Football: Fowler to the fore with a derby winner: Liverpool send rivals nearer relegation zone

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The Independent Online
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NO ONE liked to mention it at Anfield but the staging of the 150th Merseyside derby yesterday was an admission of failure. Liverpool versus Everton would be a grand occasion at any time but to hold it during an FA Cup quarter-final weekend would have been inconceivable when one or both clubs was regularly marching on Wembley. Times are hard at the west end of the M62.

And no one felt that lack of achievement more yesterday than Everton. To lose to their great rivals was bad enough but to fall to a goal by one who used to be one of their own made the blow even more painful. Robbie Fowler, true Blue as a boy, plunged the dagger into their hearts.

The 18-year-old striker scored in the 44th minute for his 16th goal in 24 matches since he graduated from the youth and reserve teams. No one could question his sense of occasion. His comeback match after a seven-game absence with a hairline fracture of his right leg was his first Merseyside derby and also the last to be played before the Kop, which will be pulled down in the summer.

The goal owed a lot, too, to John Barnes's awareness of the defence-splitting pass. Seconds before a voice had bellowed from the stands: 'You're a disgrace to the Liverpool shirt, Barnes.' As if on cue, Barnes rammed the insult back where it came from with a through- ball that put Fowler beyond the Everton back four.

Fowler was in a far from perfect position - on the left of the area with Neville Southall advancing to narrow the angle - but he struck an immaculate shot that tucked just inside the far post. 'You can't say what Robbie is going to do,' Roy Evans, his manager, said. 'A lot of players would have been looking to pass the ball, instead he shoots. You can't teach that, it's just natural instinct.'

Fowler had been helped on his way by a visiting offside trap that zig-zagged rather than drew a straight line across the pitch and there was an element of defensive hara-kiri too about the first Liverpool goal.

Everton had taken the lead after 20 minutes when Dave Watson had headed in Radosavljevic's free-kick from six yards, but you suspected the celebrations were continuing, such was the supine way they allowed Ian Rush to equalise, just 31 seconds later.

Julian Dicks received the ball from the kick-off and hit a speculative long pass towards the Liverpool captain. Or it would have been speculative if the Everton central defenders had been anywhere near where they should have been. Instead Rush was allowed to run through and volley past Southall.

'We gave away two goals,' Mike Walker, the Everton manager, said. 'I thought we were the better side, but you can't afford to make sloppy mistakes. Overall it was a good performance. I think we deserved something more.'

Walker's frustration intensified in the last minute when Peter Beagrie's shot was tipped over in a flying save by David James. Watson might also have got an equaliser but he shot high over the bar from 10 yards.

The result ended Everton's four-match unbeaten run and revived relegation fears. They are nine points ahead of Oldham, the third bottom club, but only four of their last 10 fixtures are at home. So far they have managed only three away wins.

Liverpool (4-4-2): James; Jones, Wright, Ruddock, Dicks; McManaman, Redknapp, Whelan, Barnes (Thomas, 63); Rush, Fowler. Substitutes not used: Matteo, Gayle (gk).

Everton (4-4-2): Southall; Jackson, Watson, Snodin, Hinchliffe; Radosavljevic (Horne, 77), Stuart, Ebbrell, Beagrie; Angell (Rideout, 63), Cottee. Substitute not used: Kearton (gk).

Referee: K Cooper (Swindon).

(Photograph omitted)