Steven Gerrard issued a public apology to his Liverpool teammates and the club’s supporters on Sunday after he was sent off in the defeat to Manchester United at Anfield just 38 seconds after coming on as a half-time substitute.

Gerrard, who was facing United for the last time before leaving Liverpool for LA Galaxy, was shown a straight red card by referee Martin Atkinson when he reacted to a challenge from Ander Herrera with a senseless stamp on the Spaniard.

United went on to win 2-1 thanks to two goals from Juan Mata as they moved five points clear of their arch-rivals in the race for a Champions League place.

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard spoke to Sky Sports after the match to apologise to team-mates and fans

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard spoke to Sky Sports after the match to apologise to team-mates and fans

‘I’ve let down my teammates and the supporters,’ admitted Gerrard, who now faces a three-match ban. ‘I take full responsibility. I need to accept it, the decision was right.

‘I’ve been in the game long enough when you do something like that. I don’t know what caused it, probably just a reaction to the initial tackle.

‘I shouldn’t say more about it really, I’ve just come out here to apologise to the dressing-room and supporters.’

Sportsmail expert Jamie Carragher claimed that Gerrard may have been wound up by having to sit on the bench for such a big game before replacing Adam Lallana.

Juan Mata (top) was on the receiving end of Gerrard's first robust challenge after coming onto the pitch

Juan Mata (top) was on the receiving end of Gerrard’s first robust challenge after coming onto the pitch

Sportsmail’s Big Match Stats: Liverpool 1-2 Manchester United

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers refused to castigate the veteran midfielder, and agreed that Liverpool’s insipid first-half performance might have contributed to Gerrard’s red mist.

‘I won’t criticise him because he’s been brilliant in my time here,’ said Rodgers. ‘Sometimes these things happen.

‘My thinking was always to go with the starting team. I had that clear in my mind and spoke with Steven earlier in the week about that.

‘Of course he’s a big-game player, a big impact player. He wanted to come in and it was just unfortunate that he got sent off.

Here is the stamp from Gerrard on Herrera after both players had competed for the ball

Here is the stamp from Gerrard on Herrera after both players had competed for the ball

‘He was probably a little frustrated watching us in the first half, we didn’t make a tackle.

‘He’s a highly competitive player and he made a great challenge when he first came on – it was probably our first challenge of the game, with all due respect. He wanted to help the team so much.

‘At least he was man enough to come out and make that apology.

‘With Steven it was purely wanting to make the impact. Listen, he’s made his apologies for it. Of course in a big game you suffer when you play with 10 men against 11.

‘It happened, and great respect to the players that were on there that we kept fighting. Games like that, especially when it goes to 2-0 against 10 men, you can get overrun and end up losing more goals.’

Steven Gerrard is shown the red card by referee Martin Atkinson after just 40 seconds of the second-half

Steven Gerrard is shown the red card by referee Martin Atkinson after just 40 seconds of the second-half

Martin Skrtel could also come under scrutiny from the FA if the referee confirms that he did not see an incident at the end in which the Liverpool defender appeared to stamp on United goalkeeper David de Gea.

The two players became an embroiled in an ugly confrontation that continued after the final whistle, but Rodgers insisted there was no malice on Skrtel’s part.

He added: ‘The ball has been played through and it looks like it when it is slowed down, he has caught him with intent. I didn’t see it like that.

‘He is trying to get the ball. You see his foot up, that is a symbol when a player is just trying to get his toe on the ball because if he does that and the keeper brings him down, it is probably a penalty.’

Liverpool’s first defeat in 14 Premier League games since losing 3-0 at Old Trafford in December puts a big dent in their hopes of beating United to a top-four place.

Martin Skrtel (centre) was lucky not to be cautioned for this stamp on United keeper David de Gea 

Martin Skrtel (centre) was lucky not to be cautioned for this stamp on United keeper David de Gea 

‘It’s a big challenge,’ admitted Rodgers. ‘But when I looked at the 10 games that were remaining, it was always going to be difficult to win all 10. We built in a loss and some draws.

‘We hoped to win this game against a rival but it is still very much possible. We need to recover and use this as a springboard as we did when we last played them.’

Louis van Gaal described the victory as ‘one of the most important moments in my career’ but refused to write off Liverpool’s chances of qualifying for the Champions League.

‘We beat Liverpool again,’ said Van Gaal. ‘They were in fantastic shape and we beat them with the old weapons – with the pressure on the ball in the first half.

‘Now we are five points ahead of Liverpool, and six ahead of Tottenham and Southampton. To win in this moment is very important – one of the most important moments in my career.

‘But there are still eight matches to go. That’s 24 points. Liverpool can still be champions. When you are a top manager, our player or club – and Liverpool are – you have to deal with defeats.

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers has a difficult afternoon with Steven Gerrard being sent off

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers has a difficult afternoon with Steven Gerrard being sent off

Brendan Rodgers: Gerrard was frustrated watching us first- half

‘We have also dealt with defeats. We lost at home to Arsenal and then we had to play against Tottenham and Liverpool, and you have to manage that. Liverpool can do that also because they have a great manager, great club, great fans.’

United dominated the first half and Mata fired them into a two-goal lead inside an hour. Daniel Sturridge pulled a goal back for the 10 men as Liverpool rallied after Gerrard’s sending-off, but Van Gaal’s side could even afford to see Wayne Rooney have a stoppage-time penalty saved by Simon Mignolet.

‘We played them off the pitch in the first half and scored a fantastic goal and gave nothing away,’ said Van Gaal.

‘It was the best first 45 minutes (of his time in charge of United) because in the second half we were not so good and that’s a little bit amazing because we played 11 against 10. It should be easier than the first half but it was not.

Manchester United boss Louis van Gaal (right) congratulates Marouane Fellaini (left) after the 2-1 victory

Manchester United boss Louis van Gaal (right) congratulates Marouane Fellaini (left) after the 2-1 victory

‘I came in the dressing-room and gave all my compliments because I was so happy, but then in the second half everything changed because of the red card. Then we weren’t laying like a team anymore. We were running with the ball and losing it unnecessarily. When we didn’t have the ball we didn’t press the opponent. That was different in the first half.

‘Nevertheless, we didn’t give many chances away. David de Gea has saved us a lot of times this season but I couldn’t remember one save in this match.’

Manchester United forward Juan Mata salutes the travelling fans having scored a fine brace at Anfield

Manchester United forward Juan Mata salutes the travelling fans having scored a fine brace at Anfield

Mata has struggled to hold down a first-team place in recent weeks but produced arguably his best performance for United, crowned by a spectacular volley for the second goal.

‘Yes, I think it’s my best game in a United shirt,’ said the Spaniard. ‘It’s a massive game, probably the biggest in English football, so to score two goals is great for me.

‘The second goal has to be up there with my best. After Steven Gerrard was sent off we needed a second goal because they pushed us to the end.

‘It was important for me. The last few months I’ve not had the best moment. It is the manager who decides but I’m happy today.’

Manchester United players celebrate their vital 2-1 win at Anfield against Liverpool on Sunday

Manchester United players celebrate their vital 2-1 win at Anfield against Liverpool on Sunday

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