Van Persie sinks unlucky Liverpool, Man City held

By Martyn Herman, Reuters

Posted at Sep 24 2012 10:02 AM | Updated as of Sep 24 2012 06:54 PM

Manchester United's Robin Van Persie scores a penalty against Liverpool during their English Premier League soccer match at Anfield in Liverpool, northern England September 23, 2012. Photo by Phil Noble, Reuters.

LONDON - A derby that began with an outpouring of goodwill ended in despair for Liverpool as Robin van Persie's penalty gave Manchester United a fortunate 2-1 win before Premier League champions Manchester City drew 1-1 with Arsenal on Sunday.

A poignant day at Anfield started with both sets of fans behaving impeccably during a tribute to the 96 supporters killed in the Hillsborough tragedy but Liverpool's gloomy season continued when Van Persie rammed home a late spot-kick after Glen Johnson had brought down Antonio Valencia.

Liverpool, reduced to 10 men in the first half when Jonjo Shelvey was red-carded, had led through Steven Gerrard's goal just after halftime but Rafael equalised for United who are second in the table with 12 points, one behind Chelsea.

There were grumbles of discontent at the Etihad Stadium as City drew for third time in their opening five games, Laurent Koscielny smashing a late equaliser for Arsenal after Joleon Lescott had headed the hosts into a halftime lead.

Both sides are unbeaten with nine points, although Mancini was clearly frustrated.

"This year we have one problem, we don't close the game and don't score more goals," he said "We had three or four chances in the second half and didn't score."

The most blatant fell to Sergio Aguero who missed an open goal after Vincent Kompany's bicycle kick had been saved.

"I am frustrated about the result. We need to work harder."

Tottenham Hotspur have eight points after Jermain Defoe sealed a 2-1 victory over Queens Park Rangers, Spurs's first home win under new manager Andre Villas-Boas.

Demba Ba's early goal earned Newcastle United a 1-0 win over their former manager Chris Hughton's Norwich City.

The first match at Anfield since the Hillsborough report revealed a police cover-up and cleared Liverpool's fans of blame for 96 of them being crushed to death at a 1989 FA Cup semi-final sparked into life after 39 minutes when Shelvey lunged in on Jonny Evans.

But Liverpool rallied strongly and deservedly went ahead through Gerrard's precise volley.

A lacklustre United responded with Rafael curling a shot beyond Pepe Reina and Liverpool were left to curse their luck when Van Persie kept his cool to beat the despairing dive of Reina for his fifth league goal of the season.

Worst start

With just two points from five games under new manager Brendan Rodgers, Liverpool have suffered their worst start in the league for 100 years, although United manager Alex Ferguson admitted his side had been fortunate to win at Anfield for the first time since 2007.

"I thought we were poor to be honest with you," Ferguson told United's website. "I think the last four years we've allowed the crowd to get to us a little bit - they give fantastic support to their team and they really dominated the first half. Second half they got a great start.

"In the last four years here we haven't played well," he added. "Today at least we've got a result."

One of the fiercest rivalries in world soccer was briefly put to one side before kickoff with an emotional tribute to the victims of the Hillsborough disaster in the light of this month's independent report revealed an attempt to pin the blame on Liverpool's fans.

The crowd held up white and red cards spelling out "TRUTH" and "JUSTICE" as the players walked out on to the pitch in tracksuits emblazoned on the back with "96".

Opposing captains Gerrard and Ryan Giggs released 96 balloons into the Merseyside sky and the anthem "You'll Never Walk Alone" reverberated around the stadium with added emotion.

Even the race row between Luis Suarez and Patrice Evra was finally put to bed as they shook hands before kickoff.

Shelvey raised the temperature with a high foot-first lunge in a 50-50 tackle with Evans. Referee Mark Halsey produced a straight red card and as Shelvey walked off he hurled abuse at Ferguson.

"He came and blamed me. Why look at himself in the mirror?," Ferguson said of Shelvey who later apologised. "Just blame someone else. I think the boy's young and when he looks at it again he'll realise the stupidity of it."

Apart from that, and a few mindless chants that did not befit the occasion, the match was played in a healthy spirit and Liverpool looked set for the perfect kickstart to their season when the tireless Gerrard fired them ahead.

However, it was to be another frustrating day for Rodgers whose side continue to lack a cutting edge.

After fullback Rafael's opportunist equaliser Liverpool looked the hungrier for victory but they were caught out by the speeding Valencia who was bundled over by a clumsy tackle from Johnson.

Van Persie was made to wait for four minutes to take the kick as Daniel Agger received treatment but slotted his kick past the despairing dive of Reina to end a run of three missed penalties in a row for United.

"I'm bitterly disappointed with the result - I thought the best team lost," Rodgers told a news conference.

"What you can't control is decisions by the referee. If Jonjo Shelvey gets sent off, Jonny Evans has to get sent off." (Editing by Ed Osmond)