(Reuters) - Wayne Rooney fired Manchester United to the top of the Premier League on Saturday after they beat Liverpool 2-1 in a match marred by Luis Suarez's refusal to shake Patrice Evra's hand before the kickoff.
There were few first-half chances as the spotlight fell on pre-match events when Suarez, who had served an eight-game ban for racially abusing Evra, ignored the Frenchman's outstretched hand in a snub United boss Alex Ferguson branded disgraceful.
Rooney struck twice in three minutes at the start of the second half to turn the focus back to the title race as the champions jumped above Manchester City at the top of the table.
Suarez, booed by home fans every time he touched the ball, struck in the 80th minute to give Liverpool hope but United then held firm to keep all the points.
United have 58 points from 25 games, one more than City who travel to Aston Villa on Sunday. Third-placed Tottenham Hotspur are on 50 points before hosting Newcastle United later on Saturday.
While United manager Ferguson lauded his players for a "great performance", he was angry with Suarez's behaviour towards Evra.
"I just could not believe it because Patrice and I had a chat this morning and he said 'I'm going to shake his hand, I've got nothing to be ashamed of. I want to keep my dignity'," Ferguson told Sky Sports.
"He's a disgrace to Liverpool football club and certain players should not be allowed to play for Liverpool again. The history that club's got and he does that and a situation like today could have caused a riot. It was terrible what he did."
The build-up to the match had focused on a first meeting between Evra and Suarez and both clubs had sought to draw a line under October's events at Anfield by playing down the likelihood of tension between the pair at Old Trafford.
With the cameras trained on them, United defender Evra offered his hand to the Uruguayan but Suarez kept his eyes down and ignored it. Evra then grabbed Suarez's arm but the striker carried on walking as he shook keeper David de Gea's hand.
United centre back Rio Ferdinand, whose brother Anton is at the centre of a separate racism row with Chelsea captain John Terry facing criminal charges over alleged remarks made to him, did not offer his hand having seen what had happened.
Sky Sports, which was screening the game and had a reporter in the tunnel, reported tempers had boiled over off the pitch at halftime when Evra tried to speak to Suarez and then several players got involved in a scuffle.
Suarez had been incensed just before the break after being brought down by Ferdinand when he was through on goal but television replays suggested the United defender had got a touch on the ball.
Tempers had calmed down after the break and United were quick to take the initiative.
Ryan Giggs sent in a corner from the right with the ball touching the head of Liverpool midfielder Jordan Henderson on its way to Rooney who hammered in a volley on 47 minutes.
Three minutes later, Antonio Valencia snatched the ball from Jay Spearing and the Ecuadorian ran forward to put Rooney through and the forward calmly slid home.
Rooney had the ball in the back of the net a few minutes later but the whistle had already been blown for a foul by United defender Jonny Evans.
Ferguson's side continued to dominate the second half but gave their arch rivals a glimmer of hope by conceding the type of soft goal their manager has been trying to get them to stamp out lately.
Ferdinand failed to deal with a Charlie Adam free kick and the ball bounced off him straight to Suarez who smashed it in from close range.
Liverpool pressed for an equaliser and De Gea tipped a Glen Johnson shot over the bar as United held on, leaving Evra celebrating at the end as if they had won a lot more than just the game.
(Editing by John Mehaffey and Alison Wildey; To query or comment on this story email: email@example.com)