Ten-man Liverpool were left searching for their first Premier League win under new manager Brendan Rodgers as archrivals Manchester United came from behind to win 2-1 at an emotional Anfield on Sunday.
It was Liverpool’s first home match since an independent report cleared their fans of any responsibility for the 1989 Hillsborough disaster, where 96 of the Merseysiders’ supporters were crushed to death during an FA Cup semi-final.
Liverpool played more than half the match a man down after Jonjo Shelvey was sent off in the 39th minute for a two-footed challenge on Jonny Evans, but they still took a 46th-minute lead when captain Steven Gerrard — whose 10-year-old cousin, Jon-Paul Gilhooley, was the youngest fan to die at Hillsborough — volleyed home from near the penalty spot.
However, United only had to wait five minutes for an equalizer when Rafael curled in a superb shot from the right-hand side of the Liverpool area and with 15 minutes to go United — who had missed their last three penalties — were awarded a spot-kick when Liverpool defender Glen Johnson was judged to have brought down Antonio Valencia.
There was a delay of several minutes as Liverpool defender Daniel Agger received treatment for an injury, before Dutch striker Robin van Persie beat goalkeeper Pepe Reina.
The victory saw United move to within a point of leaders Chelsea, while defeat left Liverpool languishing in the bottom three.
“It is a great result for us, but we did not play well,” United manager Sir Alex Ferguson told Sky Sports.
Rodgers hailed his “heroic” side and said decisions had gone against them.
“I thought the players were heroic in terms of performance and the spirit,” Rodgers said. “They were brilliant and didn’t get what they deserved. Jonjo Shelvey, if he gets sent off then Jonny Evans has to go as well. I think both players’ feet are off the floor.”
Before kickoff, a potential flashpoint was avoided when Liverpool striker Luis Suarez and United defender Patrice Evra shook hands.
Suarez, banned for eight games for racially abusing Senegalese-born Frenchman Evra in the equivalent fixture last season, declined to shake the United man’s hand before the clubs’ last meeting in February.
The Hillsborough victims were remembered in a series of pre-match ceremonies and Ferguson said: “Liverpool did a fantastic job today, the fans were terrific and I don’t think there can be any complaint on that part ... It has been a good day for football.”
Reigning Premier League champions Manchester City missed the chance to move up into third place after dropping two points at home in a 1-1 draw with potential title rivals Arsenal at the Etihad Stadium.
City’s Joleon Lescott, exploiting uncertainty in the Gunners’ zonal marking system, powered in a header five minutes before halftime as Arsenal goalkeeper Vito Mannone flapped at David Silva’s corner, but Arsenal, who had the best of the early exchanges, equalized eight minutes from time.
City goalkeeper Joe Hart saved brilliantly to tip over Santi Cazorla’s long-range shot, but the hosts failed to clear the ensuing corner and Laurent Koscielny lashed in the leveler as Arsenal climbed to fifth place.
City then went close to a second goal, with Vincent Kompany’s overhead-kick blocked by Mannone and Sergio Aguero shooting just wide from the followup.