Liverpool v Everton: the 203rd clash
Liverpool 3 Everton 1
Saturday's first kick-off, the 203rd Merseyside derby, both sides in good form, it should have been on terrestrial TV, not Sky PPV. Liverpool had well publicised their recent form of fifteen goals in the past three games, with the Birmingham win being headline news. Everton had not lost a game since 2006 except for the away defeat to Newcastle a month ago, their last defeat actually coming against Liverpool at home in late December before then, some eleven games ago. Their eight wins and two draws out of eleven made for a confident Toffees side coming to Anfield.
This fixture last season ended 2-1 with Milan Baros sent off, so when Steven Gerrard, of all Liverpool players, went off it was as stunning to the home fans as it was jubilant to the away ones, understandably with Gerrard touted many times as the main player that boosts Liverpool's play. Xabl Alonso was penalised for a foul on Kevin Kilbane, and as Steve Finnan touched the ball in the direction of the spot of the offence, Gerrard aimed a foot and chipped the ball away. Ref PhilDowd is more or less on the ball (excuse the pun) and exclaimed to Gerrard why he had to do it. The ball was delivered in, head out, came to Kilbane, who evaded one challenge and was then brought down by another from Gerrard, which looked quite scything. No doubt it was bookable and the captain was sent off. Rafael Benitez was on the touchline, hands in trouser pockets, looking down as he made Gerrard know his feelings on the conduct of it all. I wondered if Gerrard had been riled by comments nearer to home when he said after the Birmingham game Everton players were coming to Anfield with confidence. While it's not unusual for him to be booked, it is unusual in the matter in which he obtained the sending off, not one known for kicking the ball away after the whistle. Now Liverpool will have to show good character and strength in the remaining three-quarters of the game.
Everton had been threatening up to that point. Tim Cahill turned in the box but his shot lacked power so comfortably gathered by Pepe Reina, and then he gained down the right towards goal and aimed a wide shot that made the side netting. He was booked for a challenge on Gerrard before the sending-off, Alonso was booked for a high tackle on Phil Neville, Alan Stubbs and Harry Kewell were jostling in the Everton box as Liverpool steadied for a free kick and were both booked. But Everton failed to make significant breakthrough against the 10-men and fortunes turned as Alonso's corner came off Neville's head for an OG little before the half time break. Two minutes into the second half, Reina pumped the ball to the right, Peter Crouch headed on, Luis Garcia nodded forward ahead of Gary Naysmith and then ran on to lob the advancing Richard Wright. 2-0 up with 10-men, the celebrating players included Reina.
Some 10 minutes on, David Moyes considered a triple substitution of Simon Davies, Duncan Ferguson and Andy Van Der Mayde and waited as Everton pressed forward. Cahill had a mediocre start to the season but since Xmas has been my player for Everton, just over Mikael Arteta, who injured himself in the morning why he never played. Everton's pressure paid off when Leo Osman's corner was glanced down by Cahill to make it 2-1. Then the subs came on, Ferguson for James McFadden, Van Der Meyde for Kilbane. Liverpool went close from then, Mohamed Sissoko was fouled by David Weir near the edge of the box for another booking, Alonso glancing the freekick just off the crossbar. Garcia was in the box and received the ball but Alan Stubbs came in with a superb intervention that thwarted the Spaniard. Later, Kewell's shot as he broke down the left and past Weir was saved well by Wright.
However, Everton's advantage of an extra man was dminished as Van Der Meyde lasted five minutes from coming on. Challenging a high ball with Alonso, the Dutchman's elbow flailed towards Alonso's face, and amongst the little melee, ref Dowd took away Van Der Meyde by the forearm, away from all, and brandished the straight red, making for another Merseyside derby this season to bring a double dismissal. Moyes was stunned as the advantage Everton held was now level. From there on, an Alonso freekick was glanced in by Sami Hyypia but disallowed as Crouch was offside, which for me was dubious, again regarding the offside rule. We are informed the linesman will wait to see if the player reaches the ball or vice versa or gains an advantage, but Hyypia headed in with no other intervention or touch from anyone else, Crouch isn't interfering with play. Nonetheless, a third goal eventually materialised for the home side as Steve Finnan played across to Kewell, and the Australian looked to spread the ball wide, Tony Hibbert moved to block, and instead Kewell looked at goal and aimed a sweet drive that went wide of Wright and inside the post.
Liverpool are grateful for the win, particularly in a fiercely contested derby that produced 11 bookings, two for Gerrard, one for Kewell, Alonso, Hibbert, Weir, Ferguson, Stubbs, Cahill, Kilbane and Neville. With Gerrard off, we had to show that we can play well without him, which was quite crucial for the team and the fans, and importantly the manager. Moyes will rue that Everton had 55 minutes to make their advantage count and only made something of it in Cahill's goal, and also that Van Der Meyde is not available for three matches. Phil Dowd had a good game, albeit the Kewell-Stubbs coochy-coo in the box could have been handled with a stern word.