NEWS
02/11/2012 12:14 EST | Updated 04/12/2012 05:12 EDT

Man U beats firece rival Liverpool in match overshadowed by Suarez-Evra spat

LONDON - Luis Suarez's refusal to shake hands with Patrice Evra overshadowed Manchester United's 2-1 win over fierce rival Liverpool that lifted the reigning champions provisionally to the top of the Premier League on Saturday.

Wayne Rooney scored twice for the second straight match to guide United to victory at Old Trafford but all the focus was on the pre-match handshake that never happened, inflaming tensions between England's two most successful clubs and reviving a racism row that refuses to go away.

Starting his first match since serving an eight-game ban for racially abusing Evra during a league match at Anfield on Oct. 15, Suarez withdrew his hand as the France defender put forward his in the traditional ritual before kickoff.

"He is a disgrace to Liverpool Football Club," United manager Alex Ferguson. "He shouldn't be able to play for Liverpool again."

Police and stewards reportedly had to intervene as players from both teams clashed outside the dressing rooms at halftime after Evra chased Suarez down the tunnel.

Evra then appeared to attempt to provoke Suarez with exuberant post-match celebrations on the pitch in front of the Uruguay striker, also forcing police officers to intervene.

Amid the mayhem, United managed to take an overnight lead in the standings, piling the pressure on Manchester City ahead of its trip to Aston Villa on Sunday.

Tottenham was trying to stay in the title race when it hosted Newcastle later Saturday while the fight for fourth place intensified following Chelsea's 2-0 loss at Everton and Arsenal's 2-1 victory at Sunderland.

Thierry Henry scored a stoppage-time winner for Arsenal, which climbed above Chelsea on goals scored. The two teams, who are four points clear of seventh-place Liverpool, have the same goal difference.

Steven Pienaar and Denis Stracqualursi struck Everton's goals as Chelsea extended its winless run to four matches and threatened the club's hopes of qualifying for the Champions League.

The spat between Suarez and Evra, which has been rumbling for nearly four months, is set to run and run — much to the disgust of United defender Rio Ferdinand, who refused to shake the hand of Suarez after seeing the Uruguay striker's snub of Evra.

Evra attempted to pull back the arm of Suarez as the Uruguayan moved to shake hands with goalkeeper David De Gea, who was next in the United line. Suarez refused to turn back.

"It could have been resolved between the two players today. After this, it's not great," Ferdinand said.

Players from both teams maintained their composure in a hostile atmosphere during the game, with United much the stronger of the two northwest sides.

After dominating the first half, it needed a quickfire double from Rooney — in the 47th and 50th minutes — to put United in front.

Suarez pounced on a mistake by Ferdinand to prod home and reduce the deficit in the 80th but United held on, allowing Evra his moment of revelry in front of the home fans and Suarez.

"Patrice apparently celebrated in front of Suarez. That is understandable," Ferguson said.

Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish refused to condemn Suarez for his actions.

"I think you are bang out of order to blame Luis Suarez for whatever happened today," an angry Dalglish told a television interviewer.

Arsenal fell behind to a goal by Sunderland winger James McClean in the 70th but Aaron Ramsey equalized before fellow substitute Henry grabbed the winner with a volley, his third goal since rejoining the London team on loan.

Henry has just one game left, against AC Milan in the Champions League on Wednesday, before returning to the New York Red Bulls.

"I know it was the last game in the Premier League and I wanted to say thanks," Henry said. "I felt just like a kid who scores his first goal for the team he loves."

The pressure will increase on Chelsea manager Andre Villas-Boas after the team's latest defeat — its sixth this campaign.

At the other end of the table, bottom team Wigan moved to within a point of Bolton by beating its northwest neighbour 2-1, James McArthur scoring the winner in the 76th.

Blackburn stayed in the relegation zone despite winning 3-2 at home to QPR. David Hoilett of Brampton, Ont., set up two of Blackburn's three goals. Both teams are level on 21 points, however, along with fourth-bottom Wolverhampton Wanderers who play West Bromwich Albion on Sunday.

Norwich climbed to eighth by rallying to a 3-2 win at Swansea, with Grant Holt scoring twice for the visitors, and Fulham beat Stoke 2-1. Simeon Jackson of Mississauga, Ont., played 83 minutes for Norwich.