STILL ONLY one goal scored all season in the Premier League at Goodison Park and none by the home side. Evertonians have the patience of saints, though their proud record in Merseyside derbies will carry them through to the spring when these two sides renew acquaintance. To be honest there was not much chance of the drought being broken, despite the promising debut of Ibrahim Bakayoko, Everton's new pounds 4.5m signing from the Ivory Coast via Montpellier.
Not since his days at Dundee United has Smith experienced such a goalless sequence. "But there's no despondency," he added. Quite how long the crowd can wait is another matter. A few jeers greeted the final whistle, but they were drowned out by the howls of derision for Paul Ince, whose every word and gesture had been hooted all afternoon.
Take the last 80 years of Merseyside derbies, mix them together and you would emerge with the sort of frantic, pinball football which alternately thrilled and frustrated a full house yesterday. Liverpool have not won at Everton since 1991 and have not beaten their deadly rivals at all for five years. Given the conditions, sweaty pitch and high wind, there was little chance of any subtlety. In some ways, Everton's more straightforward tactics - hit Duncan Ferguson's head early and hope for the best - are ideal for these sort of games.
Liverpool had marginally the best of the chances - two fell to the hapless Robbie Fowler - and Michael Owen had vociferous claims for a penalty as he, for once, managed to expose Dave Watson, his ageing marker. "I can't remember a local derby when we were under less pressure," Roy Evans, the Liverpool co-manager, said. Evans is still seeking his first derby victory.
Smith, a veteran of Old Firm derbies, was not about to give much away in his first experience of the Merseyside version. Victory for Everton would have produced a collector's item, a league table with blue above red. But Liverpool's defence, so often the source of criticism in recent seasons, held firm. Seven bookings was a fair reflection of the competitiveness.
Bakayoko, the 15th Evertonian to make his debut in a derby, showed enough pace and skill amid the mayhem to warrant Smith's continued optimism. Like Daniel Amokachi, he is quick and strong, but his temperament might be better suited to the hurly-burly of the Premier League. Not once did his head drop, though the service from midfield dropped to scraps the longer the game wore on and he was rightly substituted after 67 minutes.
His start was inches away from being perfect. Bundled off the ball in a traditional welcome ceremony, his acrobatic header from the free-kick flashed narrowly wide of James's right-hand post from five yards. It was harsh to say it, one minute into his Premier League debut, but he should have scored. His second touch was a terrible slice into the crowd.
Duncan Ferguson gave Jamie Carragher and Steve Staunton, drafted in to central defence in place of the injured Phil Babb, an aerial battering all afternoon, but a well-worked free-kick routine forced James into his one critical save of the first half. Deployed initially as the stooge, John Collins whipped the ball off the feet of Don Hutchison as the Liverpool defence closed, creating just enough room for a left-foot shot from 20 yards.
The more coherent football came from Liverpool. Twice, Fowler had a clear glimpse of goal only for Thomas Myhre to block. If anything, the tempo increased after half-time, along with the niggling feuds, most involving the abrasive Hutchison. Ince and Fowler found their way into Paul Durkin's notebook within three minutes of each other. As Jason McAteer replaced Redknapp in midfield and Bjorn Kvarme came on for the limping Carragher, Liverpool temporarily lost their poise and Everton enjoyed their most dangerous spell. But Liverpool weathered the storm and began to find a productive route of their own, McManaman exploiting some gaps down the Everton right. Mitch Ward came on to plug the McManaman fault line, Danny Cadamarteri to exploit Ferguson's flicks. Neither ploy worked.
Eight hours and 54 minutes since their last goal at Goodison, scored by Gareth Farrelly on 10 May. "Imagine if we had scored a goal or two at home," Smith said. "We would be on top of the league." More a leap of faith than of the imagination.Reuse content