The best you could say about an occasion yesterday when the most bitter rivals in English football met on a day so heavy with significance for the people of Liverpool, was that it could have been a lot worse.
The tension was there all day, from the Manchester United fans singing their own songs during the playing of "You'll Never Walk Alone" to the two-footed tackle from Jonjo Shelvey that earned him a red card and precipitated his touchline ruck with Sir Alex Ferguson. There are many elements to Liverpool v United that are utterly compelling but it would be fair to say both sides went right up to the limits of what was decent.
Off the pitch there was a confrontation between Liverpool and United supporters at the end of the game when United aired their "Always the victim", "Murderers" and "Justice for Heysel" chants. They claim none refer directly to the Hillsborough disaster but these songs are undoubtedly provocative. Two Liverpool supporters were alleged to have made aeroplane gestures – a reference to the Munich disaster – to provoke them. It was unedifying and unpleasant on both sides.
The game itself was fairly low on quality but absolutely packed with incident. That it ended with the usually measured Brendan Rodgers giving a withering verdict on the performance of referee Mark Halsey was a clear sign that this was no ordinary game, on no ordinary day.
Once Sir Bobby Charlton had presented flowers to Ian Rush on the pitch, and Ryan Giggs and Steven Gerrard released 96 balloons in memory of the victims of Hillsborough, a football match broke out. Liverpool looked sharp; United started poorly. The game turned for the first time with Shelvey's sending off which, as with much else in this match, was not as clear-cut as it might first have appeared. Rio Ferdinand was United's best player, a cool head on a stormy day, but even he could have done better for Liverpool's goal. Rafael da Silva scored a fine equaliser five minutes later, and then it was a tale of two penalties.
The first was not given by referee Halsey, even though replays showed that Suarez's heel had been clipped by Evans. The penalty that Antonio Valencia won against Glen Johnson was equally marginal, albeit the right decision. Robin van Persie put the ball firmly to the left of Reina, who guessed correctly but could not keep it out and from there it was always a difficult task for Liverpool.Reuse content