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Venue: Anfield, Liverpool
Premier League
 Sunday 30 March 2008; 4:00pm
Torres (7')
Half Time: 1-0
Attendance: 44,295
Fixture 32
Referee: Howard Webb

Match Summary

So... the first game of the Rest of the Season without Tim Cahill.  And David Moyes with a "fully fit squad" to chose from... NOT!  Anichebe ill; Johnson still injured, Vaughan out after knee surgery... And the players who are "fit"... Arteta suffering from a long-term stomach/groin strain; Pienaar laid low last week with gastroenteritis...Fernandes, probably still not fit... Gravesen on the bench? "The squad's a little light right now..." Duh!

Still, a bright start from both sides in the spring sunshine, and quite an open game to start with, a lot of early movement, a snapshot from Arteta testing Reina early on. But Liverpool looked well up for it, were chasing down everything and moving the ball better.

A dreadful mistake at the back off Liverpool's first corner, which Yakubu was slow in clearing, saw the ball coming wide to Torres and you knew exactly what was going to happen.  He made no mistake with just 7 minutes gone to put the Reds ahead and make a nonsense of Moyes's usual "keep it tight" gameplan..

In the next Liverpool attack, Carsley was booked for a studs-up challenge on Torres; yellow card, and a dangerous free kick that Gerrard thankfully pulled wide.  As the Blues looked to get a hold on the game, the Reds snapped and sizzled and closed them down at every opportunity, while Everton's possession of the ball was frustratingly fruitless.  Hibbert was being run ragged by Babel down the Everton right, each attack looking more threatening as he just could not close down the Liverpool player.

Symptomatic of Everton's failure to get with the game, Neville slid in late, winning himself a yellow card in the 17th minute.  Everton won their first corner on 22 mins, and finally applied a little pressure on the Liverpool goal, eventually leading to Lescott crossing in an easy ball but away from all Blue heads. 

It looked like a certain second for Liverpool when Riise got away from Hibbert and sent in a frighteningly good ball that seemed to fall perfectly for Babel but he missed it completely. An incredible delivery from Gerrard off a silly free-kick given away wide by Jags, forced an excellent defensive header form Carsley under tremendous pressure 

But Everton were actually weathering the storm, and playing some more effective football as half-time approached. Osman with a great steal off Alonso, but Pienaar could not hold on to it.  Pienaar had been virtually invisible, totally crowded out by Carragher.

A nothing ball fell to Gerrard from a Reina clearance and he rattled off a typical first-time volley that beat Howard but thankfully smacked off the face of the post... another let-off!  On the rare occasion when Everton had a chance to control the play and move the ball forward, though, there was no support for Yakubu, who was getting increasingly frustrated as the midfield held back to avoid becoming too stretched.

Liverpool had had by far the better of the first half, Riise firing one in that took a wicked deflection just before the break but it went wide. Incredibly, the scoreline remained 1-0 leaving Everton with everything to play for, if only they could match Liverpool's greater energy and commitment in the second half.

No changes (of course!) for the second half... which starts with a horrible hoofball from Jagielka... followed by a pointless bout of head-tennis!!!  Yakubu did well to win a corner, but on the break, Pienaar fouled Babel and his name went in the book.

Everton actually seemed to be getting the better bounce and picking up more of the 50-50 balls as Baines and Fernandes continued their warm-up routines on the sidelines.  Everton were looking better as Substitution Time approached, holding the ball better in midfield and denying some possession to the Reds. 

A horrible delivery form Arteta off a free-kick was followed by a far, far better one that Osman so nearly converted at the near post.  That was followed by a terribly blatant dive by Yakubu that summed up his game.  Utterly awful! 61 mins and guess what: Substitution Time! Fernandes coming on for Pienaar, who had been remarkably ineffective. Then a ridiculous yellow card for Jags after a high kick that Gerrard ran into from behind him. 

Everton had done well for 20 mins with no end product, and it looked like the momentum with which they had started the second half was fading away...  Perhaps Moyes sensed this, Baines coming on for Captain Pip!  But the pendulum continued to swing inexorably away from Everton as they continually failed to make good use of the possession they were winning.

