Ferguson foils Liverpool as Fowler is sent off

Everton 1 Liverpool 1
Click to follow
The Independent Online
Wasted. Squandered. The words look like they are going to haunt Liverpool this season. They lost a chance to overtake Manchester United at the top of the Premiership last night but, for once, what they will be missing was as bad as what they missed.

Robbie Fowler, their top scorer with 30 goals, turned a disappointing result into a thoroughly demoralising one by being sent off seven minutes from time. Saturday's game against United will be his last of the season as a three-game suspension is a certainty, but a heavier punishment could be forthcoming because the England striker swung his arm at David Unsworth as both left the field, dismissed for brawling.

It was an extraordinary climax to a Merseyside derby that, by the standards of these matches, had been relatively benign until its ugly and dramatic end. Liverpool, dominant in the first half, had taken the lead through Jamie Redknapp but Everton had replied through Duncan Ferguson. The visitors had been unlucky in that Fowler had hit the bar and a post, but nothing unusual seemed likely. Just a continuation of Everton's three-year unbeaten run of derbies.

That changed drastically just after Alex Ferguson, the Manchester United manager, had left Goodison smiling at what appeared to be a satisfactory result. Fowler and Unsworth challenged for the ball once and when it broke to them again the Everton defender lunged in from behind.

As play continued down Liverpool's right flank, the two players remained locked together for a second until aggressive words became punches. The referee, Stephen Lodge, had little option but to send both of them off but as they left the field Fowler aimed a blow again and had to be restrained by the reserve team coach, Sammy Lee.

"If the referee had seen the initial foul and blown up I don't think it would have happened," Roy Evans, the Liverpool manager, said. "He didn't and it flared up. Unsworth came right through him from behind.

"The consequences are severe but we can't do anything about it. He's a top striker and to lose him for three games is a big blow. I can't say more than that." Nor would he reveal whether Fowler would be fined, saying the matter will be dealt with internally.

The match was a continuation of Liverpool's theme of missed chances. After a couple of scares thanks to David James' sloppy handling, their precise passing and movement took them on to a plane that Everton could not cope with. Neville Southall had to dive to make saves from Steve McManaman and Mark Wright but the Everton goalkeeper did not have a chance with the 26th-minute goal.

A masterpiece it was, too, the sort of goal Liverpool's style is made for. McManaman played a delightful one-two with Fowler on the left and as the Everton defence charged to fill the breach he slid a lovely ball into the six-yard box. The movement had been so quick, the passing so precise that there was an empty net to aim for as Redknapp slid in, although Claus Thomsen seemed to get the final touch.

This was a prelude to a furious second-half onslaught by Everton who, having sensed James' weakness, pursued a policy of aerial attack. It was not pretty but it was effective and frequently Liverpool had to resort to uncharacteristic hacks anywhere to clear.

When the equaliser came, therefore, the only surprise was its build-up. Ferguson, a ferocious opponent last night, got the goal but instead of his signature headers he turned sweetly 20 yards out and struck a low shot into the corner of the net.

Liverpool needed a win as a prelude to Saturday's meeting with United and were desperately unlucky not to get it as Fowler headed against the bar after 69 minutes and shot against a post a minute later. It seemed it would not be his night until a moment of madness ensured it definitely would not be.

"This does not put us out of it," Evans said. "It's a point and it might be the one that wins the championship for us." After last night that seems unlikely.

Everton (3-5-2): Southall; Short (Ball, 22), Watson, Dunne; Barrett, Stuart, Thomsen (Barmby, 63), Speed, Unsworth; Ferguson, Branch. Substitutes not used: Hottiger, Hills, Gerrard (gk).

Liverpool (3-5-1-1): James; Kvarme, Wright, Harkness; Jones (McAteer, 74), Redknapp, Thomas, Barnes, Bjornebye; McManaman; Fowler. Substitutes not used: Berger, Collymore, Ruddock, Warner (gk).

Referee: S Lodge (Barnsley).