NO disputed red cards, no debatable penalty awards, no missed handballs. Instead, the only controversy raging among Liverpool FC supporters as they huddled inside Old Trafford long after the final whistle yesterday was why their team didn’t start the game the way they finished.
A throbbing sense of déjà vu pervaded the away end as Brendan Rodgers’ schizophrenic side saw their recent revival suffer a familiar setback in familiar circumstances.
That the cheers at the final whistle from the home fans were laced with relief was testament to how Liverpool had pressed hard for an unlikely comeback.
But a dismal first half that left the Anfield outfit chasing the game underlined why they now stand a mammoth 24 points adrift of the Premier League leaders.
As at Tottenham Hotspur in November, Liverpool only started playing in the final hour having fallen two goals behind. And, as then, while they can take encouragement from their fight during the closing stages, the damage was done by a tentative opening approach.
Liverpool lacked bite. They were far too respectful to their bitter North West rivals, far too compliant to threaten a United defence that has creaked significantly this season.
By the time self-belief, strangely lacking despite winning seven of their previous nine games, began to blossom, it was too little, too late.
Rodgers took the acclaim from the away fans still held inside the ground when en route to his post-match press conference, but he must take his share of the blame.
Still searching for the right formula, the Northern Irishman erred yesterday. The experiment of playing Joe Allen, selected ahead of the in-form Jordan Henderson, in an advanced midfield role failed miserably, while the reliance on youngsters meant there was an inevitable sense of nervousness in Liverpool’s play.
It was only when Daniel Sturridge, still not fit enough to last a full 90 minutes, emerged from the bench at the start of the second half – curiously, for Lucas Leiva – that Luis Suarez was given ample support and Liverpool began to make inroads.
Sturridge gave the visitors hope by netting three minutes after Nemanja Vidic inadvertently doubled the United lead provided by Robin van Persie’s 19th-minute opener.
Yet despite knocking loudly on the United door, Liverpool have now lost on 10 of their last 11 visits to Old Trafford, a record almost as revealing as their continued inability to defeat anybody in the top half of the Premier League table this campaign.
Yesterday, though, will rankle; not least the manner in which Rodgers’s men continually gifted United presents. Certainly, the leaders didn’t have to work hard to put themselves in a position to triumph.