Hart heroics save City a point on sombre day
Liverpool 1 Manchester City 1
They are rare days indeed when the mood of a match, especially one at Anfield, is dictated by an event elsewhere. But so it was yesterday after the death of Gary Speed. The players stood to attention, around the centre circle and in the stands, for a minute's silence for the passing of goalkeeper Brad Jones's young son and Speed. The moment felt poignant and sincere.
These are the times, when a crowd does not have to be told the who and the why – when they instinctively know – that the silence is most profound. So it was yesterday when more than 45,000 fell silent out of respect for Jones's child, Luca, and in memory of Speed. For one minute, all the miscellany of League places and rivalry and resentment was respectfully put to one side.
There was no Craig Bellamy in the Liverpool squad, left out, Kenny Dalglish said, because "there's no way a game of football is more important than grieving". Then referee Martin Atkinson's whistle broke the spell, the crowd roared and off we went again, head-first into a game played by the end at a remorseless pace, from which Manchester City, down to 10 men, were grateful to emerge with a point and their unbeaten record intact.
Mario Balotelli, a substitute, spent just 18 minutes on the pitch and his sending off seven minutes from time did the most to imperil City's increasingly precarious grip on the draw – but what an absorbing end to the match. At first, it had meandered but by stoppage-time, when Joe Hart flung himself across the goal to push away Andy Carroll's header, it had turned into one of those caution-to-the-wind shoot-outs that could have gone either way.
If one side deserved to win then it was Liverpool, who dominated most of the second half and, had they been given another 10 minutes, would surely have battered down City's resistance. But the away team had a chance on 89 minutes when substitute Edin Dzeko left Lucas Leiva on his backside down the left. He picked out David Silva in the box but City's playmaker could not carve out enough space to get his shot off.
With Silva kept notably quiet, the game's most effective attacking player was the brilliant Luis Suarez, who City's defenders struggled to control from the moment Vincent Kompany was booked for a foul on him after 13 minutes. Suarez troubled the City back four to the very last moment of the game and deserved a winning goal.
But City held on and it is testament to Joleon Lescott that, although he scored an unfortunate own goal that let Liverpool back into the game just two minutes after City had taken the lead, the England defender was otherwise excellent. Given the form Suarez is in, it is too much to expect a defender to keep control of him for 90 minutes but Lescott survived and that, for City, for now, was enough.
Roberto Mancini's team were not at their best yesterday. A casual observer would not, on this performance, be given to compare them to Barcelona – at least the Barça pre-defeat to Getafe on Saturday night – but they held onto a draw that restored their lead over Manchester United to five points, as it was before the weekend. If this is to be City's season then this was another significant obstacle negotiated, although there will be many more in this campaign.
Balotelli? The two offences that led to his dismissal were stupid but not malicious, a description which could well apply to much of his career so far in England. His first booking was daft: he spun Glen Johnson back when the full-back got away from him. His second, for leading with an elbow in a challenge with Martin Skrtel, was silly but the decision by Atkinson to give him a second yellow card was harsh.
The end of the game was frantic and, after the final whistle, there was regret among the Liverpool camp that they had allowed City to get away with it. But, on reflection, a 1-1 draw at home with the League leaders is infinitely preferable to losing 6-1 at home to them, a fate that not so long ago befell another team with title aspirations.
It was a bad goal on 31 minutes for Liverpool to give away, coming directly from a Sergio Aguero corner. Kompany started his run towards the back of the box but, by the time he had arrived at the near post, Dirk Kuyt was a crucial two yards behind him. The City captain did not make clean contact with the header, it came off his left shoulder but he could not have picked his spot in the far corner of Pepe Reina's goal better.
Within two minutes of the goal, Liverpool were level. Micah Richards' clearing header did not go far enough and Charlie Adam, an enterprising presence, ran onto it and struck the ball towards Hart's left. Lescott's intervention was catastrophic. He got a foot to the ball but succeeded only in diverting it into the opposite corner.
From that moment, Liverpool should, on the balance of chances, have gone on to win the game. Suarez played in Kuyt down the left channel before half-time and his cut-back to Adam was deflected over. Jose Enrique was the pick of the full-backs and with little more than 20 minutes to play, Liverpool's assault on City's goal intensified.
Hart was equal to it all, starting with Stewart Downing's shot on 67 minutes, which was struck into the ground and required pushing away. These are the kind of instinctive saves from close range Hart is best at. Lescott proved himself a nuisance to Liverpool. He twice blocked Suarez on 74 minutes down the left. Later, the Uruguayan slipped the ball through Lescott's legs in the area but the defender never lost his composure.
Once Balotelli had been dismissed, Dalglish sent Carroll on for the final barrage. How the striker could have done with that late header going past Hart. By the frenetic end to the game, it was almost as if the news at the beginning of the day had been temporarily forgotten but Atkinson's whistle for the end broke the spell again and real life re-imposed itself.
Substitutes: Liverpool Carroll (Kuyt, 84). Manchester City Balotelli (Nasri, 65), Dzeko (Aguero, 82), K Touré (Silva, 90).
Booked: Liverpool Carroll. Manchester City Kompany, Barry, Balotelli, Milner.
Sent off: Manchester City Balotelli (83).
Man of the match Hart. Match rating 7/10.
Possession: Liverpool 56% Manchester City 44%.
Attempts on target: Liverpool 9 Manchester City 3.
Referee M Atkinson (West Yorkshire). Attendance 45,071.
Man for man marking
Did not have many saves to make. Nearly got himself into problems well off his line, but always recovered. 6/10
Continued his return with solid defence and the occasional run forward beyond Clichy. 6
Muscular defence in the area, one second-half slip went unpunished when Mario Balotelli did the same. 6
Always smooth with and without the ball, also making some necessary tackles near his goal. 7
Worked ferociously hard sticking to Milner and Silva, and also when he ran forward to help out Downing. 7
Tidy rather than influential in midfield, with some good passes. 6
His defensive work in front of his back four was exceptional, making necessary and legal tackles. 8
Denied by a good save in the first half, and grew into the second, prompting moves from deep. 7
Ceaseless running up the right flank, and with excellent movement into City's penalty area. 7
Worried Vincent Kompany all afternoon with his darts and feints, igniting Liverpool's best moves. Perfect control in the area. 8
Excellent running down the left, finding space from Micah Richards, and with precise delivery. 7
Best off the bench
Andy Carroll (for Kuyt, 84)
Thrown on for the final six minutes, he forced a fine diving save from Hart with a header. 6
Unlucky with the own goal and had to make some excellent saves. 8/10
Pinned back throughout, he failed to make his usual incisive runs. 5
Struggled with Luis Suarez, picking up a booking and lucky not to get a second. Scored with his shoulder. 5
Caught on the turn by Charlie Adam's shot, deflecting it past Hart. Otherwise defended smartly. 6
Had to work hard to cover Dirk Kuyt, although still managed a few useful breaks forward. 6
Usual tireless running both on the right and in midfield, though without much productive impact. 6
As in Naples, he looked tired and struggled to produce his trademark explosive bursts forward. 5
City's deepest midfielder, he swept up and moved the ball smartly throughout. 7
Less influential than usual, though his movement and touch were always good. Dithered on a good chance late on. 6
Pushed out onto the left wing, he was only a minor character for the 65 minutes before his withdrawal. 5
Looked isolated in his first game leading the line for City, although his runs always caused problems. 5
Best off the bench
Mario Balotelli (for Nasri, 65)
Two needless yellow cards and little else in the 17 minutes he played. 2
Edin Dzeko (for Aguero, 82)
A surprise burst of pace down the wing set up a chance for Silva. 6
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