TRYING to write a report about a Merseyside Derby is fraught with difficulty at the best of times. Summarising the goalmouth action and controversies is no mean feat and Sunday’s match was a case in point.
In the end, the teams had to settle for a 2-2 draw and both sets of supporters are likely to feel aggrieved; the blue contingent for a missed opportunity to widen the gap and secure some long-awaited bragging rights, but especially the Red fraternity after an unbelievable blunder from the linesman in stoppage time.
Despite some controversy regarding flares and coin-throwing, the vitriol and hatred seemed to have been less evident in the build up and first few minutes of yesterday’s match. This was helped by the Liverpool fans’ unfurling of a Hillsborough related banner symbolising solidarity with their blue neighbours (unfortunately given very little media coverage).
However, a display from Luis Suarez in the first half, both with the ball and without it, put paid to any harmonious feelings between the supporters.
After a decent opening from Liverpool, neat and tidy in possession as usual, the Uruguayan opened the scoring on 14 minutes. A quick break and resulting cross from Jose Enrique had Everton in all sorts of difficulty and Raheem Sterling was fouled in the build up; eventually, the ball fell to Suarez, he then fired it back across goal before Leighton Baines inadvertently deflected the ball into his own net.
With David Moyes’ pre-match criticism ringing in his ears, Suarez ran towards Everton’s manager and dived ironically at his feet. It was a moment which had Liverpool fans basking in the irony and humour of it all, but in the cold light of day it was perhaps a bit antagonistic.
In Suarez’s defence, he has become the face of football’s diving debate and he may have earned that show of defiance. Yes, he does make a meal of challenges, but the continuing singling out of one player for what is a wider footballing pandemic – especially when Everton’s own captain Phil Neville took an embarrassing tumble in the second half – is probably misguided, because the more he gets criticised the better he performs.
Indeed, his performance yesterday was breathtaking in both its quality and unpredictability. He is becoming the Mike Tyson of football, a tortured genius perhaps. He will always court controversy, that’s his character, but his talent is unquestionable and Everton’s defenders in particular are terrified of him.
The home side hadn’t got to grips with the game at all and soon found themselves two behind. Gerrard’s superb curled free-kick on 20 minutes got the merest of touches from Suarez’s head and the ball bounced high into the corner of the net. A more standard celebration followed.
It took two goals for the hosts to impose themselves on the match and their response was admirable. First Leon Osman struck a fine half-volley home after Brad Jones’ poor punch and then Steven Naismith slotted home an equaliser from Marouane Fellaini’s centre.
It halted Everton’s momentum and it also provided an opportunity for Brendan Rodgers to intelligently shuffle his pack.
He withdrew Nuri Sahin and Suso – the latter hadn’t played too badly in the circumstances but Sahin had struggled – for Jonjo Shelvey and Sebastian Coates, whilst reverting to a 3-5-2 system.
It was the perfect tonic to Everton’s long ball tactics (a strange Derby-based phenomenon, they tend to play more expansively against other teams) and it gave Liverpool a renewed foothold. Jonjo Shelvey in particular took the game by the scruff of the neck and Everton didn’t create many more chances.
There were however some officiating debacles. At one point, Joe Allen – who displayed superb grit and determination throughout and refused to buckle under Fellaini’s aggression in particular – had a foul awarded against him when the Belgian had clattered him from behind.
Being fair, Everton also suffered with the refereeing and Suarez was fortunate to escape punishment for his foul on Sylvain Distin. It was certainly a yellow, but whether it was a clear red card is a little more questionable. As Rodgers stated afterwards, it was a typical forward’s challenge and his instantaneous ‘hands-up’ gesture would suggest that it wasn’t intentional either.
The referee was inconsistent throughout, giving yellows for one thing then not giving them for repeat occurrences. He didn’t have a proper hold of the game at any point, but his overseeing of Liverpool’s disallowed goal more than anything will give him sleepless nights. The linesman will feel most culpable, but Suarez was so far onside that Marriner could perhaps have called it himself.
The coverage on Sky capturing the length of time it took for the linesman to raise his flag is an embarrassment and a winning goal would have been deserved given that in the latter stages Liverpool looked the most purposeful going forward, but it wasn’t to be.
The most pleasing aspect of yesterday’s performance was the guts and fight from what was a very young side. The likes of Sterling, Suso, Wisdom – good performances or not – will benefit enormously from that experience.
A lot of players – Joe Allen has already been used as an example – lacked their usual quality at times, but it has to be very re-assuring to Reds fans that so much pride was shown for the shirt against such physical opposition in that kind of atmosphere. It bodes well for what should be a bright future.
Getting a point at Goodison against an on form Everton side is a good outcome all things considered and hopefully Liverpool’s brief run of decent results will continue.
L4L Man of the Match: Luis Suarez. No, that isn’t for his dive at Moyes’ feet, it is due to his performance. He was a constant thorn in Everton’s side and his relentless form continues.
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