LONDON – Playing with 10 men proved to be no problem for Liverpool in the English Premier League on Sunday.
The same cannot be said of Manchester United.
Liverpool responded to James Milner’s sending-off in the 62nd minute against Crystal Palace by coming from 1-0 down to win 2-1 as Christian Benteke’s penalty clinched victory in the sixth minute of injury time.
However, United was made to pay for a 26th-minute red card to Juan Mata — also for two bookings — at West Bromwich Albion, which won 1-0 thanks to Salomon Rondon’s goal at The Hawthorns.
United dropped three points behind fourth-place Manchester City in the race for Champions League qualification and is now only three ahead of Liverpool, which has won three straight league games for the first time in a year. City has a game in hand over United too.
“It’s a big blow,” United manager Louis van Gaal said. “This kind of match you need to win.”
Van Gaal said Mata’s sending-off for two yellow cards in three minutes was to blame for United’s first-ever Premier League loss at West Brom.
“We have played 60 minutes with 10 versus 11, and this is the fifth match in 14 days,” the Dutchman said. “It’s very difficult to play against 11 players (in this situation). I think it’s the reason why we lost.”
Mata collected his first booking for blocking a quickly taken free kick, a decision Van Gaal described as “stupid.”
Initially, United coped well with going a man down but barely threatened West Brom’s goal, and Rondon won a tight game by controlling a leftwing cross and shooting home on the turn in the 66th.
West Brom moved to 39 points, which should secure its Premier League status for another season.
“Can we reach that magic 50 points that West Brom have never had before?” West Brom midfielder Darren Fletcher said.
Liverpool played its best soccer down to 10 men at Selhurst Park, where the team hadn’t won since 1997, although it needed two errors by Palace players to bring about the comeback.
Roberto Firmino pounced on a mis-hit clearance from Palace goalkeeper Alex McCarthy, drove forward and slotted a finish past McCarthy in the 72nd to make it 1-1.
Then Benteke, on as a late substitute, fell to the ground under the slightest of touches from Palace defender Damien Delaney, who pulled out of an attempted tackle in the fourth minute of stoppage time but still connected with Benteke’s left ankle.
The Belgium striker coolly converted the spot-kick, halting midway through his run-up before slotting it home into the corner.
“I feel like we’ve been robbed a little bit,” said Palace manager Alan Pardew, whose side hasn’t won since Dec. 19, “but maybe we shot ourselves in the foot.”
Palace led through Joe Ledley in the 48th minute.
Liverpool is six points off the Champions League qualification positions and has 10 games remaining, one more than many of its rivals for the top four.
“I can’t believe how it feels, really good,” Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp said. “A big moment for us.”