Rodgers hits out at ref after Reds fall to latest league loss

Julian Harris
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LIVERPOOL manager Brendan Rodgers hailed yesterday’s tribute to the 96 fans killed at Hillsborough in 1989, yet could not hide his frustration after a fiery derby ended in a narrow defeat to rivals Manchester United.

Both clubs honoured the Hillsborough victims before the match, while the game itself was more fractious with Liverpool’s Jonjo Shelvey controversially sent off late in the first half – a decision strongly criticised by Rodgers.

Liverpool took the lead through captain Steven Gerrard immediately after the break, yet a superb equaliser from Rafael da Silva and a late Robin van Persie penalty saw the 10 men lose all three points.

“I thought the best team lost,” Rodgers complained after the match. “Of what we could control I thought the players and performance level was outstanding – [but] what we couldn’t control were decisions by the referee.

“If Shelvey gets sent off for having both feet off the ground then Evans has to get sent off for that as well.”

The new Liverpool boss, who has lost three of this season’s opening five Premier League games, was unhappy with many of referee Mark Halsey’s decisions.

“I thought [the red card] was very harsh and that was how it was throughout as a number of poor decisions went against us. The penalty was never a penalty… It was one of the those days where we never got any decision which could have helped us at all and when you lose a man you need some help.”

Yet Rodgers was also quick to praise both clubs and sets of fans for their role in commemorating the Hillsborough disaster. Yesterday’s game was the first at Anfield since the Hillsborough Independent Panel absolved Liverpool fans of any culpability in the tragedy and exposed an establishment cover-up that had obscured much evidence for over two decades.

“It was an opportunity for the club to pay tribute to the real heroes, which are the families and survivors and all the people involved in Hillsborough, so I thought it was really touching,” Rodgers said. “And both clubs deserve a great deal of credit and obviously the supporters [too]…it was good that both clubs respected it.”

Once the game kicked off, Liverpool enjoyed the lion’s share of possession and appeared in control, preventing United from registering a single shot on goal in the first half.

Yet after 39 minutes their prospects were dented as Shelvey and United’s Evans slid in for a 50-50 ball. Evans got there first and was caught by the Liverpool midfielder, leading Halsey to wield a red card.

A livid Shelvey swore at United’s Rio Ferdinand as well as manager Sir Alex Ferguson; the midfielder later apologised for his outburst, although insisted that he should not have been sent off.

But just seconds into the second-half Liverpool reversed their fortunes by taking the lead. Substitute Suso combined with Glen Johnson on the wing and Gerrard brilliantly controlled the cross on his chest before volleying in with his left foot.

The game appeared to be heading for a draw until 10 minutes before the end when Antonio Valencia went on a storming run and was adjudged to have been fouled by Johnson. Summer signing Van Persie drilled the resulting penalty in with his left foot to steal the three points.