Belfast Telegraph

Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard puts his stamp on a day of drama

Liverpool 1 - 2 Manchester United

By Sam Wallace

The great Pele had not yet returned to his seat in the directors' box and the digital clock by the corner of the Kop had not been restarted for the second half, so in some ways you could say that time really did stand still for Steven Gerrard's moment of madness.

Why did he do it? His last game against Manchester United at Anfield and the only explanation for his stamp on the leg of the inoffensive Ander Herrera, and the subsequent red card, was that the occasion had shot his composure to bits.

Maybe not just the occasion, but this long goodbye to the only club of his life, his most recent injury and the dawning that Liverpool do not need him like they used to.

Manager Brendan Rodgers was reluctant to criticise his player, instead saying that the 34-year-old might have been reacting to Liverpool's poor first-half showing and said that he was pleased Gerrard had been "man enough to apologise".

He added: "He was purely wanting to make an impact. He has made his apologies. Of course, in a big game you suffer when you play with 10 men against 11. It is great respect to the players still on there that we kept on fighting, especially when it went to 2-0. The players showed immense responsibility and spirit."

Two goals from Juan Mata won the game for United, although Liverpool ran them close with a second-half goal from Daniel Sturridge.

Wayne Rooney had a penalty saved by Simon Mignolet in time added on at the end of the game, while Martin Skrtel could yet face Football Association disciplinary action for a late challenge with David de Gea in which he appeared to stamp on the goalkeeper.

Rodgers said: "The ball has been played through and it looks like it when it is slowed down, he has caught him with intent. I didn't see it like that. He is trying to get the ball. You see his foot up, that is a symbol when a player is just trying to get his toe on the ball because if he does that and the keeper brings him down, it is probably a penalty."

Opposite number Louis van Gaal said: "We are coming back and we beat Liverpool again. We beat them again with their own weapons and pressure on the ball. Now the gap is five points ahead of Liverpool and six ahead of Tottenham and Southampton so the win is one of the most important in my career."

While Mata's technical brilliance was undeniable, there were many times in an often low-quality game when United relied on the muscle and the heading ability of Marouane Fellaini.

Whatever his faults, he is not a bad man to have on your side when the locals are hostile and the stakes are high.

United settled quickly at the start, Fellaini crucial in those early stages in asserting their supremacy in midfield. He won every heading duel that fell within his orbit, and some that did not.

The visitors did not create many chances in the first period, but the one they scored from was easily the best move of a hard-fought first half.

Alberto Moreno lost possession for Liverpool and from there it went forward until Fellaini found Herrera, who played his pass into the right channel. Coming in from the right, Mata sprang the offside trap and beat Mignolet brilliantly with a shot inside the goalkeeper's right post.

By that stage Liverpool had got behind United just once, when Raheem Sterling ran out of ideas down the right, and that was much the way it was for the rest of the first half.

Despite the best efforts of Coutinho to get his team moving on the counter-attack, there was nothing about Liverpool as sharp as United's move for the goal. Sturridge had just one sight of goal, which he cut back for Adam Lallana, a most un-Sturridge like option. Lallana shot wide.

On came Gerrard at the start of the second half, his introduction lifting the stadium. His tackle on Herrera was hard but admissible and then came the boot plunged down on the leg of the United player.

He went off amid anger in the stands and then, as realisation spread that it was the right decision, disbelief.

All first half, the Liverpool captain was forced to listen to the away fans sing about his propensity to mess things up and now he really had.

Before the hour United had their second, a superb volley from Mata from a cross by substitute Angel di Maria. Liverpool fought back and within 10 minutes Sturridge scored, running onto Coutinho's ball.

United never took advantage of the extra man. Only in the latter stages, with Liverpool truly stretched, did they win a penalty when Emre Can pushed Daley Blind.

Mignolet saved from Rooney and Liverpool were alive to the very end, when Skrtel clashed with De Gea. By then, Gerrard was readying an apology at a time in his life when he should know better.

Liverpool: Mignolet, Can, Skrtel, Sakho, Sterling, Henderson, Allen, Moreno, Lallana, Sturridge, Coutinho. Substitutions: Gerrard (Lallana, 46 mins), Balotelli (Moreno, 66 mins).

Man Utd: De Gea, Valencia, Smalling, Jones, Blind, Carrick, Mata, Herrera, Fellaini, Young, Rooney. Substitutions: Di Maria (Young, 55 mins), Falcao (Herrera, 83 mins), Rojo (Blind, 90 mins).

Man of the match: Juan Mata

Match rating: 8/10

Referee: Martin Atkinson (Bradford)

Attendance: 44,405

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