LONDON (AFP) –
Ten-man Liverpool were left searching for their first Premier League win under new manager Brendan Rodgers as arch-rivals Manchester United came from behind to win 2-1 at an emotional Anfield on Sunday.
This 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 equaliser 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 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.
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.
“In the first half Liverpool dominated us, in the second half we had better possession but they had 10 men, we can’t take great credit for that.”
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,” he 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.
“I’m sure it’s never a penalty, and then obviously Luis Suarez goes up the other end and gets a toe to the ball and the defender doesn’t touch the ball, and he goes down and it looks a penalty.”
Before kick-off, a potential flashpoint was avoided when Liverpool striker 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.”
“There was ferocity and it was intense and it has been a good day for football.”
Demba Ba ensured there was no happy St James’ Park return for Chris Hughton, the former Magpies manager now in charge of Norwich.
Ba’s 19th minute goal secured a 1-0 home win for Newcastle, who later saw Papiss Cisse blaze over the top from the penalty spot.