This Anfield derby could have been different for David Moyes: it could have been one that he won, with Liverpool floundering in the bottom half of the Premier League, an incredible 10 losses in 21 games, and just having changed their manager, King Kenny Dalglish returning after 19 years. What a perfect opportunity of doing a rare double over Liverpool following the convincing Goodison win back in September, what would have been the first since 1984.
With Steven Pienaar in the throes of transfer negotiations involving Spurs, Chelsea and possibly Inter Milan, Moyes chose local boy Leon Osman in his place, to play down the wing... possibly his worst position. Jagielka was still injured so Heitinga retained his place in the back four, but the major loss for Everton continues to be Tim Cahill, why was playing in some meaningless and ridiculously timed Fifa competition instead of performing in this crucial game for his paymaster. In the absence of Louis Saha (out with a thigh strain), Beckford and Anichebe started as two strikers in a potentially attacking 4-4-2 line-up. No Carragher and no Gerrard for Liverpool.
Liverpool resorted to hoofball from the kick-off, letting Torres get an early shot in on Howard. Coleman went on a run down the middle and had a shot that went wide. Spearing gave the ball away direct to Beckford who saw a chance from distance but his attempt to lob Reina was hopelessly overhit. Distin put in a good header to diffuse a lively Liverpool attack.
Everton needed Fellaini to put his foot on the ball and give them a period of possession but Neville spoilt that with an overambitious forward pass that Coleman had no chance of reaching. But Coleman was there on the next play off Beckford and did well to force defensive play from the home side. At least the crunching tackles and excessive physicality were pleasingly absent from the first 10 mins but Spearing ran at Baines and won the first corner that eventually fell to Torres who skied his effort.
An excellent move from Baines played in Osman whose cross won Everton's first corner that Arteta fired in well but Osman could not control the cleared ball. Anichebe went on a good run through the middle but got pushed off the ball, a fair shoulder charge said Dowd, much to Moyes's annoyance as a tackle from behind by Neville got the kopites' backs up.
Torres did well to beat Distin, turn Heitinga and fire past Howard but he his shot smacked the post and Kyut's poor follow-up shot was deflected out for another corner off Neville. Everton held firm, Distin stronger in winning the ball off Kuyt and Everton strung together a good series of ground passes, winning another free-kick.
The free-kick tactic from the training ground involved a deep wide cross to Fellaini, lurking on the edge of the area, with a powerful header back into the area that won a corner. Arteta's delivery was not so good and play went up the other end for a Liverpool corner that was headed wide. Beckford was being a nuisance and won another free-kick but it was wasted.
Meireles went in high on Arteta and from the free-kick it was the same move to Fellaini that almost paid off for Beckford coming in close on Reina. Osman was getting somewhat ineffective possession but Baines eventually got a run down the wing and his cross won Everton's third corner. Baines delivered it superbly from the other side but no-one could turn it in and that allowed Liverpool to attack and score. Kyut's first shot was saved on the line by Howard, the follow-up shot blocked off Howard's arse and out to Meireles who fired unerringly through Baines and into the Everton net.
Another ferocious Liverpool attack tore through the Everton defence and it looked like a certain second but the Blues in disarray somehow kept the ball out as Everton struggled to settle again. Anichebe was fouled again and this time in a more dangerous position on the left but Arteta's cross was poorly overhit.
Another good move saw Baines cross low and hard but agonizingly too far ahead of Osman, who won a corner. The delivery was bizarre, and allowed Liverpool to break at speed. With loads of set-pieces, hardly any of them had gone close enough to either Beckford or Anichebe, who was playing far too deep.
Liverpool were given another spell of shooting practice that involved more corners and Heitinga getting a push on Torres. The ball broke to Arteta and he scooped it forward to Beckford who was wide but crossed well to Fellaini. However, Anichebe could do nothing with the cushioned header in front of goal and it was soon converted into another chance for Liverpool that Howard had to save.
A horrible ball from the otherwise excellent Fellaini in defence evaded Heitinga and played in Rodriquez who lashed in another free shot, thankfully straight at Howard. Liverpool ended the half having fashioned an incredible number of chances to score; Everton... er... incredibly, despite good midfield play... nothing threatening Reina's goal.
Dalglish took some decisive action at the break, subbing off Agger for that ugly Greek animal Kyrgiakos.
Everton won an early corner and a great delivery from Arteta to the back post saw Distin do a superb impression of Tim Cahill to power his header home off Johnson on the line. An excellent start to the second half!
