Manchester United 1
Giggs (pen) 2
Kenny Dalglish certainly will not have underestimated the challenge provided by yesterday’s opposition. However, perhaps we would have preferred more obliging opponents for his first game back? Someone to ease him gently back into management? Yet by any standards surely he couldn’t have expected the tests he faced after just forty five minutes. What do you do when you go behind after two minutes and then when you have a key player sent off soon after? It was a baptism, or should it that be rebaptism, of fire.
The side made for interesting reading. Martin Kelly was bought in for Glen Johnson. Whether this was because of Johnson’s poor performances of late or simply because his partner had gone into labour we don’t know. In the middle Agger, who is a Dalglish player (whatever that means) replaced Kyrgiakos who is not. Aurelio replaced Konchesky. Up front Ngog was benched in favour of Kuyt. Interestingly for the Mancs Vidic, who Torres has tormented in the last few games, was “injured”.
The penalty came after only two minutes. Agger’s challenge on Berbatov was minimal and the forward, having moved on from it, had second thoughts and decided to fall over. He made the most it however, apologists will say there have been times when we’ve been on the other end a bad decision. It’s odd, drug abuse accepted, in what other sport can a team gain an advantage through blatant cheating? Yet the authorities arrogantly, by default, encourage it by refusing to resort to TV technology to help officials? Is this the example we should set to the sport’s young followers? Giggs despatched the kick even though Reina went the right way.
After that we settled and the game had a more even look to it. United found it difficult to break us down and we looked fairly comfortable. Our first effort of note came after eighteen minutes, a solid shot from Maxi, after good work by Aurelio, which might have troubled Kuszczak had it been not straight at him even then he was forced to fend it away. Later Martin Kelly made an excellent run into the box but his dangerous cross was snuffed out by Ferdinand with Torres waiting to pounce. Although we were caught in possession a few times (Torres and Lucas) all in all, the penalty notwithstanding, it was a solid start. Something we could build on however, just as expectations were beginning to grow they were, as always seems to be the case at Old Trafford, slapped down
Gerrard’s tackle on Carrick was with a raised foot (feet?). Rules are rules but when you consider the umpteen yellow cards Howard Webb gave in the World Cup Final perhaps giving our man a red was a bit harsh? Then Webb was clearly mindful of a high profile occasion where emotions and nerves were high. Showering red like confetti would have ruined the occasion and perhaps he should have applied the same theory to this game as it is different from the normal run of the mill games? Gerrard is not a dirty player and perhaps a common sense interpretation of the laws, based on the circumstances, should have been applied? Nonetheless the unification of Gerrard and Dalglish, two heroes for different generations of Liverpool fans, got off to an inauspicious start, he will also the Everton game as a result, and an eventful forty five minutes was nearly capped off by another Mancs goal with only the post saving us from Evans’ header.
The second half, with the Mancs a man up and goal up, was a case of make do and mend. We packed the middle but this just meant the Mancs could exploit us from the flanks, Reina spilled a cross only for Berbatov to be foiled thanks to Skrtel’s timely challenge. Kenny tried to ring the changes, and replace tiring legs, by bringing on Babel (for Maxi) and Shelvey (for Meireles). Babel had an immediate impact, although not as cutting as his Twitter post later in the day, with long range effort. However, because we were a man down, perhaps our real chances of scoring lay with a break away or a set piece? And so it was, Aurelio’s free kick, awarded for a foul by Anderson on Torres, curled towards the top corner but was well saved by Kuszczak.
One got the feeling that the Mancs could raise it, go up the field and score at any time but we should take some encouragement that they didn’t. Sure Berbatov fired wide after an unfortunate series of deflections and was then brilliantly foiled by Reina in a melee that saw him make save after save and perhaps gave the Mancs a couple of penalty appeals which were thankfully too much for Howard Webb to absorb.
Despite this we looked more disciplined than we did against Wolves and Blackburn leading one to think that had the sending off not occurred we might have got something for the game. Whether this would have come from Torres remains a mute point. The player was replaced by Ngog in the second half and although Kenny made a point of saying well done to dispel any gossip, it was another moody, lacklustre performance. Perhaps he will get more “inspiration” from his new boss?
So although the headlines will be full of the penalty and Gerrard’s red card, one shouldn’t forget that, with ten men, we held the league leaders to 1-0 for the majority of the game. It, is disappointing, and the occasion as a whole, that Howard Webb’s referring conspired against us however, although it is the Mancs, just for once, a wider sense of perspective is required in what has been a week of bigger more important decisions?
Mancs: Kuszczak, Evra, Ferdinand, Rafael Da Silva, Evans (Smalling 84), Giggs, Carrick, Nani, Fletcher (Anderson 62), Berbatov, Hernandez (Owen 75), Substitutes:
Lindegaard, Smalling, Fabio Da Silva, Anderson, Gibson, Owen, Obertan
Liverpool: Reina, Agger, Aurelio, Kelly, Skrtel, Raul Meireles (Shelvey 60), Gerrard, Maxi (Babel 60), Lucas, Torres (Ngog 77), Kuyt, Substitutes: Gulacsi, Kyrgiakos, Wilson, Poulsen, Shelvey, Babel, Ngog