Manchester: Steven Gerrard's penalty handed Liverpool an important advantage in their League Cup semi-final with Manchester City as the visitors came away from Eastlands with a 1-0 first leg lead.

Liverpool, who have won the League Cup competition a record seven times, are seeking their first trophy in six years and are now favourites to advance to the final against Championship opponents Crystal Palace or Cardiff.

Given the negative publicity Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish and his club have been forced to endure over their handling of the Luis Suarez racism case, victory at a ground where they were beaten 3-0 by the Premier League leaders just eight days earlier, could not have come at a better time.

Liverpool made an electrifying start to the tie and, but for City goalkeeper Joe Hart, could have been in total command of the match.

As it was, they had to settle for the single goal, scored by Gerrard from the spot after back-up centre-half Stefan Savic, only playing because of the absence of Kolo Toure on international duty and the suspension of Vincent Kompany, had clearly brought down Daniel Agger at a corner.

Gerrard struck low past fellow England international Hart and into the left-hand corner in the 13th minute.

That goal was the culmination of a spell of concerted pressure and, after four minutes, Hart saved with his legs from Andy Carroll.

Gerrard then chanced his arm from 20 yards with a right-foot strike the diving Hart, once more, kept out brilliantly.

And, moments before the penalty, a Gerrard corner picked out Stewart Downing, lurking on the edge of the area, for the winger to unleash a superbly-struck volley, Craig Bellamy steering the shot towards goal and Hart making a stunning reflex save.

City's controversial forward Mario Balotelli summed up the hosts unease, looking out of sorts throughout the first half, being dragged away from an altercation with Charlie Adam and, finally, being replaced by Italian manager Roberto Mancini after 40 minutes without it being immediately apparent whether or not he was injured.

It was not until his departure that City finally had a meaningful chance, Balotelli's replacement Samir Nasri having a 20-yard shot pushed away by Liverpool keeper Pepe Reina in the 43rd minute and James Milner shooting over from 12 yards after fine work by Micah Richards.

City maintained their improvement after the restart with Martin Skrtel making a superb tackle to stop Sergio Aguero in the area before Martin Kelly's disastrous back pass fell straight to the City forward who rounded Reina but, having been pushed wide, could only chip over the open goal.

Nasri's 59th minute corner was met by Richards for another City chance, this one saved impressively, at the second attempt, by Reina.

Then Nasri's pass sent through Aguero who expertly took three Liverpool defenders out of the game only to curl his 18-yard shot straight at Reina.

Substitute Edin Dzeko's pass allowed Nasri a look at goal, and the opportunity to shoot well over from 20 yards, and Reina had to react quickly to beat Gareth Barry to a near-post cross.

But City could come no closer to an equaliser than Aguero's injury-time header from a Nasri cross which cleared the Liverpool crossbar by some margin.