WAYNE ROONEY slotted a quickfire second-half brace to see Manchester United down rivals Liverpool at Old Trafford.
But the England striker's double was almost secondary to events before the game and at half-time, which saw the row between Luis Suarez and Patrice Evra hit a new low.
Uruguayan striker Suarez refused to shake the hand of Evra, leading to a fiery game which spilled into angry confrontations in the tunnel at the break.
Thankfully Rooney was on hand to get football back on the agenda soon after, volleying in the opener on 47 minutes before slotting past Pepe Reina for a second moments later.
Suarez, who was booed throughout, got on the scoresheet with 10 minutes remaining to set up a frantic final spell.
But United held firm for a vital three points in the title race that see them go top of the table overnight — even if beating their bitter rivals ended up the main cause for celebration. Going into the game, all eyes were on the drama of the pre-match handshake.
Suarez refused to offer his hand to an enraged Evra, before Rio Ferdinand snubbed the Uruguayan as he made his way down the line.
And within the first minute, Evra was looking for revenge — only to send team-mate Ferdinand flying with a wild attemped tacked on Suarez.
The Old Trafford crowd let their feelings known in a hard-fought first-half that featured flashes of incident.
United were the side who started the stronger, with Pepe Reina twice called into action and Glen Johnson getting in a vital clearance from a Giggs free-kick.
At the other end, the Liverpool right-back nearly opened the scoring when he cut inside Evra far too easily and curled a shot narrowly wide of the far post. Jonny Evans caught Suarez with a late tackle but the visitors could make nothing of the set-piece.
Scholes had the best chance of the first half after half an hour, but his header was well saved by Reina.
Stewart Downing picked up a yellow card for a foul on Rafael, while Suarez ended the half incensed after he believed last-man Ferdinand had denied him a goal-scoring opportunity with a challenge.
Referee Phil Dowd, who was trying desperately to prevent the game turning into chaos, deemed the England man to have got the ball.
After the half-time whistle was blown, players from both sides clashed in the tunnel, with police and stewards called to intervene.
United returned after the interval fully fired up and within two minutes had gone in front.
Giggs floated over a corner from the right which Jordan Henderson could only flick to the far post, straight into the path of Rooney, who volleyed home at the first attempt.
Then just three minutes later, Rooney had a second after Valencia nicked the ball away from Jay Spearing.
He fed the England striker, who fired home his 17th Premier League goal of the season.
Michael Carrick sent Suarez flying as Liverpool tried to bounce back and Rooney could have nabbed a hat-trick had he done better with two efforts late on.
Reds boss Kenny Dalglish finally responded to the deficit by introducing Andy Carroll and Craig Bellamy for Spearing and Downing.
And with 10 minutes remaining, Suarez was able to poke the ball past David de Gea after the ball dropped down invitingly off Ferdinand.
But there was to be no equaliser, with the United players celebrating the victory as they left the pitch.
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