The Reds’ game was disjointed – too often frivolous with possession or pedestrian to counter – and an injury to Ferdinand looked set to further hamper Sir Alex’s gameplan. Instead, the veteran played on despite his discomfort and emerged as one of the Reds’ most important players in the first period, constantly repelling the hosts’ forward forays.
The game remained poised in that manner, with Liverpool’s possession only undone by their own attacking bluntness and solidity in the United defence. Then, with six minutes of the half remaining, the complexion of the game was completely altered.
Giggs was caught in possession by Shelvey, who sprinted into a 50-50 challenge with Evans. Both players left the ground, Evans reached the ball first and Shelvey crunched into him. Referee Mark Halsey took his time, assessed the situation and dismissed the Liverpool midfielder.
Nevertheless, it was Liverpool who continued to boss matters, as Suarez’s 30-yard free-kick forced Lindegaard into a full-length save. The interval provided a chance for United to get their collective house in order, but despite the introduction of Paul Scholes for Nani, any half-time instructions apparently fell on deaf ears.
Another half-time substitute, Suso, crossed from the left and United failed to clear the danger sufficiently, allowing Johnson’s shot to deflect to Gerrard, who had time and space to chest the ball under control and direct a left-footed volley past the sprawling Lindegaard.