Only five minutes of normal time were left when Liverpool left-back Andrew Robertson received the ball down his side.
All afternoon, United had kept one of their opponents’ most dangerous attacking outlets pinned in his own half on the back of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s clever tactics. All afternoon they had kept Liverpool at bay.
But at the death they faltered. Robertson’s low cross was decent but had to bypass three United defenders to reach its target. For reasons perhaps only they know, nobody took responsibility and when the ball found Adam Lallana on his own at the far post the Liverpool substitute buried it in the corner to ensure his team went home with pride in tact after their least convincing display for some time.
For United this was still a good day. They were the better team for long periods with Solskjaer’s 3-4-3 foxing Liverpool and forcing Jurgen Kopp to tweak his own team’s system at half-time.
A draw brought an end to their great rival’s long winning run in the Premier League.
But this is a result that will stick in the throat simply because they were so close to something so much better. Liverpool had improved in the second half and had enjoyed territory and possession. But Klopp’s team had not created chances, none at all.
Liverpool got away with this, be in no doubt. They lacked their usual energy and tempo and deserved to be behind at half-time, even if United’s goal probably should not have stood.
When United defender Victor Lindelof kicked Divock Origi’s calf ten minutes before half-time, Old Trafford waited for Martin Atkinson’s whistle.
When it didn’t come Daniel James raced down the right and crossed low for Marcus Rashford to score. United celebrated as VAR checked the legality of the goal.
That late equaliser was a body blow for United, who had appeared destined for what would have been a huge victory to bring some cheer to a sombre Old Trafford. Still, there were plenty of positives to take from Sunday’s draw, not least fine displays from both Rashford and James, questioned by some for their lack of goals.
United needed steel, concentration and resolve to upset the form-book, and to the relief of both Woodward and Solskjaer, subject of no few criticisms himself, they frustrated their opponents for large swathes of the game.
The Red Devils might still be struggling to get going, and a club of their stature should never be pleased with a share of the points; but Sunday’s determined display at least showed that the engines are still running for this young, limited but undoubtedly hungry team.