Torres, heading for goal, was superbly denied by Hibbert  but again the improved Everton possession and movement got nowhere near the Liverpool goal as the minutes ticked away...  The first really controversial ref's decision was to deny Everton an obvious corner from some guarded play down by the corner flag. Everton kept probing, Baines winning a free-kick that  clipped neatly square to Fernandes but his shot was blocked. 

Everton started to press Liverpool more in the last 5 mins when it seemed there was a real possibility of creating something as the Reds tired.  But the dangers remained, with a Kyut shot so nearly shaving the post after a deflection. 

What looked at times like it would a red rampage in the first half petered out, with Everton doing better but really never getting a grip on the task at hand.  The failure to test Reina with a single shot (bar one early poke from Arteta).

So... "Everton's biggest game of the Season"? not really... Another disappointment in the end, as the Uefa Cup hangover continues...  and Fourth Place slips away.

Michael Kenrick

One is enough against blunted Blues

They say that if you expect little you can't be all that disappointed, but losing a Merseyside derby is always a pretty miserable affair even if you never expected to get anything from it. And so it proved that one goal was enough to overcome Everton's fairly meek resistance and give Liverpool a major advantage in the push for the fourth Champions League qualifying spot.

Rafael Benitez's side have failed massively this season to meet expectations set by big money spent in the transfer market but there have been signs in recent weeks that the Spaniard has learned from countless mistakes so far that in order to achieve consistent results you need to field a consistent side.

David Moyes knows this; unfortunately, his decidedly smaller budget and consequently inferior squad — in terms of both quality and numbers — has prevented him from naming his first-choice team for a while now. Injury, illness and just plain old fatigue are taking a serious toll on the Blues' hitherto rampant charge towards securing fourth place. Poor results against Fulham and Portsmouth, notable for the glaring lack of penetration and goalscoring chances, seemed to be the writing on the wall that Moyes's boys were going to be hard-pressed to get anything from this crucial 207th derby.

James Vaughan and Tim Cahill were already certain absentees before the game, both having succumbed to injuries that brought their seasons to a premature end but Everton were rocked further by the fact that Victor Anichebe had fallen ill and Andy Johnson had failed a fitness test on a groin injury that has kept him out of almost all of the last three games.

That left Moyes with no attackers on the bench and Manuel Fernandes as the only substitute midfielder. The outlook was not good. Even though Mikel Arteta had the game's first shot on goal, a low left-footed drive that Claudio Reina saved comfortably, it was to be the Blues' only chance in the first half.

By that point, the damage had been done. Indeed, the fatal wound was inflicted as early as the sixth minute. A Steven Gerrard corner was cleared to the edge of the box where Yakubu tried to turn his way past Xabi Alonso rather than getting rid and was dispossessed. Dirk Kuyt pushed it on into the path of Fernando Torres and he made no mistake, burying an angled drive past the advancing Tim Howard.

Presumably, Moyes's plan was to keep it tight for the first half and then try and up the pressure in the second but it was blown out of the water at a frustratingly early point in the game and his side didn't really recover until the second half.

Just three minutes after the goal Lee Carsley was lucky to stay on the pitch when he went in high but referee Howard Webb showed leniency, and Phil Neville followed him into the book nine minutes later for scything down Lucas. It meant that both were walking a tightrope for the remainder of the game, although it didn't seem to matter all that much.

Meanwhile, the home side flashed the ball across Everton's goal twice in three minutes — both times it only needed a firm contact and it would surely have been 2-0 but, thankfully, Kuyt and then Babel failed to provide it. And five minutes before the break, Gerrard unleashed a text-book volley that thumped off the base of Howard's right-hand post as Liverpool threatened to turn it into a rout.

That they didn't run away with it was down to the fact that Everton were markedly improved after half-time... albeit without the pentration required in the final third. Indeed, their one real chance of the second 45 minutes came from the head of Leon Osman after Arteta was given a second bite at a free kick wide on the left (not for the first time, the first didn't make it past the first man). Unfortunately, though he picked Osman out, the midfielder could only steer his header a yard or so wide.

The Blues were controlling most of the play but there was almost nothing to show for it. Joleon Lescott was gamely getting forward down the flank but was all too often let down by a heavy touch and general lack of finesse. Hibbert was being kept busy marsalling Ryan Babel and rarely made it past the halfway line so there was precious little width and, again, too much reliance on the long ball from Howard.