Anichebe was very strong, out-heading Kelly on a long free kick from Howard to get Osman powering between two reds to get his pass in under tremendous pressure and Beckford did brilliantly, falling over but scooping the ball past Reina to give Everton the lead after just 7 mins of the second half. Reina went in the book for whining about Kelly coming off worst with Anichebe but Everton were ahead and should have gone on to win.
Liverpool looked to respond, Meireles getting another chance to shoot from the Everton right, but again, Howard saved well. Everton put together some excellent possession football again, a great move dominated by Fellaini but his final ball was defended away. At the other end Rodriguez got a weak header in on goal. Anichebe had a shot deflected that Reina was able to save easily. Torres was booked for a needles tackle on Neville.
An incredible decision allowed Liverpool back into the game, a totally unjust penalty for Howard attempting a close range save of a scuffed shot from Kuyt and being being beaten to it by Rodriguez, who touched it back to Kuyt and collapsed in a heap as Kuyt wellied the ball high and wide... No, Howard was deemed to have fouled Rodriguez from behind and Kuyt sent Howard the wrong way from the spot to make it 2-2.
Everton got a free-kick out wide left that Baines swung in superbly but Anichebe facing the wrong way, headed ridiculously away from goal off the head of incoming Fellaini, a golden chance spurned. There was some determined play from both sides, Fellaini going on a great run own the middle but taking too long and being crowded out.
73 mins gone and James Vaughan replaced Jermaine Beckford, an odd decision surely... but 4-3-3 would have been too foolhardy for Moyes. However, he needed to do something to take the momentum away from Liverpool, who continued to pressure the nervy Everton defence. Good play out of defence saw great passing that carried the ball up to the penalty area where Osman could not produce anything from it and he was then subbed by Rodwell. Everton looked to build but Anichebe poorly allowed the ball to role out of play and he was replaced by Bilyaletdinov, the third sub inside 8 mins by Moyes, and any rhythm they had was now gone.
Everton were looking to build but Vaughan was bizarrely playing down the left wing instead of being in the middle where he was sorely needed. Everton were in danger of running out of ideas and looking more tired with mistakes being made as time ticked on and Moyes perhaps settled for the draw.
Bily delivered a super throw that won a corner. Kyut was booked for cutting down Coleman. 90 mins and a long free-kick for that routine with Fellaini but he lost out to Kyrgiakos, as four extra minutes were added. But there was no urgency from Everton on their set pieces which seemed to indicate that David Moyes would be happy with another "incredible, unbelievable" draw at Anfield.
Everton's quest for a first win at Anfield since 1999 goes on after Dirk Kuyt's second-half penalty denied the Blues a famous win and helped Kenny Dalglish avoid a third successive defeat on his first home match since returning as Liverpool's manager.
David Moyes's side had recovered from going a goal down in the first-half by turning the match on its head early in the second half and looked to be on course to end a frustrating winless run on the old enemy's turf but they switched off when defending a free kick with 23 minutes to go and conceded the crucial spot-kick when Tim Howard ploughed through Maxi Rodriguez as he tried to reach the loose ball.
The Blues probably haven't come closer to winning an away derby since Kevin Campbell's only goal lifted Walter Smith's men over Liverpool by a single goal 11-plus years ago. Though they probably deserved to be behind going into the break, they were full value for the lead they had carved out within seven minutes of the restart but they couldn't complete the job and, in truth, looked less and less likely when Moyes switched to 4-5-1 in the closing stages.
With Steven Pienaar mulling over offers from Chelsea, Tottenham and Inter Milan, he was left out of an Everton squad that was also missing Louis Saha who had gone 11 months without a goal and then scored in consecutive matches after Tim Cahill's absence had prompted his manager to go with two strikers for the first time this season. The Frenchman was ruled out through injury and his place taken by Victor Anichebe.
That, unfortunately, left the Blues resorting to the long-ball game for much of the first half, with Howard constantly ignoring any opporutnity to build from the back, electing instead to belt it downfield in Anichebe's direction. That he kept doing it probably owed much to the fact that the burly striker was winning most of his aerial battles but Everton weren't really making much of the second ball.
Nonetheless, after Fernando Torrers had had the first effort of the game easily saved after just eight seconds, Seamus Coleman toe-punted an effort narrowly wide from the edge of the box, Jermaine Beckford lofted an attempted chip well into the Kop end Leon Osman, Pienaar's replacement, shinned a chance over the bar after a corner had been "cleared" straight to him.
Liverpool looked as nervous as their recent results would suggest and there were passes going astray left, right and centre, the anxiety from the stands spilling onto the pitch. But the home side did try and play the better football in the first half and, with local thugs like Jamie Carragher and Steven Gerrard conspicious by their absence, there was less of the typical blood and thunder of a Mersey derby about this one than usual.
