And the records just keep falling. This one? Fastest red card for a substitute in the history of mankind. Or something. Cheers for that.
Steven Gerrard has apologised for the red mist moment, for the stamp on Herrera which saw him leave the field 48 seconds after arriving as a half-time substitute, as the solution to the deficit we needed to correct. He’s said that he takes full responsibility for the loss. Which is nice of him, big of him in fairness. And utterly, utterly inaccurate. Gerrard has very little to apologise for; the apologies need to come from the lads in red that didn’t turn up until the 37th minute.
United did to Liverpool today what Liverpool have been doing to teams that we deemed currently larger than ourselves; stifled, pressed, harassed, stopped from playing and then score when the opportunity presented itself. United had a game-plan and it worked brilliantly. For 36 minutes we were unable to cope with them. We should have been able, we should have been prepared; it was, after all, the game-plan that they first utilised on TV against Spurs a week ago - hit Fellaini, let him chest it down, bring those around him into play. It was the same tactics that Moyes used with Everton and later United.
The ball spent time in the air. A lot of time. We watched it move over our heads as we failed to leap as high as our white shirted counterparts. Which isn’t complaining about United’s long ball game; they were better than us on the floor as well. They walked through our midfield at will, cut past our full-backs as they pleased. They were better than us in every department. Try and remember that sentence, United fans. I’ve just said that you were better than us, read that bit instead of just the headline for once.
On 37 minutes we woke up. Started to fight. Obviously we were 1-0 down by then. It would have been more if United had actually had any other shots that came close to troubling Mignolet but they didn’t. They were better than us, but didn’t really trouble us. They ran the game though. Fellaini and Mata mainly. At least you could put names to players who were functioning well on their side, our list amounted to two words; Mamadou and Sakho. Nobody else was of note. Henderson was anonymous, Allen poor, Sturridge lacking in service, Sterling woeful, Moreno lamentable.
The Gerrard introduction was very close to a masterstroke. Suddenly we were playing two at the back. Two. Just two, Skrtel and Sakho, Gerrard between and slightly ahead of the pair, everybody else way, way, way up the field. We were taking this game to United. For 48 seconds.
In fairness, the reduction to ten men didn’t harm us. We were better with ten than we’d been in the entire first half with eleven; we had tempo and desire and fight. So obviously we went two behind. Mata’s second goal was/is a thing of absolute beauty; he starts the move, lays the ball to Di Maria, points to where he’d like it please and (the otherwise incredibly ordinary) Di Maria lofts it into the path of the ludicrously ambitious bicycle kick that the Spaniard that Rafa wanted to sign was preparing. Bullets past Mignolet and the game’s over.
Except it’s not. We start to press harder, we start to probe, we bring Balotelli on for Moreno. A left back goes off, a centre forward comes on. We like this kind of madness, it makes us happy. Mario gives them something to think about; if we don’t know what he’s going to do next, then Jones and Smalling haven’t got a cat in hell’s chance have they?
The goal comes. Sturridge shakes off the ‘lazy, selfish’ jibes that are following him round L4 at the moment and finishes beautifully with his weaker foot. But it’s not the start of the comeback, it’s a consolation. It’s our only shot on target. We keep trying but little happens. We’re the better side but little happens. Mario manages to avoid a very obvious second yellow which would have seen us reduced to nine men; it’s one of many, many things that the useless as always Martin Atkinson gets wrong but we’ll take that one thanks. Mignolet saves a Rooney penalty in added time and then everything descends into chaos, into farce.
Skrtel decides that he really liked Gerrard’s stamp so he might as well have one himself. Takes De Gea out. De Gea is near death until the point that he decides he should fight Skrtel. The fight is broken up and De Gea realises that he’s supposed to have been snapped in half so has a bit of a lie down and a roll round.
It’s a stamp, no two ways, and Skrtel’s going to be getting a phone call from a disciplinary panel sometime tomorrow and then we’ll lose him for three games alongside our skipper but the reaction? Not having it. Somewhere in all this, the game ends. The United fans sing about winning the league twenty times and how ‘we nearly won the league’ and how ‘Gerrard f***ed it up’ and we’re being abused in our own ground by a team that have been poor all season but are now five points ahead of us and all we can do is sit back and count our European Cups.
Five points. Five points off fourth. The only team in the top five to drop points this weekend. The win was needed, a draw the minimum necessity. There’s still a distance to go but we could have done without this defeat on so many levels.
Two weeks off now. Two weeks wasted with Hodgson borrowing our players. When we come back, it’s Arsenal away. We need to put a shift in on that one.