a substitution, with Andy Carroll coming on for Jay Spearing.58:45
Effort from inside the six-yard box by Wayne Rooney goes wide right of the goal.58:17
Ryan Giggs sends in a cross.57:43
Foul by Jonathan Evans on Jay Spearing, free kick awarded. Free kick taken by Daniel Agger.55:59
Foul by Martin Skrtel on Wayne Rooney, free kick awarded. Indirect free kick taken by Patrice Evra.54:38
Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Luis Suarez by Michael Carrick. Stewart Downing crosses the ball from the free kick left-footed from right channel, clearance made by Antonio Valencia.53:54
Antonio Valencia concedes a free kick for a foul on Sanchez Jose Enrique. Indirect free kick taken by Sanchez Jose Enrique.49:03
Assist by Antonio Valencia.49:03 Goal scored
Goal! - Wayne Rooney - Man Utd 2 - 0 Liverpool Wayne Rooney scores a goal from inside the box low into the middle of the goal. Man Utd 2-0 Liverpool.48:06
Stewart Downing is ruled offside. Free kick taken by David De Gea.46:15
Assist by Ryan Giggs.46:15 Goal scored
Goal! - Wayne Rooney - Man Utd 1 - 0 Liverpool Wayne Rooney grabs a goal from close in high into the middle of the goal. Man Utd 1-0 Liverpool.45:52
Ryan Giggs takes the inswinging corner,45:01
The match restarts for the second half.45:00 +1:20 Half time
Half Time The referee calls an end to the first half.43:54
Free kick crossed left-footed by Ryan Giggs, Glen Johnson makes a clearance.43:54 Booking
Booking Stewart Downing receives a caution.43:46
Stewart Downing challenges Rafael Da Silva unfairly and gives away a free kick.43:01
Free kick awarded for a foul by Antonio Valencia on Jay Spearing. Free kick taken by Jose Reina.41:16
Corner taken left-footed by Stewart Downing, Effort on goal by Martin Skrtel from just inside the area clears the crossbar.41:08
The ball is delivered by Steven Gerrard, clearance made by Rio Ferdinand.40:40
Corner taken by Steven Gerrard from the right by-line.40:23
Steven Gerrard takes a shot. Blocked by Paul Scholes.37:07
Danny Welbeck produces a right-footed shot from the edge of the area and misses to the left of the goal.36:02
Dirk Kuyt sends in a cross, clearance by Jonathan Evans.33:59
The ball is swung over by Antonio Valencia, Close range headed effort by Patrice Evra clears the crossbar.32:40
Unfair challenge on Michael Carrick by Dirk Kuyt results in a free kick. Indirect free kick taken by David De Gea.31:59
Wayne Rooney concedes a free kick for a foul on Jay Spearing. Jay Spearing takes the free kick.31:42
Danny Welbeck crosses the ball, clearance by Daniel Agger.30:45
Corner taken by Ryan Giggs from the left by-line, Steven Gerrard makes a clearance.30:28
Paul Scholes takes a shot. Jose Reina makes a save.29:59
The ball is crossed by Wayne Rooney, Stewart Downing makes a clearance.27:11
The assistant referee signals for offside against Jordan Henderson. David De Gea takes the direct free kick.26:32
Wayne Rooney produces a right-footed shot from just outside the area that goes wide left of the goal.25:27
Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Ryan Giggs by Steven Gerrard. Indirect free kick taken by Jonathan Evans.21:46
The ball is sent over by Glen Johnson, save by David De Gea.18:03
Rafael Da Silva takes a shot. Save by Jose Reina.15:38
The ball is crossed by Ryan Giggs, Martin Skrtel manages to make a clearance.14:17
The ball is sent over by Dirk Kuyt.14:09
Dirk Kuyt crosses the ball, clearance made by Jonathan Evans.12:18
Foul by Jonathan Evans on Luis Suarez, free kick awarded. Free kick crossed by Sanchez Jose Enrique, Patrice Evra manages to make a clearance.11:51
Jordan Henderson challenges Antonio Valencia unfairly and gives away a free kick. Ryan Giggs restarts play with the free kick.9:19
Glen Johnson produces a left-footed shot from the edge of the area and misses to the left of the goal.8:10
Unfair challenge on Dirk Kuyt by Patrice Evra results in a free kick. Indirect free kick taken by Glen Johnson.6:04
Inswinging corner taken left-footed by Ryan Giggs from the left by-line to the near post, Wayne Rooney takes a shot. Save by Jose Reina.5:06
Sanchez Jose Enrique concedes a free kick for a foul on Antonio Valencia. Free kick crossed left-footed by Ryan Giggs, Glen Johnson manages to make a clearance.4:03
Centre by Antonio Valencia, save made by Jose Reina.2:14
Glen Johnson takes a shot. Save by David De Gea.0:00
The referee gets the game underway.
Live data and text provided by our data suppliers