Curiously, it was "Lady Boy" Torres who would emerge as the biggest villain of the piece as far as awful tackles go but not before he'd had Evertonian hearts in their mouths on two occasions; first, when he took advantage of being afforded too much space and half-volleyed over, and then, after Sylvain Distin had made the mistake of letting a high ball bounce, out-muscling the Frenchman, turning inside John Heitinga and hammering a shot off the post.
Liverpool would take the lead just before the half-hour mark, though, when Glenn Johnson, playing as an awkward, makeshift left back, was allowed all too easily by Phil Neville to come inside and find Dirk Kuyt with a cross to the back post. Howard got down well to save his downward header and then threw his backside in the way of the follow-up but he could do nothing about the third shot from Raul Meireles as he smashed it into the net.
Two minutes later, with the Blues all at sea, it could have been 2-0. Distin was beaten again on the left but Howard parried Torres' powerful drive superbly and though Meireles beat Neville in a aerial dual for the ball almost under the crossbar, Rodriguez hammered the ball over from close range.
And Liverpool finished the half the stronger when Meireles left the leaden-footed Osman for dust to latch onto Kuyt's pass but Howard was again there to push away the shot.
At that point, with Everton seemingly impotent when it came to getting the ball down and using either flank to create their hosts problems, you began to wonder who could come to the rescue to get us back in it. It looked to be one of those games where we'd have to scratch out a draw thanks to Cahill getting on the end of something but without him, without Pienaar's omnipresent industry in the final third, and with Mikel Arteta not really pulling any strings, things didn't look all that encouraging.
The second half was barely a minute old, though, when Everton won a corner on their left in front of the massed ranks of Blues fans and when Arteta sent the ball to the back post, Distin came roaring in to despatch a downward header into the roof of the net via Johnson's head. 1-1 and the grin had been wiped off Dalglish's face.
Things got even better for Everton six minutes later when Osman danced his way into the area and slipped the ball inside to Beckford who ignored the attentions of Meireles and kept his composure in front of goal to fire the ball past Pepe Reina and send those Evertonians in the Anfield Road end into ecstacy. All of a sudden, Liverpool were staring a third straight defeat in the face and Everton were in touching distance of a first league derby double since the 1984-85 season.
But they didn't really press home their advantage, even though Liverpool's response was initially fairly weak. Meireles had a low shot easily saved and Rodriguez looped a header into Howard's arms while Anichebe saw an effort charged down at the other end. And even when Osman conceded a soft free kick on the right touchline when he left a leg dangling on his man, there didn't appear to be much danger of surrendering the lead.
But in trying to clear it, Neville could only head it as far as Martin Skrtl at the back post and when he completely mis-kicked and Rodriguez went to pounce on the loose ball, he was felled from behind by a clumsy challenge by Howard and referee Dowd awarded a penalty. Kuyt sent Howard the wrong way and the match was level again.
Moyes's response within five minutes was to seemingly settle for what he had. He withdrew Beckford and threw on a like-minded replacement in James Vaughan but moved Anichebe to left midfield and pulled Osman inside for a couple of minutes until he made way for Jack Rodwell. Defensively, it didn't really add much at all as tracking back isn't one of Anichebe's strong points and the move merely served to blunt Everton's attacking threat.
It wasn't until Diniyar Bilyaletdinov came on for Anichebe with ten minutes left that the Blues started to look capable of winning the game again but, unfortunately, he didn't get enough time to make a decisive difference. He did add another dimension, though, and certainly made a case for stepping into the void that will surely be left by Pienaar's departure this month.
As finales go, though, it was a bit of a limp one with just a Coleman shot that bobbled agonisingly wide off a Liverpool head (not for the first time, a clear corner was not given) the only real sight of goal either side had and the match fizzled out to a 2-2 conclusion, honours even for another year at Anfield.
The priority in any derby is to avoid defeat, of course, and certainly the way things stood at the interval, a draw was a great result for Everton. Liverpool looked to have the higher quality of play and the better calibre of players on the evidence of the first 45 minutes but the swiftness and apparent ease with which the Blues turned the game on its head left you fairly frustrated that they couldn't either hang on to the advantage or retain it once Kuyt had brought it back to 2-2. As is to be expected in the Mersey derby, the performance was neither impressive nor attractive but it almost got the job done.
Another draw leaves the Blues six points above the relegation zone so hoe they respond in next week's matchup with West Ham at Goodison will be all-important.
It's derby time again, the Anfield derby to be precise, a game that, incredibly, we haven't won since 1999.
