Robin van Persie’s late penalty sinks 10-man Liverpool

Robin van Persie’s second-half penalty handed Manchester United a 2-1 victory over 10-man Liverpool on an emotionally-charged afternoon at Anfield.

The match marked Liverpools first home game since the recent report into the 1989 Hillsborough tragedy in which 96 supporters lost their lives, the Hillsborough victims and families were remembered in moving scenes ahead of kick-off.

Liverpool were reduced to 10 men shortly before half time when Jonjo Shelvey was sent off for a first-half foul on United defender Jonny Evans, however, this did not stop Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard breaking the deadlock in the 51st minute after the Reds had dominated the first half.

The skipper’s opener provided the wake-up call United needed as Rafael netted a classy goal just five minutes later, before Van Persie added another from the spot after Valencia went down in the area under Glen Johnson’s challenge giving United a fourth straight Premier League win and climb to second in the Premier League Table, while Liverpool despite a battling display, remain without a success this season having taken two points from five games and struggling in the bottom three.

Supporters arrived hours before the start to lay floral tributes at Anfield’s Eternal Flame Hillsborough memorial and The Kop was emblazoned with a mosaic reading “The Truth” while the word “Justice” decorated the lower Centenary Stand.

Manchester United legend Sir Bobby Charlton then presented flowers to Liverpool’s record goalscorer Ian Rush as opposing captains Gerrard and Ryan Giggs released 96 red balloons in memory of those who lost their lives.

Luis Suarez and Patrice Evra shook hands in a show of unity before the game – the Liverpool forward had refused to shake the United defender’s hand in the league meeting between the sides at Old Trafford in February, having previously been found guilty of racially abusing Evra in the corresponding fixture at Anfield last season.

Thankfully there were none of the distasteful chants which have marred this fixture for years, although that did not mean there was not an edge to the game.

United may have left Anfield wondering how they managed to win having hardly threatened in attack and failed to dominate midfield until the final quarter but those concerns will have been of little consequence.

For the first minute of the match three sides of Anfield held up The Truth, Justice and 96 mosaics as representatives of the Hillsborough victims’ families watched on from the directors’ box.

Also present, for the first time since being sacked in May, was former manager Kenny Dalglish – intrinsically linked with the tragedy having played a major role in the aftermath during his first spell in charge.

What he saw in the first half would have been very familiar as for most of last season his sides dominated at home without scoring.

Once Giggs had flashed an early shot wide the momentum was all with the hosts as a Suarez cross-shot was stopped by Anders Lindegaard and headed away by Jonny Evans under pressure from Fabio Borini.

Gerrard drove a low effort from Shelvey’s corner into the side-netting and Suarez looped a right-footed shot wide before a match which, possibly because of the all the pre-match commemorations, had lacked the usual hallmarks of a north-west derby ignited.

Shelvey robbed Giggs in midfield but as the ball broke free he launched himself at Evans and the inevitable outcome was a red card.

The 20-year-old midfielder, who scored twice in Thursday’s UEFA Europa League victory at Young Boys, departed down the tunnel having exchanged heated words with Sir Alex Ferguson.

Even with a numerical disadvantage Liverpool continued to pressurise United and Suarez drew Lindegaard into a low saw from his free-kick.

The visitors would have been pleased to reach the interval with their goal intact but it took just 50 seconds after the restart for that to change.

Second-half substitute Suso, making his Premier League debut three days after his first-team bow in Switzerland, saw his cross half-cleared to Glen Johnson.

A tackle from Paul Scholes, on for Nani at half-time, succeeded only in diverting the ball towards Gerrard who volleyed home left-footed in front of the Kop.

The Reds captain, whose 10-year-old cousin Jon-Paul Gilhooley was the youngest victim of the Hillsborough disaster, whirled away pointing both arms to the sky in celebration and remembrance.

It was short-lived, however, as within five minutes United were level when Shinji Kagawa laid the ball off for Rafael to brilliantly curl left-footed over Jose Reina and in off the far post.

Rodgers’ determination not to just shut up shop and settle for a draw was reflected in the approach of his team who made light of the fact they were a man down with Suso having a shot tipped over by Lindegaard and Suarez continuing to trouble the visitors’ defence.

But as the match entered the final 20 minutes United began to take more control, although their winner came from their opponents giving away possession on the halfway line.

Daniel Agger and Johnson collided to allow Antonio Valencia to race 50 yards into the area and although Johnson got back he could only bring down the Ecuador international.

Van Persie drilled home – although Reina went the right way and almost made the stop.