Yakubu cut a frustrated figure on his own up front and it showed in his whingeing at the referee and griping at his team-mates for failing to read his mind. His early slip aside, though, he was putting in the work but was getting no service so it was easy to sympathise with him. What didn't deserve to be condoned, however, was his blatant dive on the hour mark after he'd driven into the area and chosen not to try and take on Skrtel.

He could quite easily have been booked but, again, Webb let the Blues off the hook, though he wasn't above criticism. Jamie Carragher should have seen yellow for caching Neville late and the referee missed Gerrard's blatant stamp on the prone Carsley's knee a few minutes earlier.

Pienaar was then withdrawn, presumably because he tired after last weekend's bout of gastroenteritis, and Fernandes was introduced. Suddenly, the tempo in midfield quickened as the Portuguese began linking up with Arteta and picking out more adventurous passes than had been the case before his introduction.

Still no chances, though, and even after Leighton Baines came on for Neville and Phil Jagielka was pushed up front alongside Yakubu, the Blues just couldn't fashion a scoring opportunity.

Instead, Liverpool finally woke up from their slumber with a late flourish, Kuyt bending a deflected shot inches wide and Gerrard forced Howard into a diving parried save as the game moved into injury time.

Altogether, a desperately poor showing by an Everton side that really looks as though it has lost its way since the second leg against Fiorentina. Certainly the loss of Johnson and Cahill has been key and the former's return to fitness can't come quickly enough. More than that, though, the Blues need inspiration ind midfield.

Leaving Fernandes on the bench was understandable given the nature of local derbies and his erratic form since January but Manny has shown enough in the last couple of games to suggest that he should now be starting every game for the remainder of the season. Put simply, we need quality in midfield and he can provide it.

Certainly, if we keep going in this vein, we can kiss goodbye to any chance of finishing fourth for sure and are at risk of losing out on fifth as well. Good thing we're playing the worst team in the division next weekend — we could do with the confidence boost.

Lyndon Lloyd

Match Preview

Rafael Benitez may, until very recently, have been keeping up the pretence that Liverpool were still in the title race but it's been clear for a while now that the only race they are in is for fourth place and after recent results it appears as though it's going to be a two-horse race with Everton.

It's not often that a Merseyside derby has as much riding on it as this Sunday's live televised clash between Blue and red at Anfield so it's been the 400lb gorilla in the room for all of March — David Moyes and the team will have been focusing on each game as it comes but the fans have probably had one eye fixed on March 30th.

Of course, with the stakes comes high pressure and the Blues' cause has not been helped by their Premier League form since the achingly cruel manner of their exit from the Uefa Cup at the hands of Fiorentina.  A desperately poor showing at Fulham ended in defeat and an equally frustrating second-half display against Goodison at West Ham a week ago means that, instead of leading Liverpool going into the Anfield derby, they're two points behind.

Still, despite their points deficit, matters are still in Everton's hands and that is all that matters.  Win, and the Blues leapfrog the reds back into fourth place a week before the former host doomed Derby County and the latter travel to Arsenal, where the scenario exists that Moyes's boys could be four points ahead come next Sunday evening.

Battered confidence following the second leg against La Viola has been one theory for Everton's two-game slump but disruption caused by injuries and player fatigue has been another.  In that respect, the easing of the fixture list has been helpful and the manager has a relatively fit squad from which to choose this weekend.

Tim Cahill is ruled out for the remainder of the season after a recurrence of the metatarsal fracture that prematurely ended his 2006-07 campaign around the same time last year.  James Vaughan is also sidelined as he recovers from knee surrgey.

match photo
Tim Cahill: ruled out for the rest of the season

But Victor Anichebe came through his debut for Nigeria U-23s unscathed — and with a goal to boot in a 3-0 win over South Africa  that booked his country's place in the Olympic Games this summer — and Steven Pienaar has shaken off the stomach bug that kept him out of the 1-1 draw with the Hammers.

The two lingering doubts could be Andrew Johnson, who has missed most of the last two games with a groin strain, and Joseph Yobo who missed the last game with an ankle injury.  Their fitness will be assessed with late tests before Moyes settles on his first XI.

