Liverpool 1 Manchester City 0
Liverpool made heavy weather of beating 10-man Manchester City at Anfield after Joey Barton was sent off in front of England boss Sven-Goran Eriksson.
Liverpudlian Barton, booked in the first half, received a second yellow card from referee Dermot Gallagher after a late tackle on Sami Hyypia.
That seemed to inspire City and they could easily have got something from the game after seeing Barton trudge off, dismissed for the second time in his career.
Liverpool depend too much on being tight at the back and their chronic lack of goals means they are way behind Manchester United on goal difference, so being level on points with the Old Trafford men does not put them in runners-up spot.
But having been beaten in Lisbon by Benfica in the Champions League in midweek, this was the least Liverpool needed to repair damaged confidence.
City only really came into the game when they were reduced to 10 men.
Liverpool included two of their transfer window signings, Jan Kromkamp and Daniel Agger, while skipper Steven Gerrard and striker Peter Crouch returned to the starting line-up.
City were missing last weekend’s FA Cup goal-scoring hero Micah Richards and striker Darius Vassell, and brought in Danny Mills – recovered from a shin injury – and Trevor Sinclair, fir after a groin problem.
But maybe it was the daft time of the day the game started, because the energy and entertainment levels were way below par.
Liverpool had some early joy down the flanks with Harry Kewell getting in behind Mills to fire over a cross ex-Red David James took with assurance.
Then a couple of Gerrard corners gave opportunities for Crouch in the air before Sylvain Distin blocked a Kewell effort eight yards out.
City’s response was a flurry of midfield activity and a clever run past four defenders by Greek striker Georgios Samaras, before both Xabi Alonso and Barton had to go off following a clash of heads.
Liverpool played for five minutes with 10 men while the Spaniard received treatment, and he still needed blood cleaned from his face when he did return.
But the crowd were being lulled back to sleep and were only roused when Barton clattered into Agger. The Scouser in the City ranks was suitably apologetic but it did not stop referee Gallagher showing a yellow card.
That was Barton’s 10th booking of the season, and worse was to follow for the combative midfielder.
A minute later Alonso, still feeling the after-effects of the earlier clash of heads, was replaced by Dietmar Hamann.
But on 40 minutes Liverpool made the breakthrough. Play switched from right to left rapidly, Hyypia’s header was hooked perfectly into Kewell’s path by Gerrard.
The Australian raced into acres of space, with Mills nowhere to be seen until far to late, and the winger coolly drilled the ball inside the far post with James helpless.
Seconds before the break Mills partly redeemed himself when he cleared a Crouch header off the line.
City fans had been calling for the introduction of Bradley Wright-Phillips up front for the ineffective Sibierski, and boss Stuart Pearce answered those pleas by making the substitution at the break.
Much, no doubt, to the pleasure of the watching Ian Wright and Shaun Wright-Phillips!
Sami Hyypia, twice clattered earlier by Samaras, was in the wars again on 52 minutes when Barton went late on the Finland international’s ankle and was promptly given a second yellow and sent off by referee Gallagher.
City’s response was impressive as they adjusted to playing with 10 men. First Wright-Phillips took a Samaras flick and moved into the box to force a fine save from Jose Reina.
Sinclair flighted a cracking left footer at the top corner, but Reina was again equal to it. City kept coming forward and next to be clear was Samaras, who lobbed badly wide from 15 yards.
Crouch hit the bar from just inside the box, but City were being roared on by their fans now and brought Stephen Ireland on in place of Sinclair on 67 minutes.
James saved superbly at the feet of Crouch before Liverpool brought on Luis Garcia for Crouch.
Gerrard was then sent clear but a fine saving tackle by Richard Dunne stopped the England man in his tracks. Prolonged treatment left the watching Sven-Goran Eriksson as well as Rafael Benitez worried men.
Lee Croft replaced Albert Riera for City 12 minutes from time, Djimi Traore coming on for Kewell as Liverpool clung on for victory.