Everton 0 - 1 LiverpoolHere we go: derby day again, home first again and for all the bravado talked in the room of nonsense each one of us had that now familiar feeling and secret thought of ‘How can we cock this one up?’ Well, after a rumbustious night we managed it – again.
The pub was full, the roads on the walk up were full, Goodison Road was heaving as people walked in all directions to get to their respective turnstiles after the half-hour wait at the oversubscribed greasy spoons. The atmosphere could be cut as the sheer numbers make it a night first-timers attending a derby will never forget along with us long-time attendees who always marvel at it all.
The first strains of Z-Cars and the roar is ground moving and will be heard in L1. The whistle to start sets both players and fans into a state of frenzy as the rollercoaster begins. This electric atmosphere not only galvanises the commitment and effort of fans and players but is also well capable of addling brains both on and off the field and this game was no exception. The kopites whished us a happy 21st (the number of years since our last trophy) so we wished them all the worst.
On the field, within two minutes, the number 8 was hanging limp off Ross’s back by an action that our Ref Mr Dean missed. A fan near us was heard loudly proclaiming that the Refs Wirral family were all rabid and devoted followers of the team in red shirts. His refusal to offer Lovren a second yellow for laying hands on Coleman in the second half had him shouting louder and I think a few of us just wondered a little considering he booked Coleman for the self-same thing in the same incident.
There was no doubt that we started the half full of venom and were causing concern to Klopp’s men. Like men on a mission we attacked well with both Baines and Coleman driving on. Crosses were either over-hit or misdirected and the visitors who looked to break were thwarted by some committed defensive activity with McCarthy and Gana breaking up anything Liverpool had and the midfield was mostly ours.
Yet despite all our aggression, pressing and verve we had failed to have an effort on target. Valencia was full of running and Barkley was the one striving to be full of cunning and at last we had a move that cut through them and forced a corner. Barkley took it and coming in at the back post was Funes Mori who had a free header that alas went wide – the best chance of the half by either side.
With McCarthy and Gana running the midfield, I started to think a goal would surly come but, despite shots going wide and curling headers floating over, that decisive finish was lacking. With about ten minutes or so from half time I noted McCarthy laying down on the pitch but after treatment he re-joined the fray but without looking like he was in full working order. We were not to know it but that for me was the turning point of the game. He didn’t return for the second half and was replaced by Barry. On paper a strong move considering Barry’s offerings in most of our games so far but for whatever reason he looked a pale imitation of himself in that second half.
No longer did we have the legs of them in mid-field and you could see clearly Liverpool sensing this and gaining the upper hand in mid-field. This gave them some openings and we were soon too deep and getting unnecessarily hemmed in. It got worse when again the visitors cut through us and a last ditch sliding attempt to clear by Baines saw him plough into the fast advancing Stekelenburg the upshot being after lengthy treatment he attempted to soldier on but was soon sat down again and Robles took over. Stek to that point had a fine game and made a few good saves one at full stretch caught the eye.
What went wrong in that second half I don’t know; it was hard to believe it was the same players minus McCarthy on the pitch. We made wild clearances or played ourselves into danger by overplaying in our box and after every near thing and blind clearance the ball just kept coming back at us. Brave blocks, last ditch sprawls and good old hoof kept the score to 0-0 — just.
Amid all this nonsense, Koeman needed to look to his bench but with the injuries already accounting for two enforced subs, he was left with one to play with and when it came it was not the experienced Mirallas to replace the worn out Valencia but our young acquisition from Sheffield Utd who took to the field and went to right midfield. It was a tough time for him to come on as the senior pro’s who should look to mentor him were showing alarming signs of frustration. On 70 mins, this boiled over when a Barkley, who after a good first half, could not do right for achieving wrong and flew into a wild sliding tackle and caught Henderson on the ankle. Looked like a red to me but Dean gave yellow. Lovran confronted him then Coleman went to Ross’s aid and they pushed one another in identical fashion and the upshot was yellow for Coleman nothing for Lovran, Dean knew he had already been booked. Bias or a ref wanting to keep eleven men each on the field? I think the latter as really Barkley should have gone.
Before the 90 mins, Firmino had two good efforts that brought a good sprawling save from Robles and the other a block from Coleman. 8 mins extra went up. The crowd tried to roar that one last effort out of us but we looked shot at and I admit to praying for a point if only for the fact it is a hell of a lot better than losing to them. But wouldn’t you just know it, half way through the allotted time added Sturridge shot, not particularly hard and looked saveable but Robles seemed slow in going down and the ball hit the post and rebounded across the six-yard box and in a three way race to the ball Baines and Robles were a fraction late and Mane slotted.
Cue a mass exodus from the old lady. Liverpool fans hurled the pyro, smoke bombs and a brilliant red flare that required sunglasses for comfortable viewing. It seemed an eternity until police and stewards regained order and the final couple of minutes were played out before those of us who had stayed. On the final whistle I let out a word used by a mate of mine when he is totally disappointed and frustrated. Imagine the mouth action when you spit then spit out the word ‘Bastard’ very quickly. Silly maybe... but, at that moment, that was me.
The walk back was mostly quiet and brooding with the words ‘Second Half’ the most I heard. "How could we play like that second half?" was going around my head. But, as a long standing attender of Goodison derbies, it certainly isn’t my first. These are games like no other but I just wish we could have a few where we are the ones scraping the win, regardless of how the teams play.
Still plenty to play for. Let us hope we can put this behind us and start getting points and putting two halves together of sufficient quality. January transfer market is almost upon us. I hope they get a couple or more targets in in the first couple of days and not the last half hour of 3ist January. I don’t know who they can get but I hope whoever is in charge of recruitment gets it right. The outgoings could be interesting too.
All the best to you and yours for Christmas and the New Year. Health and Happiness.
UP THE BLUES
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