It's likely that he'll start with a 4-5-1 line-up, even though the key player to that formation, Cahill, isn't available.  It has been suggested that Manuel Fernandes would be the automatic choice to replace the Australian but given the Portuguese's erratic form since returning on loan — he was better last weekend but was hesitant in the tackle, not something you want in a derby game! — Moyes may leave him on the bench.

That, unfortunately, means a central midfield berth for Phil Neville alongside Lee Carsley — something of a dice roll these days; sometimes the Captain plays well there, other times he's horrific — and a mid-section rounded out by Mikel Arteta, Leon Osman and Pienaar playing behind Yakubu.  The Nigerian marksman is looking for his 20th goal in all competitions this season and, should he get it, it would make him the first Everton player to reach that tally since Peter Beardsley 15 years ago.

At the back, Tony Hibbert will get the nod if Neville does play in midfield and then it's a case of perming two from Yobo, Joleon Lescott and Phil Jagielka — the latter showed worrying signs of fallibility against West Ham — for central defence.  Local boy Leighton Baines will be itching to play at left back but could get edged out by Lescott if Jags is selected.

Liverpool, meanwhile, have announced that Fernando Torres is fit to play despite getting knocked around against Manchester United last weekend in the Reds' 3-0 loss.  He played 49 minutes for Spain in midweek but hopefully he won't be 100%.  Javier Mascherano, their midfield engine room, is suspended, though, after being sent off by Steve Bennett last week.

Everton haven't won a derby at Anfield since Kevin Campbell's only goal beat the Reds in September 1999.  Since then, though, they've only lost three of the last seven and another draw would be a decent result, even if it wouldn't close the gap between fourth and fifth place.

The Blues will have to play a lot better than they have in recent games (the second Fiorentina game aside).  There has been a worrying reliance on route-one hoofball and while a Mersey derby is never the place for flowing football, Moyes's side will have to exhibit a lot more imagination and far more penetration than has been the case in their last two outings.

If they can get back to the sort of form that propelled them into contention for Champions League qualification in the first place, then Liverpool are by no means invincible.  Certainly, they have been markedly better over the past couple of months now that Beneathus has stopped chopping and changing so much, but this team remain prone to caving under pressure and are far from impregnable at the back.

If Everton can get amongst them early and keep them under pressure, then anything is possible, but keeping it tight at the back will be the first priority.

Come on, you Blues!

Lyndon Lloyd

Matchday Stats

May appear here later

Steve Flanagan

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  Gerrard  (93' Crouch)
  Babel (82' Benayoun)
  Torres :89' (90' Pennant)
  Subs not used

EVERTON (4-5-1)
  Jagielka  :72'
  Carsely :7'
  Neville :18' (72' Baines)
  Pienaar :49' (62' Fernandes)
  Subs not used
  Anichebe (ill)
  Johnson (injured)
  Cahill (injured)
  Vaughan (injured)
  Van der Meyde (injured)
  Turner (injured)
  Gosling (injured)
  Vidarsson (loan)
  Boyle (loan)
  Spencer (loan)
  Jutkiewicz (loan)
  Kissock (loan)
  Boyle (loan)

Premier League Scores
Saturday 29 March 2008
Birmingham 3-1 Man City
Bolton 2-3 Arsenal
Derby 2-2 Fulham
Man Utd 4-0 Aston Villa
Portsmouth 2-0 Wigan
Reading 0-0 Blackburn
Sunderland 2-1 West Ham
Sunday 30 March 2008
Chelsea 1-0 Middlesbro
Liverpool 1-0 Everton
Tottenham 1-4 Newcastle

Premier League Table
Pos Team Pts
1 Man Utd 76
2 Chelsea 71
3 Arsenal 70
4 Liverpool 62
5 Everton 57
6 Portsmouth 53
7 Blackburn 50
8 Aston Villa 49
9 Man City 49
10 West Ham 44
11 Tottenham 39
12 Newcastle 35
13 Middlesbro 34
14 Sunderland 33
15 Reading 32
16 Wigan 31
17 Birmingham 30
18 Bolton 26
19 Fulham 24
20 Derby 11
After 30 Mar 2008


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