Manchester City preserved their 100% home record at the expense of Liverpool's attempt to climb back to the top of the table, coming from a goal down to secure the points that took them past their north-west rivals to go second behind Arsenal.
Two sides attempting to win produced an enthralling contest, even if all the goals came in the first half along with most of the controversy. Brendan Rodgers was so annoyed at Liverpool having a valid goal disallowed he appeared to question Lee Mason's integrity in wondering why a Greater Manchester (Bolton) referee had been appointed to the match. Liverpool's manager can expect to be charged by the Football Association for his comments.
"I was surprised to see that the referee came from Greater Manchester," he said. "If it was City v Liverpool at Anfield I don't think we would get a referee from the Wirral." He thought Mason was not alone in his ineptitude. "It was a horrendous performance from all the officials. Nothing went our way at all."
Gamely Rodgers withdrew Lucas Leiva towards the end to get another forward on in search of a point, while City ended up sending on Javier García as extra insurance. It was a close contest that could have gone either way, though City had the stand-out performer in Álvaro Negredo and made a much better job of shackling Luis Suárez and Raheem Sterling in the second half.
Ultimately the game was decided by what was either a sublime finish by Negredo or a basic goalkeeping error, depending on your point of view. Certainly Simon Mignolet did not appear to be expecting Negredo to attempt to score in the way he did.
Joe Hart, on the other hand, made a first-half save at a crucial point and seems to be back in Manuel Pellegrini's good books. "It was good for Joe to have a rest," the City manager said. "He is back to his best now. The team showed personality in coming back from one-nil down. We could not afford to lose to Liverpool, it would have been like losing four points."
City were at Liverpool right from the start, with Jesús Navas heading against a post after five minutes and Vincent Kompany and Yaya Touré seeing goal attempts flash narrowly wide. Negredo missed the target from close to the penalty spot after Aleksandar Kolarov's cross from the left before Suárez reminded the home side of the danger of pressing too far forward with a slick pass that played Sterling into the empty space behind City's high defensive line.
It was a pass worthy of bringing about the opening goal and in fact should have done, since Sterling rounded Hart with ease to pass the ball into the net, only to be brought back for an offside flag that replays showed to be incorrect.
"It wasn't even a difficult decision," Rodgers fumed. "It was a perfectly timed run and at this level you have to get those calls right."
While Suárez too showed visible indignation when news of the error was relayed to him on the pitch, his reaction was to remain calm and repeat the formula to create a goal that did count. Taking a pass from Jordan Henderson the Uruguayan again picked out Sterling's run with a first-time flick, and though Hart this time forced him wide of the goal Philippe Coutinho was in support and stepped in to sidefoot past the goalkeeper.
City needed to strike back quickly and did, Kompany cancelling Liverpool's advantage by beating Martin Skrtel to a David Silva corner on the half hour, though it still needed a smart close-range save from Hart to prevent Coutinho restoring the visitors' lead before the interval. Again Suárez and Sterling had been involved in the build-up, finding space in the City half and making good use of it, yet the home side produced some incisive and inventive passing of their own to finish the first half ahead.
Negredo might have scored a couple of minutes earlier than he did when a strong run and measured pass from Fernandino gave him a sight of goal that a combination of Skrtel and Mignolet snuffed out. Undeterred he scored with his next attempt, when precise passing by Samir Nasri and Navas sliced open the Liverpool defence and Negredo shot early and not particularly powerfully with the outside of his right boot, yet his effort from the edge of the area surprised Mignolet, who got a weak hand to the ball that only helped it over the line. If Negredo had spotted that the goalkeeper was slightly off his line and deliberately attempted to chip him it was an audacious, almost Suárez-like finish, though having managed to reach the ball Mignolet should not have been beaten by a shot with so little behind it.
Liverpool had a brief chance to draw level at the start of the second half, when Henderson was correctly judged to be offside in getting in the way of a Suárez shot, before Negredo demonstrated some impressive ball skills in the centre circle then tried to chip Mignolet again, without success. Once in the lead City sensibly restrained their attacking ambitions, pulling Touré and Fernandinho further back to deny Liverpool's strikers space and leaving just Silva and Navas to help Negredo forage up front. Hart still needed to make saves from Glen Johnson and Henderson to keep his side in front, though the threat from Suárez, in particular, was reduced in the second half.
On the one occasion the Liverpool captain did break free he found Sterling in front of goal with an inviting pass, only to discover the teenager's finishing does not quite match his positional sense. Sterling put the chance over the crossbar. Had the roles been reversed, one could not help but feel, Suárez would have made more of the opportunity. Frustrated, Suárez ended the game with a ludicrously optimistic goal attempt from a 30-yard free-kick then an absurdly exaggerated dive in the penalty area when his shirt was being pulled. He missed out both times, then picked up a slightly harsh booking for a foul on Hart. Suárez will not stop trying, but evidently he cannot perform miracles every week.