Of course, this match-up against the enemy from across Stanley Park has a different look to those of recent years. For a start, both sides will kick off the game sitting in the bottom half of the table — Blue above Red, albeit on goal difference — and I'm not sure how far you have to go back the last time that was the case.
It also marks Liverpool's first home game with Kenny Dalglish back at the helm after the unceremonious booting of Roy Hodgson, who barely had time to imprint his backside in the Anfield hotseat before being shunted on to his next managerial assignment with the Reds some way off their target of a return to Champions League football.
So you'd expect some extra charge behind the home fans as they welcome back their "hero", the one that walked out on them almost 20 years ago after one of the greatest derbies every played, the 4-4 FA Cup draw at Goodison in February 1991.
But they'll also be without their Talisman, Steven Gerrard, who serves the second match of a three-game suspension and with Dogleash having already lost twice in his second stint as their manager — to Manchester United in the Cup and Blackpool in the league midweek — there will be plenty of Liverpool anxiety on which to feed.
Much has been made of David Moyes's conservative approach when it comes to playing the "Sky Four" — although how relevant that term still is now that Spurs and Manchester City have joined the league of media darlings and Liverpool have fallen out of the pantheon of English footballing greatness is open to question — and though he rejects the idea that a lack of adventure lies behind his failure to win a match at Anfield in nine years as Everton manager, there have been occasions when the lone striker formation and a confusing lack of spirit have condemned his side to unnecessary derby defeat... or defeat has been avoided thanks to Tim Cahill, Moyes's own Talisman.
But with Cahill absent at the Asia Cup, Everton have come to life under a two-striker system, the one for which many supporters (myself included) have been clamouring for most of the season, seen off Tottenham with a rousing 2-1 win at Goodison and done what top flight times should do against lower-division opposition in thumping Scunthorpe United 5-1 in the FA Cup 3rd Round last weekend.
It took Louis Saha just a few minutes in both games to register his appreciation for the new-found freedom with sweetly-taken goals that offer hope that he now has the spark to reignite his goalscoring form. And somewhere around the quarter hour mark against Tottenham, Mikel Arteta suddenly came to life. It was as if he had been awakened from a slumber by the touch of some unseen magic — a player who had looked lethargic, disinterested and directionless almost all season seemed to rediscover his joi de vivre and began to show some of the form that made him a fan favourite before his long-term layoff temporarily derailed his career.
Now there was movement where before there had been little, pace up front where before there had been none, and the goals started coming. Attack as the best form of defence, all that... all because Moyes finally did what many of his peers did a long time ago and that is adopt a dual-striker solution. Forced into it he may have been by Cahill's absence — or maybe his plea for fans to keep the faith was indicative that supporter concerns were leaching through to the manager — but Moyes's team has been exciting to watch over the last two matches.
Now we just have to hope that he doesn't revert to type this Sunday because, for me, we need to go out at there and just go for it because this is a Liverpool side that we can pin against the ropes with the right approach. Play Saha and Jermaine Beckford together from the start, let Seamus Coleman loose on their left flank and Steven Pienaar (if he plays) and Leightin Baines down their right, let Arteta and Fellaini control the midfield and let John Heitinga and Sylvain Distin keep it tight at the back.
Their Scouse axis of Gerrard and Jamie Carragher will be missing and with their recent frailties in mind, an early onslaught, an early breakthrough and sustained pressure could set them reeling and land Moyes with his first League double over Liverpool.
Kevin Keegan returned to Newcastle as the returning hero a few seasons back and left a few months later having utterly failed to fulfil the Messianic turnaround he promised. Nothing would be sweeter for Evertonians who have been forced to live in the shadow of Liverpool for so long because of a chronic inequality in financial resources than to see "King Kenny" go the same was as "King Kev," back to the footballing wilderness. Moyes's Everton can help him get there, but they have to have the right mindset and the belief that right now, despite their parity in Premier League points, Everton are the better team.
Come on, you Blues!
|Premier League Scores|
|Premier League Table|
|2010-11 Reports Index|
|When Skies Are Grey||Report|
|Everton fans' reports|
|Other media reports|
|4 the Game||Report|
|Agger (46' Kyrgiakos)|
|Meireles (80' Shelvey)|
|Subs not used|
|Osman (77' Rodwell)|
|Anichebe (81' Bilyaletdinov)|
|Beckford (73' Vaughan)|
|Subs not used|
|Cahill (international duty)|
|Pienaar ("head not right")|
|Premier League Scores|
|14||West Bromwich Albion||25|
|20||West Ham United||20|